BWW Interviews: Spotlighting Lyricist Aaron Kirk Douglas & New Musical SPACED OUT!
I had the opportunity to chat with Aaron Kirk Douglas, one of three creators of the new musical SPACED OUT!: THE BEST ALIEN ABDUCTION MUSICAL IN THE UNIVERSE. The show is still a work-in-progress, but the notable creative team is busy getting the show ready for a Portland reading within the year.
SPACED OUT! is the story of a rag-tag group of six misfits who plan to abandon the planet by waiting for aliens to airlift them off a mesa in New Mexico, in an age when social network updates and a never-ending slew of viral crap-o-tainment have replaced real, face-to-face human interaction.
A fame-seeking former reality TV contestant and a socially deficient cameraman are sent to uncover the secrets of the Beacon, an alien-worshipping cult led by a madman with three wives. Together, the group discovers a surprising secret – our planet lies on the brink of world domination. By a surprisingly snarky alien race. Has the time come for Earth’s surrender? Or can everyone tune out, drop in, get to know the neighbors and do what we can to help the Earth and its people before it’s too late?
Here is my conversation with the delightful Aaron Kirk Douglas, as he sheds some light on the creative process of this fun and exciting new project.
Debbie Lamedman: Where did the initial idea for SPACED OUT! come from?
Aaron Kirk Douglas: The initial idea came from an article I saved, from November, 2003, in a newspaper called NEW CONNEXION, which bills itself as “The Pacific Northwest’s Journal of Conscious Living.” The article was called “UFOs: Contact in the Pacific Northwest.” At the time, I was co-producing the documentary MONSTER CAMP and originally I thought it might be a good follow-up film project. (MONSTER CAMP involved following live-action gamers playing Dungeons & Dragons type scenarios outdoors in state parks.)
The New Connexion article discussed a small town called Trout Lake at the base of Mt. Adams where the Sattva Sanctuary is located – reportedly one of the largest UFO hotspots on the planet! The idea fascinated me. But when I imagined following around a group of people camped out on Mt. Adams during the winter . . . well, it just became a little less captivating. I decided sitting at home writing lyrics in my jammies sounded like more fun.
DL: How did you and your collaborators meet?
AKD: In 2008, I decided to try to revive my jazz singing career. I had been singing occasional gigs around Portland, primarily downtown at 10th floor of Meier & Frank 10th in the Georgian Room – at least until it was demolished in 2006. I advertised for a paid accompanist on Craigslist and Kurt Crowley was one of the respondents. We practiced for months and recorded a demo CD. As a musical director, he wasn’t getting the opportunity to write his own music, so I pitched him the idea of co-writing a musical about an eclectic group living in a desert sanctuary waiting
for a UFO. Soon we were toasting and shouting, “Let’s put on a show!” We held our first two readings in May and June, 2010. We rewrote and held three more readings in October 2010 and January 2011 with the help of the Broadway Rose Theatre, specifically Sharon Maroney and director Dan Murphy. After our last readings Kurt moved to New York. By September he had been hired as music conductor for the non-equity tour of IN THE HEIGHTS. In the meantime, the former executive director of Broadway Rose Theatre, Brisa Trinchero, was getting started as a theatrical producer bringing new musicals to Broadway. She liked our project and introduced us to writer Marc Acito. We hit it off and have been working with Marc ever since. Marc also permanently relocated to New York City last year after spending many years based out of both cities.
DL: Is this the first musical you've written?
AKD: Yes, but I’ve been performing and singing since I was five years old (laughs). I started out listening to Disney songs in the backyard on our home swing set and graduated to the hard stuff (Broadway show tunes) as I got older. Besides my love of all things musical, I’ve always had this drive for bringing compelling stories to life – from my career in radio and as a journalist, to filmmaking and writing advertising and marketing copy – storytelling has always been a part of my passion. I think I’ve been preparing for writing a musical all my life, between my professional choices and my singing and acting background.
DL: Since the creative team is (or used to be) Portland-based, is there anything definitively "Portland" about this show?
AKD: Yes. It’s quirky. You could definitely put a bird on it!
DL: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as a creator of films that you’re bringing to this theatrical venture?
AKD: That’s a great question. Just like in films, letting go of a favorite scene -- or in this case scenes or songs-- that don’t work can be difficult. You know what they say, “You have to kill your darlings.” But, I like theatre because we get to keep working on the show, using audience feedback to assist.
Probably my biggest lesson in filmmaking was, “surround yourself with great people.” As a true collaboration, I feel that’s what sets this show apart. I think that will make it both a creative and financial success. Some people like to put their pure vision first, but for me that would make it all harder in film and in theater. I think it’s possible to have both an allegiance to your artistic vision and an openness that makes for a great collaboration. I also think by letting go of the reigns of creative control a bit, it allows me to wear another hat, one that plans for the financial health of the show.
My goal is to make it all as easy as possible for Marc and Kurt, my collaborators, so that they don’t have to worry about details that don’t relate to actually creating our musical. I want them to focus on the artistic part of the show and I’m happy to also work on the business aspects, the
paperwork, and organization. Technically, I’m the current “producer” of the show but once the show earns its wings, I know that theatrical executives and high-level producers will see and appreciate both its great messaging, as well as its financial potential.
DL: Where are you currently in the process?
AKD: The three of us are continuing to polish the show a bit, working long-distance via Skype and such, to get ready for our next staged readings. Right now though, I’m reveling in the accolades of my collaborators! Marc started off the year writing the musical adaptation of ROOM WITH A VIEW, which had a world premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe in March. Then he was tapped to work on ALLEGIANCE starring George Takei which had a world premiere at The Old Globe in September. As if that weren’t enough already, he won the Helen Hayes award for Best New Play for his show BIRDS OF A FEATHER about gay penguins!
And before our composer Kurt Crowley even finished up conducting IN THE HEIGHTS, he was promptly snapped up to assistant conduct the Broadway debut of BRING IT ON! a new show written by five Tony winners!
DL: That's amazing! So, what are your ultimate goals for this piece?
AKD: The sky's the limit really because this show is completely scalable, that means it can could operate just as easily with a multi-million dollar set and an enormous spaceship or in a simple black box with two TV screens on rollaways, a few props and a couple of backdrops. This flexibility allows us to run it on or off-Broadway. We will have our final staged readings next spring -- we received a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council to help with that. We all love working on SPACED OUT! because we really like each other, and at the same time it’s a show that somehow fulfills different, yet symbiotic, creative needs for each of us. And our outrageously likeable cast of characters run the gamut from techno geek, young former hooker from Alabama, to African-American Diva and snarky gay guy. Now, you tell me -- if that's not mass appeal, what is? [smiles] I mean, who wouldn't love that?
As well as the co-lyricist of SPACED OUT!, Aaron Kirk Douglas is the producer of the narrative film FREEDOM STATE (Hulu, Netflix, xfinity.com) as well as the co-creator of several documentaries including the award-winning cult favorite MONSTER CAMP. Learn more and listen to the SPACED OUT! music sampler at www.spacedoutmusical.com
Photo credit: David Douglas