Jason Neulander is an internationally acclaimed writer, director, and producer whose work fuses multiple artistic disciplines with technology to create unique and original theatrical and literary experiences. The Intergalactic Nemesis is an amazing live action graphic novel performance which highlights Neulander’s gifted and innovative approach to the art of making theatre. This one-of-a-kind theatrical experience has played more than 80 venues around the US, UK, and Canada, including a run at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway. Read on to get a vivid insight into Neulander’s very unique brand of theatre.
Maybe the single biggest influence on my work was a production of Peter Pan that I saw when I was about nine years old. We had seats front-and-center in the mezzanine and during the curtain call Peter Pan flew over the orchestra section and for just an instant I was face to face with him. I remember being astounded and asking my parents how Peter Pan could fly and they kept trying to point out the wire. But my nine-year-old brain simply couldn’t see the wire. To me, Peter Pan was actually flying.
That experience influences me to this day because I believe that the power of theatre lies in its ability to tap into the audience’s imagination to create a live experience that can transcend the simple components of how it’s put together. A stage, a person, a wire, the audience. When that happens, the experience is truly transcendent.
From my early twenties until I was about 40, I ran a theater company in Austin, Texas, called Salvage Vanguard Theater. We developed and produced new plays and over my time there, we premiered more than fifty plays, musicals, and operas. Because we weren’t in New York, we could experiment almost completely without risk because if the work failed no one had to know about it, but because we were in Austin we had opportunities to bring work to a national level in the US when we felt like the work was good enough. This became an incredible training ground and, in fact, The Intergalactic Nemesis came out of that company.
So, with my work, I try to take the simplest of elements and put them together in a way that the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. In the case of The Intergalactic Nemesis, that means three actors at microphones, a bunch of toys that make noise, a piano, and a slideshow that come together to create an experience that truly takes the audience off-planet.
With this show, I just want the audience to have fun, plain and simple. I came up with the idea of the “live-action graphic novel” format after I had left Salvage Vanguard and, unfortunately, when the economy collapsed. I was out of work and very depressed. The Intergalactic Nemesis became an escape in the purest form for me creatively and also, I thought, for the audience that might see it. When the opportunity came along to bring the show to an audience, I focused all my creative energy into building a show that would push my own entertainment buttons: awesome visuals, immersive storytelling, great characters, tour-de-force performances, humor, spectacle. When we premiered the show in 2010, the audience was right there with me and, frankly, it was one of the best nights of my life. So, we’re not trying to create something that’s super thought-provoking or is going to somehow change the world. We’re just trying to make an experience that is 100 percent fun.
I came to graphic novels really late—when I was in my 30s. I read comic books some when I was a kid: Richie Rich and some of the horror comic series come to mind. But I was never hooked. A few years back, the composer of The Intergalactic Nemesis’s music, Graham Reynolds, loaned me a copy of a book he had called Lone Wolf and Cub. I was blown away and from there started taking the comic-book format more seriously. Since then, I’ve been somewhat selective in my graphic novel consumption, but particularly love the work of Alan Moore and he was very much in my mind as Tim Doyle (the artist) and I started creating the graphic novel version of The Intergalactic Nemesis.
I had just founded Salvage Vanguard Theater back in the mid-90s when my friend Ray Colgan suggested writing, performing, and recording a sci-fi radio play in the coffeehouse he worked in in downtown Austin. I had never done anything like that before, so it sounded like a blast to me. The original version of the project was ten 20-minute episodes that we recorded on cassette-tape four-track. Somehow we managed to convince one of our local radio stations to broadcast it. I thought that was that. But a few years later, Buzz Moran, who had created the sound effects and engineered the recordings, bought a portable digital eight-track recorder and suggested to me that we re-record the show in an evening-length format. We did and that was the first time I started looking at the project as a live show versus a live recording. So every few years I brought the project back and the audience for it grew bigger and bigger until we played the Paramount Theatre in Austin, a 1,200-seat venue, which felt like a great conclusion to the project. About two years later, as I said, I was out of work—this is 2009—and I went to our local performing arts center, The Long Center, to beg for work. Instead, they offered me their 2,400-seat theater for Intergalactic. I knew this was a lifeline, but felt the venue was way too big for our intimate little radio play. In a flash, I came up with the idea of projecting comic-book art on a screen the size of the proscenium to create a visual spectacle that could fill the room. They responded by saying that they had just bought a fancy cinematic projection system and were looking for excuses to use it. A year-and-a-half later, we premiered this new version of the project and I’ve never looked back.
Salvage Vanguard Theater came out of my experiences directing new plays in college. I was lucky to have gone to school at a place that had a fantastic playwriting program and every year they produced a festival of new plays written and directed by students. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to direct new plays. I didn’t know my own limitations, I guess, so I did a little bit of research, picked Austin as the city to found a company, and moved there with the idea of running Salvage Vanguard as a five-year project and then moving to New York with that experience under my belt. In our first season, we produced seven plays in a rock club called the Electric Lounge. The plays all had original music, often performed live, and they were pretty good. We started developing a reputation, then started winning awards, and then some of the writers we worked with saw their careers really start to take off. So I stayed a little long and five years turned to fifteen and we built our own performance complex before I left. But the company itself is still going strong and last year celebrated their 20th anniversary.
For starters I’d say that if smiling, laughing, and having fun is your idea of a bad time at the theatre, then, please, stay home! But if you’re a fan of pulpy adventure, of storytelling that’s filled with surprises, of performances that will blow you away, and of visual spectacle, then this is the show for you. It’s totally for the kid at heart—I created it with my own inner 12-year-old in mind—and it appeals to both kids and adults on two different levels. There’s nothing else like it out there, I promise. Plus, the whole cast comes out after every performance to meet the audience and sign merchandise. So, basically, unless you’re out of town, there’s really no excuse not to come!
The Intergalactic Nemesis: A Live Action Graphic Novel
September 9 – 13