A). Description of the original text and its socio-cultural and historical contexts:
Written by former space scientist-turned-novel writer, Alastair Reynolds’ Beyond The Aquila Rift  (2005) takes place in a not too distant future where galactic space travel is a reality and revolves around Captain Thomas Gundlupet of the Ashanti Industrial space vessel The Blue Goose, which has found itself on the edges of known space due to a routing error in the system’s travel plan. This routing error has put Thom and his crew thousands of light-years away from Earth, at a station to which no one goes voluntarily, but in which all those who arrive are stuck without any hope of returning home.
When Thomas awakes from the surge tank in which he’s been sleeping for the duration of the intergalactic travel, he is greeted by the familiar face of his former girlfriend, Greta, whom he hasn’t seen in a decade. Greta informs Thom that they are currently at Saumlaki Station in Schedar Sector. They find themselves so far away from Earth that everyone he has ever known (including his wife, Katerina) has been dead for over a century. Through the story, Thom also unsuccessfully tries to awake Suzy, one of his crew members, from her surge tank, but every time he puts her back to sleep as the shock of their present location seems to be too much for her to take in. Ultimately, Thom finds out that everything he has been experiencing is fed data by an alien spider who claims to take care of all the lost souls who mistakenly end up in this corner of the universe. (Reynolds, 2005)
Beyond The Aquila Rift addresses numerous moral, anthropological, social, and theoretical questions: What does it mean to be lost beyond space and time? How could a human cope with this loss? What lies beyond the limit of what we think we know? What is the meaning of human and post-human, and who has the agency to dictate which is which? How do we deal with trauma and shock? Is it better to live within the illusion or be aware of the illusion and live at the edge of fantasy and reality? How do we find the reality within the illusion, and does the breakdown of the illusion also mean a breakdown of reality? Who dictates what is real? What role do space and time play in the rationalization of our moral agency?
These are some of the questions that arise from reading the story, which I expect to address in my immersive theater experience.
B). Justification for the alternate version that explains the new socio-cultural/historical contexts:
For my final project, I propose an immersive theater experience based on Beyond The Aquila Rift and the world built by Alastair Reynolds. This show will be a loose adaptation, consisting of 10 actors and 14 audience members, allowing for one-on-one interactions between performers and spectators. The play will include the same characters as the short story and new ones whose stories revolve around their arrival at this station, the lives they left behind, and what it means to inhabit an eternal limbo.
In this way, each character will have an intimate moment with an audience member in one of the themed rooms across the station, and in which through monologues and games, questions about racism, speciesism, queer rhetorics, post-human ethics, and moral subjectivities are raised within the context of this fictionalized universe, and as a metaphor for the world outside of the theater.
Inspired by contemporary theater practices by Sleep No More, Third Rail Projects, Dave Malloy, LCT3, and Alison Kobayashi, this show aims to bring Sci-Fi into the performance arts vernacular of current worldwide theater trends that seek to change and shift how audiences experience performative arts.
The audience members will arrive at the departure dock of Ashanti Industrial, where they are to board the Blue Goose to return to Earth along with the permanent crew of the ship. As the audience boards and immerses themselves (no pun intended) in their surge tanks, the ship will take off prompting a light show, and after an unsettling long blackout, during which the wall containing the tanks turns 180°, the inside of Saumlaki Station and the rest of the cast is revealed. As the tanks open and people are prompted out of them, we learn that the ship has veered off course, and we find ourselves not on Earth but thousands of years away from home instead. While the characters begin their introductions as inhabitants of the station, storylines will begin to develop, and actors will guide audience members to their next rooms to continue individual experiences through the show.
Audience members will be warned that not one experience within the show is the same and are encouraged not to try to remain with their companions and freely explore the entirety of the station and rooms. During the climax of the performance, spectators will be once again guided to the station’s main hall where the horrifying truth about the aliens behind this simulated station will be revealed.
C.) Engagement with relevant theoretical perspectives as they apply to the original work and to the new version:
For the development of the play, I will be looking at performance and theater theories developed by Antonin Artaud and Bertolt Brecht and their applicability within my production, particularly Artaud’s notions of ‘Theater of Cruelty’ and ‘Complete Theater’ (1958) to achieve ultimate sensorial shock experiences in audiences; as well as Brecht’s ‘Epic Theater’ and ‘Verfremdungseffekt’ (1930).
Simultaneously, I will also be engaging with works by Elana Gormel, Katherine Hayles, Jack Halsbestram, Judith Butler, and Helene Cixous concerning post-human ethics, monstrosity theory, and queer theory, to develop these topics through the lens of Sci-Fi within the plot lines and stories of the ‘lost souls’ who inhabit the world Beyond The Aquila Rift.
D). A work plan for the project.
The show will follow the following formula:
  1. Audience boards ship and rules are explained.
  2. Audience dock at Saumlaki Station and exit.
  3. Character introduction and exposition of the world.
  4. Each performer guides 1-2 audience members (depending on the scene) to an annex room.
  5. Six 15-20 minute scenes occur simultaneously as follows:
    • The actor leads the spectator into a room.
    • The actor gives a monologue.
    • The actor presents a game.
    • The game is played between spectator and actor.
    • No matter the result of the game (unbeknownst to the spectator), the outcome is the same, and the audience member is guided into the main room where they will be lead into the next room and scene with a different actor.
  6. The six scenes are repeated between different actors and audience members.
  7. Performance at the main hall by the resident Saumlaki Station entertainment.
  8. The six scenes are repeated between different actors and audience members.
  9. The scenes merge into 3 simultaneous scenes as the climax approaches.
  10. Climax, where truth is revealed to everyone on the main deck– light show and puppeteering.
  11. Return to ‘illusion’ Saumlaki Station.
  12. Audience exits.
Characters
Captain Thom
Suzy
Greta
Skip
Ray
Kolding
Katerina
Fisherman
+3 New Characters TBD
Rooms
Main Deck
Bar
Repair station
Oracle room
Observation deck
Water room
Rock ‘Garden’
Oblivion room
Games
50/50
Fortune Telling
Fix the ship
Rock collecting
+TBD
Pitch Deck
  • Overall synopsis and description of the play.
  • Character breakdowns
  • Script
  • Game rules and breakdowns
  • Production mood boards and mockups
  • Set layout
  • Main properties (i.e, alien spider puppet)
References
Artaud, A., & Richards, M. C. (1958). The theater and its double.
Brecht, B., & In Willett, J. (1964). Brecht on theatre: The development of an aesthetic. (New York, Hill and Wang)
Butler, J. (1999). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. (New York, Routledge)
Gormel, Elana. 2011. Science (Fiction) and Posthuman Ethics: Redefining the Human. (The European Legacy)
Hayles, Katherine. 1999. Chapter 10 (247-82) in How We Became Posthuman. (Chicago, Ill., University of Chicago Press.)
Reynolds, A. (2016). Beyond the Aquila Rift: The best of Alastair Reynolds. (London, Gollancz)