Tired of performing the standard pantomime fare, an amateur theater group, composed primarily of a group of bus drivers in Dorset, UK, decides to stage a theatrical production of the classic sci-fi horror film, Alien. Directed by Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey, the documentary, Alien on Stage, follows the troupe’s preparations for their first performance, which is, by all accounts, a total flop. However, an audience member from London happened to be in attendance, fell in love with the camp of it all and drug a group of friends back to see it again. Danielle was among the group. The London audience was so thrilled by what they saw that they convinced a friend and manager of the Leicester Square Theater Company in London’s famous West End theater district to host a one-night-only performance of the play, which promptly sold out. Kummer and Harvey then follow the ragtag team as they prepare for their London debut.
As an account of an amateur group of actors attempting to do the impossible, the documentary is equal parts laughable and inspirational. No one is heading to a professional career on the stage, but at the same time, they all dared to do something different, and working within and ultra-low budget, they show great creativity and ingenuity as they try to capture the atmosphere of the setting and the special effects that made the film such a hit.
And speaking of hit, Alien on Stage might well be state’s evidence #1 for how effectively this series has buried itself in our collective conscience and spun out into a life of its own. The film doesn’t exactly get at how or why (nor is that its m.o.; for that see Alexandre O. Philippe’s Memory: The Origins of Alien) so much as it celebrates fandom and the lengths to which devotees of a cult classic will go to venerate it. And in this way, the whole proceedings within the documentary take on an air of the sacred. The passion, creativity, and community that fuels their preparation and performance borders on a spiritual gathering as it gives some participants a sense of meaning and belonging, much like what we see in Anita Rivaroli’s We Are the Thousand, which also screened at SXSW this year.
Alien on Stage, much like the stage play seems to be, is pure joy. It’s a celebration of community and live entertainment, to which most of us so desperately long to return. Until then, films like this are a fitting substitute and tribute.