For as long as theater has existed, there have been plays that embrace fantastic elements. However, the growth of speculative fiction within the theater, or more specifically science fiction within the theater, has been happening largely under the radar of the general public for many years. Things are changing.
I’m happy to say that science fiction theater is not only alive and well, but it is evolving into a theatrical force that is flourishing. A renaissance of speculative fiction on the stage is happening from hometown theaters to science fiction theater festivals, academic conferences, and anthologies like Geek Theater.
Geek Theater brings together fresh new plays as well as those that have been celebrated on the stage into one anthology that my coeditor Jen Gunnels and I hope is the first of many to come. We both believe in the importance of this anthology, but I think we say it best in our Introduction, which I am pleased to share with you and Amazing Stories:
Let us begin by saying that what you currently hold in your hands represents a first of a kind.
While there were a few prior play collections, such as Roger Elwood’s Six Science Fiction Plays, the contents did not represent stage plays for the theatre. The odd one-act might get slipped into a publication here and there, but most anthologies of science fiction and fantasy plays feature radio plays. Stage plays are a different art. Within the last seven to ten years, original science fiction and fantasy plays have proliferated and flourished upon the stage in what might be called a SF/F Renaissance of sorts. Geek Theater captures some of this theatrical energy with stage plays that represent the latest and the best in science fiction and fantasy theatre (we also threw in some SF/F related horror, because, you know, zombies).
Bear in mind, however, that SF/F theatre is theater first and foremost. It does not possess the same sense of genre that publishers and bookstores use to decide where to place a book upon a shelf. This also makes it difficult to find stage plays that feature science fiction and fantasy, leaving the impression that it occurs in isolated pockets. Again, within the last seven to ten years, performance companies specializing in SF/F have formed in major cities around the world, and in growing numbers — Chicago, London, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Osaka, Lusanne — most of these locations have multiple companies doing exciting original work rather than relying solely upon adaptations of prior works of literature. This is new living art.
Jen has reviewed several plays in this anthology as the theatre editor and drama critic for the New York Review of Science Fiction, and she has longed for a way to share them with a wider audience. Erin is a science fiction editor and writer who has seen numerous plays performed within the SF/F convention network, plays which largely go unnoticed by the wider theater community. We both agree that this kind of theatre and these playwrights deserve a wider audience. More importantly SF/F has become an integral part of how we, modern society, tell our stories regardless of medium. This demands the attention of theatre audiences and artists in many areas, including SF/F fandom.
Geek Theater provides is a consolidated volume of 15 stage plays, which comprise a variety of lengths and subjects written by some of today’s most talented SF/F authors and playwrights. The short plays, typically ten minutes or under, are admirably represented by playwright Jeanne Beckwith whose plays have been performed both here and abroad. Mission to Mars portrays an initial colonization mission that has gone wrong — what happened to their back-up and why isn’t Earth answering their transmissions for help? Chie-Hoon Lee’s uncanny For the Living straddles a line between science fiction and horror with its look at personal cloning, loss, and the effect of both on a marriage. With Rapunzel’s Haircut, Cecil Castelucci upends fairytale expectations with stark realism making you question any notion of “happily ever after.” Finally, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning author James Patrick Kelly presents the Promise of Space in which a heroic astronaut and his science fiction author wife try to come to terms with the horrible price of his last mission. As a palate cleanser, if you could call it that, we’ve included one monologue, Consider the Services of the Departed by author and poet F. Brett Cox, a lovely piece of black humor on how useful the dead could be, if given a chance.
Our medium length plays, roughly one-acts or slightly longer, start off with the logical extension of the monologue in Zombies of Montrose. James Morrow, two-time World Fantasy Award winner as well as adding a pair of Nebula Awards and a Sturgeon Award to his name, offers a strange but politically compelling look at a community using zombies for the good of those who have less and the inevitable intervention of health codes, local government regulations, conservative religion, and the covetous wealthy. With Clockwork Comrade, Carlos Hernandez creates a wry steampunk commentary on consumerism and Fidel Castro, showing us how history and economics are not unlike family stories about eccentric uncles. Cecil Castelucci turns a hand at science fiction in The Long and the Short of Long Term Memory. A brilliant neurobiologist is desperate to forget a single, haunting long term memory when his corporate research sponsors and assistant want him to help people to retain theirs. But are humans meant to remember everything or do we lose something even in the loss of a single memory? GEEK!, by Crystal Skillman, artfully combines Dante’s Inferno, comic cons, and cosplay culture into a wry, knowing, and ultimately poignant look at girls in geek culture. The final play in this section is John Kessel’s Faustfeathers. How to describe it? The Marx Brothers do Doctor Faustus, hilarity ensues, and Kessel, amply decorated with Sturgeon, Tiptree, and Nebula Awards, nails the zany humor of the films. Warning: Do not drink any beverages while reading it.
Our final section contains full-length plays by some of today’s most highly awarded playwrights. We have the pleasure of presenting science fiction author and artistic director of Chrysalis Theatre Andrea Hairston’s most recent play Thunderbird at the Next World Theatre. Winner of the Tiptree and Kindred Awards, Hairston’s work has been performed by Yale Rep, Kennedy Center, and StageWest. Her hallmark combination of music and language meets an Internet-driven apocalypse where theatre has become a dangerous and forbidden practice, but two rogue actors and an underground movement try to keep the ritual power of theatre alive. The winner of several FringeNYC Best Playwright Awards, Mac Rogers, in Universal Robots retells Karel Čapek’s classic R.U.R. as an alternate history where Čapek becomes entangled with a mysterious woman accompanied by a strange, wheelchair-bound mannequin, and robots are invented in 1921 with horrifying consequences. DEINDE, by award-winning playwright and artistic director of Flux Theatre Ensemble August Schulenburg, reveals a world ravaged by a virus mutating faster than humans can design vaccines, and researchers are offered the opportunity to jack into a quantum computer — what happens to their humanity when they do? In Hearts Like Fists, Adam Szymkowizc, whose plays have been performed across the U.S., creates a homage to the pulp tradition of costumed vigilantes and combines these in a noir comedy of manners centered on the opening and closing of both hearts and fists. Finally, 2012–2013 Briggs-Copeland Visiting Lecturer in Playwriting at Harvard, Liz Duffy Adams’ spare and oddly poetic Dog Act, winner of the Will Glickman Award, depicts a band of players, including a human who has voluntarily become a dog, in a post-apocalyptic vision reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road mixing Brechtian sensibility with Beckett’s poignant absurdity.
We have given you, in this anthology, the merest taste of the different kinds of SF/F theatre now available, and it is our regret that this volume of Geek Theater contains almost exclusively playwrights from the U.S. It would be disingenuous to pretend that only the U.S. is creating SF/F theatre. Playwrights from the U.K., France, Germany, Canada, and Japan as well as many other countries are also producing new, innovative SF/F plays for the stage that deserve equal recognition — a recognition we hope to provide in future anthologies.
— Jen Gunnels and Erin Underwood, October 2014