Star Trek meets Star Search
We talk with Jason Powell about his new sci-fi musical opening at the Alchemist
Milwaukee playwright-composer Jason Powell created his sci-fi musical—with the irresistible title Invader? I Hardly Know Her!—almost by accident. It started as an entry in the 48-Hour Film Festival, in which participants write, shoot, and edit a seven-minute movie in two days. The genre and starting premise—stated simply as “a bride with an unusual name”—were assigned by the festival, and when Aaron Kopec of Bay View’s Alchemist Theatre gave Powell one year to write the story up as a musical, his course was set. Powell, who has performed with local and regional companies like Sunset Playhouse, Boulevard Ensemble, Skylight Opera, and Off The Wall, shaped Invader into a pastiche of science-fiction tropes, including an alien bride, a quartet of genetically engineered femme fatales, a body-hopping demon, and "an effeminate robot." The A.V. Club met with Powell on the set of Invader, a typically amazing piece of work by Kopec featuring vintage TV monitors and corroding metallic pastels. The show opens today and runs through Sept. 26.
The A.V. Club: First things first: The title is a killer.
Jason Powell: Yeah, everyone likes the title. I came up with it in a brainstorming session with this guy called Patrick Schmitz. [Laughs.] He's a very funny guy who does a lot of stuff at the Alchemist—he said the title should be Aliens? You Brought Her, which didn't really make any sense. [Laughs.] But I thought, "Oh, I see where you're going with that."
AVC: Do you like science fiction, or was it just a coincidence that you ended up doing this genre piece?
JP: I definitely like sci-fi. I always liked Star Trek: Deep Space 9—I like that they were stuck in this grimy Star Trek. I also really love the show Alias; J.J. Abrams is my hero, so there are these spy elements and these reveals in the show, so it's like: "All along they've actually been...." Another influence is X-Men comics. Chris Claremont, he's known in comic-book circles for being kind of wordy, with big-thought balloons. Another one of his quirks is he loves to bring in characters from other countries to enrich the diversity, but then he falls into these stereotype traps, and writes the accents phonetically. I always thought that was kind of charming, and thought it would be fun to use that for the quartet of girls. This also plays into Alias—even though she was a spy, she always gets to show up in a different kinds of hot outfits, often these kind of fetishy outfits, so I built that in. One girl has a Native American outfit, another one is a French Maid, et cetera.
AVC: Where does the robot fit in?
JP: The robot was Aaron's idea because he wanted to build a robot costume. [Laughs.] Which ended up working out perfectly, because the robot is kind of the key to the conclusion. He agreed to produce this before I had written more than like three pages. He was like, “Can you get it done by September of ’09?” So I had a year to do it.
AVC: How about the demons from another dimension?
JP: [Laughs.] They come in later. The demonic-possession trope has been done many, many times, but I'd never seen a musical where anyone gets possessed, and what's kind of cool is you can actually have the demon leaping from person to person while singing his song, so you end up getting different people singing technically the same character.
AVC: Where do you see this show going?
JP: I'd love to have somebody else produce it so I could just be in it, or just watch it—that would be cool. Or find J.J. Abrams and see if he's free, maybe he'd like to do it. [Laughs.]