The PopCulteer
July 8, 2011

IWA East Coast Returns (and you can see it on us!)

IWA East Coast makes their triumphant return to Nitro next Tuesday, and two lucky PopCult readers have a chance to win a couple of tickets each on us. If you saw our big fifth anniversary episode of Radio Free Charleston then you already know the rather simple rules. All you have to do is send an email with your name and contact information to

The deadline for entry is 11:50 PM Sunday, July 10. We will randomly select two winners on Monday, and each winner can pick up a ticket for them self and a guest Tuesday evening at KIng’s Way Outreach Center (formerly Nitro High School) in Nitro. Bell time is 8 PM, with a 7 PM meet and greet.

This is going to be a great night. IWA East Coast Champion Chris Hero will put his belt on the line against Sami Callahan. Hero is heavily rumored to be on his way to WWE soon, so this could be your last chance to see him on the indy circuit.

Low Ki, who recently completed a run in WWE as “Kaval,” will face the star of the movie “The Wrestler,” Morgantown native, Necro Butcher. Baka Gaijin (IWA EC founder Mad Man Pondo and Sam Hain) will face Irish Airborne in a tag team maelstrom. Mickie Knuckles and many other IWA favorites will also see action.

That’s this Tuesday at King’s Outreach Center, the old Nitro High School, 302 21st Street in Nitro. Tickets are $10 and $15 for adults. Kids can get in for five bucks, and there’s a five-dollar charge for the 7 PM meet and greet.

It’s great to see IWA East Coast back in action.

Analyzing Saint Stephen’s Dream

One of the events at FestivALL 2011 that I found most intriguing was “Saint Stephen’s Dream: A Space Opera.” This was presented as an evening at the “Third Eye Cabaret” at Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and It was a mostly successful evening of experimental theater. Your PopCulteer was otherwise distracted by producing insane amounts of video for your pleasure, so it’s taken a couple of weeks to gather my thoughts on this FestivALL event.

This performance was essentially one small component of a larger work, the brainchild of Douglas Imbrogno, the longtime Charleston Gazette feature writer/editor who may also be notorious for hiring me to write this blog. “Saint Stephen’s Dream” is projected to be a multimedia epic, spanning books, web content and live performances.

Helio "Io" MacFadden

With this initial installment being a live performance set on one part of a complex environment, there were some weaknesses in the narrative. I was able to pick up some of the back story, being a life-long sci-fi nerd, but there was a lot going on there that may have challenged the audience too much.

Taken as a tiny segment of a larger story, the show worked. However, with a live performance of this type, you can’t assume that the audience realizes the scope of the whole tapestry. To compare “The Third Eye Cabaret” to “Star Wars,” This would be like an entire musical play set in the Cantina Sequence of the first movie, ending right before Obi Wan and Luke walk in.

There are hints of what happened to the Earth in the first act of the play. The Earth has become uninhabitable, causing the population to flee in thousands of spacecraft. Our protagonist, Helio “Io” MacFadden, has apparently lost his woman somehow, probably at the hands of the Doge, a sort of space pope who runs things on the ship where this story takes place.

Io and the Ions

Again, I grew up on this stuff, so there’s not really anything new here to me. Folks fleeing the planet in an armada of space ships is not hard for me to follow. A dystopian society with an oppressive government based on several that we have seen in our history, again, is a stock sci-fi element. The only problem I had is that the unconventional structure of this piece, as the first true public exposure to “Saint Stephen’s Dream,” leaves so many unanswered questions that it makes the story hard to assemble in your brain. There is no clear time line, and that leads to some confusion and logical leaps.

If you look at this performance as a simple excuse for Doug and his friends to perform the kind of music they want to make while wearing silly costumes, then your level of enjoyment depends on how much you enjoy the music (which was quite enjoyable to me). If you were expecting a strong piece of science fiction with some original twists and a deep (ish) political or environmental message, then the show had some failings.

The Trumpeter and The Security Man

There was simply too much left unsaid, or said too late, and while the whole existence of the Cabaret was apparently a semi-tolerated act of defiance, there was no real conflict until the very end. I would like to see this show again, with some revisions to make it more of a story, and less of a revue.

The second act opens with a dissertation by “Professor Joseph,” which really should have been the first thing in act one. The complaint I heard during the intermission was that nobody could figure out what was going on. The stage was never really set, and the characters were never really introduced.

A lengthy recital of the prophecies of Saint Stephen which takes up quite a bit of the early part of act one, would probably have been more compelling later in the play.

Gaia de la Phoenix

If I could presume to offer some constructive criticism, the play should have opened with Professor Joseph, then we should have had a scene, perhaps a hearing before the Doge, that established what Helio did to have the Third Eye Cabaret shut down, and why, five years later, they were being allowed to open it once again. Was it a raw act of political defiance? Had Helio been imprisoned? Was whatever happened to his mate the catalyst for his “crime?” How powerful is the Doge? Did he bend to political pressure in allowing the Cabaret to resume, or does he have a soft spot for Helio? Did Helio seem to “break” while imprisoned, leading to his release or was there a popular outcry?

As space popes go, are we dealing with a Space John XXIII, or a Space Borgia?

Another question that stuck in my head was, how long have these ships been gone from Earth? Has it just been a few years, or are there several generations of Earth descendants living on these spacecraft? It’s a little hard to accept that a medieval religio-political hierarchy could establish itself as being in charge in just a few years. Was this the political state of the Earth when the disaster hit, or has this spacecraft been adrift so long that rational thought declined and a corrupt system arose to take over?

Or was this just one spacecraft that came from a Tea Party stronghold?

One other major issue is, if these space ships have been floating around out there for generations, then why does Helio speak with a thick Irish accent? I know Doug loves doing his Irish accent, but it really hurt the story more than it helped. It’s distracting when, every time your hero opens his mouth, you wonder if he’s going to complain that the space pope is always after his Lucky Charms. In a great, enclosed, melting pot in in the cosmos, accents would disappear over time. I have friends from Ireland who have lost their accent in less than five years. The fact that no other character had an Irish accent really worked against the believability of Helio.

In space, no one can hear your brogue.

It also didn’t help that Doug spoke in an Irish brogue, but sang with an American accent. Aside from the accent, Doug did quite well as Helio. He projected the right attitude of passive resistance, with passion, resignation and then open defiance. He left us wanting to know more about his character.

The entire cast was impressive. Kathleen Coffee, as Gaia de la Phoenix, was engaging as a “Shu’a” a sort of human/computer hybrid, who acted a bit as a one-woman Greek chorus. Brandon Dunn, Robert Blankenship, Albert Perrone and Lori McKinney did fantastic work as Helio’s backing band, providing first-class musicianship along with a nice stage presence as rebels.

Tim Mace, doing double duty as “Mister Security Man” and “Professor Joseph,” was great, creating two distinct characters, but projecting clearly as both. Jim Balow, as the Trumpeter, gave a performance that hinted at a more complex back story.

Sister M with Gaia de la Phoenix

Emily Dunn, as “Sister M,” speaking hardly a word, breathes life into one of the most interesting characters in the show. Apparently a former associate of Helio and his musical cohorts who seems to have gotten herself to a space nunnery, Sister M is a quiet presence during the play, slowly coming out of her shell before being crammed back into it when the Doge arrives.

Dig that crazy Space Pope, man!

The Doge, who never spoke in this production, was played by a different actor each night. We were lucky enough to see none other than FestivALL’s own space pope, Larry Groce, as the Doge. It was a fun moment of theatrical flair that made the evening more special.

Musically, “Saint Stephen’s Dream” falls into what can be be called “progressive folk music.” It’s not what immediately springs to my mind when I think of a science fiction musical. There are no synthesizers or vocoders present, but in the context of the story, where the musicians in question are defying the ruling class by being nostalgic for the Old Earth, it works. The piece of Shu’a music in the show “Fanfare For The Forgotten” does border on electronica, but for the most part the music is traditional.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m trashing the production. I wouldn’t have spent this much time writing about it if I didn’t feel it was worth the attention. This work, as a whole, has a tremendous amount of potential. There’s a lot that can be done with this premise. One point of the play is that Helio is being punished for daring to speak of the beauty of Earth, and the hope that he can return there. A lot can be done with why that idea is so dangerous.

Are the leaders on the ships lying to their denizens? Did they really leave the Earth because it was uninhabitable, or was that a deception to get “undesirables” to leave the planet? Or was the Earth completely destroyed?

Maybe instead of the environment being ruined already, the planet was sold to some alien Don Blankenship type who planned to ruin it after all the pesky humans were gone.

I am eager to see what Doug does with this project next.

One last point: I would like to see the term “Space Opera” retired. It was used here as a play on “Rock Opera,” but that doesn’t work for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not really a musical or an opera. The songs don’t move the narrative along any. It’s a cabaret, set on a spacecraft. Second, the term, “Space Opera” has a different meaning. It’s used to describe a story set in space with all the trappings of traditional science fiction: space ships, heroes in astronaut suits, scantily-clad large-breasted alien chicks, bug eyed monsters, giant robots and floating brains. It’s a sister term to “Soap Opera” or “Horse Opera” (a slang term for Westerns). It’s considered somewhat derogatory, too.

“Saint Stephen’s Dream” is more of a character study with the minor trappings of science fiction. As such, it’s pretty good. With some tweaking it could be great.

Has It Been Five Years Already?

It’s hard to believe I’ve been producing Radio Free Charleston as a web show for five years already. Time does indeed fly when you’re having fun. After producing three hours of FestivALL episodes of RFC along with our one-hour-plus Fifth Anniversary show, we’re going to take the rest of July off. However, we will be posting some retrospective looks back here in PopCult over the next month. We are very proud of the masochistic schedule that we’ve kept for the last three weeks, but we’re not too eager to jump right back into the thick of things again so soon.

Right now, we’re still catching up on sleep. While we do that, watch that big anniversary show again. It’s chock-full of coolness.

FestivALL Photos

We have a ton of photos that we shot during FestivALL, and you can check back in PopCult next week for some special photo essays featuring them. Right now we still have that sleep thing to deal with.

Up Next In PopCult

With our recent Herculean video efforts over with, PopCult will return to some semblance of normalcy next week, with our regular features, including Monday Morning Art and Cool Comics, coming out of their storage units, and some extra special features sprinkled in along the way.