W ith just a case of slides and a few suitcases filled with toys and noisemakers, you could say that the cast of the “The Intergalactic Nemesis” travels light.
“Sometimes we’ll play 2,000-seat theaters, and we’ll . . . pull up in a minivan at these huge loading docks, and the crew starts laughing,” producer and director Jason Neulander said. “We don’t need 13 trucks to create a total spectacle.”
That spectacle is a live-action comic book experience, performed in the tradition of a classic radio play. While comic illustrations are projected on a screen, three actors voice dozens of characters, from the interplanetary villain Mysterion to the intrepid hero Ben Wilcott. A keyboardist provides a live score, and a foley artist — a sound technician who uses everyday objects to create realistic sound effects — mimics speeding trains, creaky doors and the woozy ambiance of falling into a trance.
“The Intergalactic Nemesis” dates back to 1996 in Austin, where Neulander and a team of artists wrote an old-fashioned radio play inspired by pulp sci-fi comics and movies of the 1930s.
At first, the show had no visuals. Over the years, Neulander experimented with having a comic artist create the projections: Tim Doyle drew “Book One: Target Earth,” the first installment of the “Intergalactic Nemesis” trilogy that will be performed at Artisphere Friday and Saturday.
“I realized we could tell certain segments in the story if we changed them to purely visual storytelling,” Neulander said. “A great example of that is a fight scene,” which Neulander said was “virtually impossible,” to perform well in the radio show. “There’s so much going on at once.”
Now viewers will see a struggle between Mysterion, Wilcott and damsel-in-distress reporter Molly Sloan projected on the screen while foley artist Cami Alys uses a variety of tricks and toys to replicate the sound of punches landing.
“A huge part of the fun for the audience is seeing how the sound effects are performed,” Neulander said. “It’s particularly fun when the object has no bearing to the sound it creates.”
A thunderclap is created by shaking a huge sheet of plastic; the eerie hum of hypnotism comes from twirling plastic tubes. Also in the prop suitcase: a box of macaroni and cheese, which can sound like a speeding train.
“There’s no secret, hidden anything going on here,” Neulander said. “Each of the people doing the more technical elements — the sound effects, the music, the projection — are totally engaged as performers throughout the show.”
And they have to be. While it might look like the actors and sound-effects professionals are playing along to a movie, all 1,250 images of “The Intergalactic Nemesis” are cued by hand, and they only change when prompted by a certain line of dialogue or sound effect. The slides, which are displayed for an average of six seconds each, give viewers a richer experience than the radio show alone, but Neulander said it’s still a medium that challenges the audience.
“Your imagination is still doing a tremendous amount of work,” he said. “It’s filling in all of the gaps between the still images.”
The audience may be called upon to fill in the gaps between dialogue, too. Neulander values participatory theater and hopes the crowd at Artisphere will be ready.
“They’re strongly encouraged to cheer for the good guys and boo for the bad guys,” he said.
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at Artisphere,
1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-875-1100. www.artisphere.com. $20-$30.