Stage Fall is three projects: a Sci-Fi novel, a feature-length animation, and a children’s book. Aimed at young adults, the novel is an interspecies love and loss story set in the perilous wonderland of 1950s Soviet Union—redubbed the Motherland. The novel is on schedule to be adapted into a screenplay for feature-length animation. The children’s book uses the characters and some of the backdrops from the novel, and will parallel the plot, but will deviate in service of its design: to help grieving kids understand and cope with losing someone close, like a pet, friend, or family member. This project is rooted in my fourteen-year career as a choreographer and performance artist specialized in Improvisation. I was able to go to Russia on a DTW Suitcase Fund grant in summer 2014, to ZIL Cultural Center in Moscow for research.
Following in the footsteps of the Strugatsky brothers, Philip K. Dick, and Mikhail Bulgakov, Stage Fall the novel employs biting satire, fantasy, and alternative history to deconstruct the obsession our contemporary cultures have with self-reinvention, the camera, performed identities, and the suppression of memories—architectural, on paper, in thoughts—too shameful or out-of-step to be aired out. The main themes the novel weaves together are: grief and PTSD; technology as character; “Living Newspapers”; the adventurous female pilots of the Great Patriotic War (WWII); the control of cultural narratives by authority; Socialist Realism and its subversion; the problematic mythology of Laika and other Moscow stray dogs in the Soviet Space Program; Russian Cosmism and the present-day Transhumanist movement; and forfeiture of privacy and personal freedom to corporations; among other themes.
The story follows the misadventures of Pushkin the Dog, an amnesiac canine scouring the cratered post-war landscape for a forever home. His blunt inner guide, Voks, speaks to him through mystical Puzzles, dredging up the past, urging him toward his personal truth, and away from his charismatic travel companion, Dasha. She is a former Motherland war pilot who deals in subversive contraband for the outlaw Underground movement; she is good at running away. Together they tour a bizarre Living Newspaper performance called, "The Universe Is A Totalitarian Regime!" that lampoons state propaganda using science metaphors, and Dasha screens her kinoizdat—cutups of smuggled Hollywood KinoReels—out of her ZIS-155 bus decked out like a rocket ship. CleanUp Men, sinister agents who stop at nothing to erase subversive types, are in hot pursuit. Hiding out in her mentor’s home by the sea, Dasha tells the story of her traumatic wartime past as Voks reminds Pushkin of an old heartbreak. When the CleanUp Men catch up to them their world spins apart. They go on the run. Dasha falls asleep at the wheel, the bus crashes—she does not make it. In shock, Pushkin moves on to the capitol of Sorok, down into the Metro, where he is worshipped as a healer and aspirational icon. Alexei, an astrophysicist who wants the dog for himself, kidnaps him, but Alexei’s boss, the Chief Designer, discovers them and selects Pushkin for a special mission. Pushkin trains at the Institute for Aviation Futures where he tries to impress Alexei, who has promised to take him home. Despite Voks’s warnings, Pushkin thinks he is starring in a KinoReel about the first dog sent into orbit. By the time he realizes it is real, it is too late. In a twist, there is a surprise ending in what could be present-day New Jersey, studded with communal self-driving cars, where genes and individual freedoms are regulated by the state of technology, and faceless corporations.
This project is supported by Creative Capital.
Concept sketches below: