A cardboard galaxy

by Jackie Renzetti

Bent over a paint-splattered table, Justin Spooner and Peter Lincoln Rusk weighed whether to paint a space diamond or a DNA helix on their cardboard space computer. 
The two University of Minnesota alums labored over the cardboard set for their original play, “Space Girl,” which opens Thursday at the Bedlam Theatre. Drawn from a hodge-podge of science fiction standbys, the plot relies on and celebrates science fiction tropes. The plot has Space Girl and her two sidekicks defending the
universe from the evil Emperor Dread Lord, with the classic kookiness of Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who sprinkled in.
“It’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever done,” said Bree Schmidt, who plays Space Girl. “It’s like this intense power acting.”
Schmidt, a senior at the University, joins two other students and several University alumni in the cast.
“Everyone in this [show] is all in one generation, and I think that’s really cool. I think that it comes out in the work we’re doing, like the sense of humor,” Schmidt said.
Spooner and Rusk said that they valued the collaborative cast of 10 actors. Though Rusk wrote the majority of the script, actors added and changed many parts, Rusk said.
Cast members have also pitched in with production, helping advertise the play and build its cardboard set.
“That’s kind of the way you have to work when you’re a freelance artist and you’re making it from scratch,” Spooner said. “To make theater on your own, you just have to be super flexible.”
The University’s Bachelor of Arts theatre program helped prepare the duo for creating original, collaborative work, Rusk and Spooner said.
“It’s really good at training collaborative theatre artists to go make their own work coming out of the ‘U,’ and I’m so thankful for it, really,” Spooner said.
University alumni Kalen Keir and Skyler Nowinski composed the score, which consists of background music and sound effects throughout the show, with three songs.
Keir derived most of his sounds from science fiction standards Buck Rogers, Star Trek and Star Wars. Where he didn’t create his own sound, he pulled some specific sounds, such as the Wilhelm scream, for the show.
Rather than waiting until tech week as with most shows, Keir and Nowinski attended rehearsals to add their sound effects throughout the monthlong process.
“Just having them both in the room ready to add right away has been super helpful,” Spooner said.
Discussions about the play began in the fall, and Spooner directed a version of it with students at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, where he teaches.
After that, Spooner and Rusk decided to bring the show to a professional venue.
Rehearsals began at the beginning of April, giving the cast a little less than a month to prepare.
“The time you have is the right amount of time,” Spooner said, with Rusk joining in unison.
Instead of waiting for tech week as is normally done, the cast has practiced with the majority of the set built from day one, Spooner and Rusk said. However, they’ve continued adding to it since then.
The two continued to paint while answering questions for the interview for this story.
“Part of what’s really great about this show is that it’s really stupid, in the good sense,” Spooner said. “There’s a lot of questions like this: Should it be a giant crystal or a DNA helix? So there’s a lot of things that are random, but we’ve chosen which one because it makes us laugh in a certain way.”
Apart from the main set, other cardboard creations include a robot costume purposefully resembling R2-D2 and a collection of flat space battleship cutouts. The duo created each ship in multiple sizes to allow for a scale-jumping effect, Rusk said. Actors will carry the smaller versions of the ships across the back of the stage, exit, and re-enter with the larger ship downstage.
Schmidt said that for the scale-jumping scene, which occurs once, Spooner and Rusk have continued to add more detail. Likewise, they’ve added something new to the set almost every day, she said.
“Every day we come in, and they’re just covered in paint and dust and totally have been there for a long time. And every day, too, there’s one more little design in [the props] or one more little detail,” Schmidt said. “It just gets better each day, and it’s incredible. It’s so encouraging.”