ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and this year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
Musicals are a popular item this year — even musicals about Space Pirates. “The Space Pirate Puppy Musical” is a new production, with a book by Heather Bagnall and music and lyrics by New York composer Steve Schalchlin, directed by Luke Tudball. The 60 minute musical is being brought to Fringe by Tasty Monster Productions, and is “an intergalactic extravaganza incorporating original music, pop culture, pup culture and puppetry,” Heather noted in a news release. “Liberally interspersing clever lyrics and memorable songs with sci fi and fantasy references, Space Pirate Puppy Musical whisks the whole family across the galaxy to seek the wisdom of the oracle, the knowledge of the universe and to help determine the fate of the planet Earth.”
In the show, Earth has gone to the dogs — literally — and humans have gone underground and into space, leaving dogs to run the planet. Then the Space Pirates decide they need to pave over Earth to put up a parking lot for their new nightclub on the moon, so the Puppies have to join forces with their arch enemies the Ninja Kittens. Got it?
Freeline Media asked Heather about the show this week.
FM: A space pirate puppy? Sounds imaginative! Tell us the origins of this show.
Heather: This show, like so many great ideas, started as a bit of a joke. Luke (Tudball, the other half of Tasty Monster) and I used to do a theatrical fundraising event in the DC metro area called the Hope Operas; episodic theatre which the audience voted on, to raise money for local non-profits. An extraordinary event of new writing and community giving, a sort of theatrical soap opera. But one year we came in second place, week after week. One week, we lost to pirates, one week we lost to s*x robots ( you can’t beat that, by the way, no matter how great your show), one week, someone brought in their puppy. I jokingly said I would write a show with all these elements and we’d be a shoe in. The more we thought about it, the more it went from joke to idea. Obviously we lost the s*x robots and just embraced the idea of space and technology in lieu of something more salacious. It’s been quite a feat bringing this show together. I’ve been writing the show in New York and on tour in Missouri, coordinating with our extraordinary composer Steve Schalchlin in New York, our graphic designer Seamus Corbett in Massachusetts and of course our actors Wesley Slade and Britta Whittenberg, who were learning the show independently in Orlando in preparation for our arrival. It’s been quite an extraordinary collaboration.
FM: This almost sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon on stage. Is that the idea?
Heather: I think it might be a bit more like a Saturday morning cartoon from my childhood. I am a child of the late 70s/80s — though I continue to celebrate my 29th birthday, so that’s between us — and we were unafraid of good-natured violence. Like so many of my contemporaries, my first experience of comedy and classic music came from Warner Brothers cartoons. I find a lot of modern family programming condescending and a little too precious. Quality family entertainment is a bit of a soapbox of mine. I just want everyone to come and laugh and have a good time.
FM: How do you successfully create fantasy on stage, where so much relies on the imaginations of the audience.
Heather: I’ve always been a big believer in having faith in your audience. As we’ve learned from the truly great horror masters, the monster in your head is always more frightening that any one you can create. I think this principle holds true in all areas of storytelling. We rely on the tenants of great storytelling, a good story, clever dialogue and lyrics, and a fully realized soundscape to ignite the imaginations of our audience. I’m kind of old school that way. In this show we utilize original music, puppets, lighting and sound as well as the talents of some mighty able actors to transport our audience to another world. Kids are fantastically imaginative and accepting. So long as you are earnest and committed, if you tell them you’re a dog or a space prate, they’ll accept it. Kid logic fills in the blanks. And in this show, we give everyone the chance to feel like a kid again.
FM: Is this a family friendly show, or geared more toward a mature audience?
Heather: This is definitely family friendly but we strive to write on two levels much like some of the great Disney films of the golden age. The show was written to appeal to those of us raised on genre movies and books who have children and want something entertaining to introduce our kids to the worlds of science fiction and fantasy so there is a lot to afford this show not only to children but to adults, whether they come with children or not. This is definitely not a typical “children’s show” or as I affectionately call them, “parent torture”. Adults will have a great time too!
FM: After Fringe, where does the space pirate puppy go from here?
Heather: We’re working on a run this summer in the DC metro area and then an off Broadway run in New York. After that, the skies the limit, so to speak. We hope to take it on tour, perhaps overseas. I have to bring it to Wisconsin at some point because my three year old nephew is already obsessed with the show and we’re getting requests from friends all over the country who are scoping out venues as we speak, because they can’t make it to Orlando. And I heard there’s a ninth planet, ripe for exploration!
“The Space Pirate Puppy Musical” is being performed in the Yellow Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Show times are:
* Friday, May 20 at 7:15 p.m.
* Saturday, May 21 at 1:45 p.m.
* Sunday, May 22 at 3 p.m.
* Tuesday, May 24 at 5:30 p.m.
* Wednesday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m.
* Friday, May 27 at 5:45 p.m.
* Saturday, May 28 at 11:15 a.m.
Tickets are $11.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..