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Space Junk: The World’s First LGBTQIA Drone Play Opens in Houston

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By Josh Watkins

We hear it all the time, “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Sounds familiar, right? That familiarity fades away in Space Junk: Do People Dream of Electric Children? Mel Petersen, founder of Amatol Productions, is revolutionizing stage productions. As Amatol’s first interdisciplinary theater production, Space Junk is a one-act sci-fi comedy that “bills itself as the world’s first drone play.”

“Space Junk utilizes drone technology to create a new form of puppeteering,” Petersen explains. There will be no actors found on stage, but instead, local artists will operate the drones as puppeteers while unseen voice actors bring the dialogue to life.

The play is about three drones on a spaceship in the far future, who are searching for replacements for their lost crew. Attempting to make sure that past mistakes don’t arise again, the drones try to become human. While mimicking human nature and making many choices, they ultimately learn that one can’t pretend to be something without facing consequences. Also, there’s a spaceship corridor chase scene, because as Petersen says, “You gotta have a corridor chase scene!”

Petersen wrote the play with Stephanie Saint Sanchez and Koomah—who are also voice actors in the production, alongside Sondee Weiss. Initial interest for the production stemmed from the use of drones, because inherently, drones are genderless.

“Once the drones start to build identities as sentient beings, mimicking the humans, there are a lot of aspects to consider—one of which is gender and how that plays into how we define ourselves.”

The play throws around ideas of humanity and identity and has an ongoing dialogue on gender that resonates with the LGBTQIA community. Petersen saw a need for Space Junk, as there are not many family-friendly stories with LGBTQIA themes.

The drone trio in Space Junk.
The drone trio in Space Junk.

Petersen says that the idea for the play just came to her one day. Through her love for B movies and her newfound love for working with drones, Space Junk was born. Although Petersen’s usual medium is film, she had an opportunity to put her thoughts on stage after working tech at The Pilot on Navigation. Koomah and Saint Sanchez ultimately helped her refine the original concept, since together, they share a long history of live performance art.

“We’d love to think that one day we could stumble across a school production of Space Junk,” Petersen expresses. The team plans to publish the play and provide suggestions for producing it without drones. Petersen does not currently have plans to use drones as characters again, but she is open to the idea.

Space Junk is appropriate for all ages, with an overall message to “embrace who you are.” It’s geared toward “people or drones who like to laugh, love a little sci-fi from the ’50s and ’60s, and fans of blockbuster spaceship franchises.” The Amatol Productions team will also be doing a short Q&A after the play.

Petersen would like to give a shout-out to Idea Fund for making Space Junk possible. “They looked at our crazy idea and said, ‘Why not?’ and we love them for it.”

What: Space Junk: Do People Dream of Electric Children?
When: Premieres September 23, 7 p.m.; additional performances on September 25 and September 30–October 2.
Where: The Pilot on Navigation, 5102 Navigation Street
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/space-junk-do-people-dream-of-electric-children-tickets-27519348111

Space Junk has been made possible with support from The Idea Fund. The Idea Fund is a re-granting program administered by DiverseWorks, Aurora Picture Show, and Project Row Houses and is funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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Joshua Watkins

Joshua Watkins is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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