Historical Sci-fi

Open Eye Figure Theatre provides a stage for the newly reborn genre of steampunk.

Griffin Fillipitch

 

What: “Steampunk Delusions”

 

When: April 27- May 12

Where: Open Eye Figure Theatre

Cost: $12-16

Odd subgenres seem to pop up almost daily. But it’s generally in music where fans swear by a goofy title for something the general public is at best vaguely aware of. Literary subgenres rarely seem to galvanize enough excitement to be considered a movement and come to the attention of any more than a few writers and readers.

So it may be that steampunk — a genre of fiction in which steam power technology is fused with sci-fi, fantasy and historical fiction — owes its recent resurgence in popular culture to the fact that, despite its literary origins of Jules Verne (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea“) and H.G. Wells (“The Time Machine”), it is not limited to the page. Steampunk has inspired an entire aesthetic that informs the film, clothing and Tumblr background of anyone that considers themselves a steampunk fan.

Hardcover Theater and English Scrimshaw Theatrical Novelties have joined forces to present two steampunk tales on stage in “Steampunk Delusions,” which begins at the Open Eye Figure Theatre on April 27.

The show is a double feature including two adaptations of classic steampunk stories. Steve Schroer, producing artistic director of Hardcover Theater, adapted and directed the first installment, “The Diamond Lens.”

“This project is born from the ashes of a show we were going to do at the Southern Theater last summer. They had major financial problems and sort of collapsed and then reopened with a different set up,” Schroer said.

That performance would have been called “Steampunk Dreams” and was designed for the much larger Southern Theatre space. When the venue changed, Schroer had to revamp the show to fit the smaller Open Eye Figure Theatre. This meant changing his adaptation from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” to another, lesser known short story.

Steampunk is generally a genre fixated on the technology that exists within the story. The pieces selected for adaptation in “Steampunk Delusions” are no different. Schroer’s play is about a man who strives to invent the world’s most powerful telescope. “To Mars with Tesla,” adapted by Joseph Scrimshaw and Adrienne English, finds inventor Nikola Tesla making his way to Mars and facing off against his nemesis Thomas Edison. Staging such technically absurd situations sounds like a challenge, but it did not concern Schroer.

“I don’t do things literally. If you were going to represent things literally, you’d have a hard time putting lots of things on stage,” Schroer said. “We find other ways. We use mime, language and a bunch of tricks that help the audience see in their mind things we aren’t even putting on stage.”

Additionally, choosing the steampunk theme immediately helped inform a lot of things about the show, on stage and off.

“Steampunk kind of gives you an automatic visual style, which is nice,” Schroer said. “And for some reason, steampunk is really hot lately. I knew a bunch of people were interested in it these days. It’s a very big thing in the geeky world. In the world of people who are into fantasy, sci-fi and gaming and stuff like that.”

Built-in audiences of this nature are part of why Schroer started Hardcover Theater after moving to the Twin Cities from Chicago. They exclusively adapt novels and stories for the stage.

“The hardest thing about doing your own shows is getting people to come see them,” Schroer said. “When you base them on stories or things that are already established, the idea is that some of the work will be done for you. People will be interested already.”

Whether or not hardcore steampunk fans will make it out to “Steampunk Delusions” remains to be seen, but they have proved themselves to be nothing if not devoted and faithful to their genre.