At this year's Comic Book Theater Festival, new heroes take the stage in Charles Battersby's "The Astonishing Adventures of All American Girl & The Scarlet Skunk". The play, inspired by the Golden Age of comic books and radio shows, addresses serious themes that include women’s rights, “Moral Panic” and transgender issues.
StageBuddy caught up with the actor/director/playwright to learn about his inspiration behind the play, the influence of gaming to the world of theater and how transgender issues fit into this comedy.
StageBuddy: What was your inspiration behind the play?
Charles Battersby: I got tired of waiting for Hollywood to make the superhero movie that I wanted to see, so I made the damned thing myself!
All American Girl is a classic Golden Age heroine who wants to defend the innocent, while The Scarlet Skunk is a grim anti-hero who wants to punish evil doers. I teamed them up in the sense of Wonder Woman meets Batman, or Captain America versus Wolverine! An epic confrontation that could save the world -- or rend it asunder!
SB: How does gaming influence your work as a playwright?
CB: The best games have rich worlds for players to explore, and they tell just one piece of a much larger story. Projects like Mass Effect, Fallout, Bioshock and City of Heroes all take place in highly detailed settings that players can live in for hundreds of hours without discovering everything.
Game designers often tell the histories of their worlds through subtle, unspoken moments, and players need to pay attention to little details in order figure out the whole story.
With "Astonishing Adventures" I thought long and hard about who these characters used to be before they put on a cape. Our heroes are middle-aged and have had many adventures that brought them to where they are at the start of the play. Some of those backstories are revealed directly, while others will be left for players -- I mean "Audiences" -- to puzzle out on their own.
CB: Masks have always been a part of theater -- whether it's a literal mask, or using make up to transform into the character. When done properly, audiences can take one look at the actor and know everything they need to know about the character. The same is true for comic book artists. One look at Captain Marvel or the Hulk and readers understand them. When people dress as those characters in real life, they get the same reaction. If you dress like a superhero, or a princess, people will feel like they know you, even if they aren't familiar with the specific character. When I'm not performing in theater, I go to comic book conventions dressed as my favorite characters, and people are always happy to get a salute from Captain America, or a hug from Princess Peach.
Within the world of "Astonishing Adventures" we have a recurring theme that our "Masked Crimefighters" don't wear masks at all! They show their true face to the world, and refer to ordinary clothing as their "Normal Person" costume. It's actually just our villain who hides his face behind a mask…
SB: What does your play have to say about transgender politics?
CB: The Scarlet Skunk (the role I play) is a cross-dressing vigilante who decided years ago to take off his costume and live openly -- as both a crossdresser and a superhero.
Society has changed much since 1948, but it has seen a very rapid change in transgender politic over the last few years. I wrote the first draft of this eight years ago and there has been much progress in that time alone.
There's a line in the show where The Scarlet Skunk says he could be killed any day because of how he's dressed. Within that scene, he's referring to his Superhero uniform, but it's a direct metaphor for transgender people being targeted for looking "Wrong".
There's also a lot of hostility directed at people who date/marry transgender partners. I read an old psychiatric article that defines anyone who is attracted to a crossdresser as "Too perverse to classify". There's a major subplot in the show about how society hates people who can't be easily categorized.
Although I must point out that the show is a comedy. I hope the audience will be having so much fun that they won't even notice they're learning stuff.
Purchase tickets here.
Fri 6/6 9pm
Tue 6/10, 8:45pm
Fri 6/13, 10pm
Wed 6/25, 9pm
All performances at The Brick in Williamsburg Brooklyn
579 Metropolitan Ave in Brooklyn.
Take the L or G to Lorimer / Metropolitan
Playing at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn through June 25th