“Plan 9 from Outer Space” hit American box offices in 1959. Originally titled “Grave Robbers from Outer Space,” this promising, genre-crossing venture was unfortunately destined to obscurity. Until 1980, that is, when it was given the honor of worst movie ever made. Obviously, this one was ripe for the spoofing. And the intrepid Mark Landon Smith, executive producer of Arts Live Theatre since 2009, has an eagle eye for such finds. Already the playwright of 10 published works, Smith has adapted the movie script to hilarious effect for his own out-of-this-world stage production.
The basic premise: extraterrestrials raise the dead in an effort to stop humanity from destroying the universe. What’s more fitting for the end of October than aliens and zombies? But, the ALT premiere of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is not simply frighteningly well-timed. I was more than charmed.
Hope for a vibrant future for Fayetteville’s theatre arts is renewed. Smith and his company may be one of the greatest unsung heroes of our local arts community, considering the talented young men and women they train. Arts Live Theatre’s tag line, “Putting kids center stage,” spells it out pretty clearly – they are a local theatre company focused on homegrown young actors, K-12. And they have been here for 27 years, longer than any other independent theatre group in the city.
Not that they are lacking for support. The artists I have known who have taught workshops there, who direct and craft each production are beyond dedicated, and I am sure the theatre has a throng of supportive parents. At the top of the premiere of Smith’s adaptation on Thursday, he thanked the city of Fayetteville for offering to renovate the facility’s restrooms. He also thanked the company Paul Mitchell for donating their services to do hair and make-up for the remainder of the season, unsolicited at that. Someone is getting the word out. But, I wonder if the scale on which ALT thrives has been underappreciated; if perhaps the community has taken the fact of such a well-established children’s theatre for granted.
The young men and women who have honed their performance chops on ALT stages have gone on to act in productions with TheatreSquared, the Walton Arts Center and elsewhere. The kids are involved at every level of production and design. I would be surprised if the theatre arts education they receive is matched by any other program like it in the state.
Next August, a group of their students will go on a trip to New York, where they will attend two Broadway shows, a drama workshop and see the sights for three days. My sixth grader cousin, Elijah Clanton, hopes to be one of them. After seeing him in “Plan 9,” I asked what his experience had been like working with the company. He told me, “If anyone wants to be a part of the theatre, I’d recommend Arts Live.” He would make a good spokesman. Even when pressed for details, he only embellishes his praise: “It’s a good atmosphere [where] everyone is nice.” And true, the cast of this production certainly seemed to be having fun, which is what Elijah tells me the show’s director, Mike Thomas, says acting is all about. And, rightly, “Plan 9” is a fun adaptation, chock full of puns and gags, with many an unexpected shout out to pop culture past and present.
The cast also sports some very talented up-and-coming actors, including E.J. Ogbeide, who does a stand-up job as narrator/alien ruler. Not to mention all of the other promising thespians who breathe life into this strange and delightful world.
I would challenge every theatergoer in our community to attend at least one Arts Live production this season. The tickets are cheap and the entertainment, rejuvenating. You can plan on it!
“Plan 9 from Outer Space” runs October 25-28. ALT’s next show, “Beauty & the Beast,” will run November 15-18. Tickets can be reserved by calling 479.521.4932. Visit artslivetheatre.com for more information.
Arts Live Theatre’s Plan 9 From Outer Space trailer
Tobias writes theatre reviews for the Fayetteville Flyer. He is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts through the Arkansas Programs in Creative Writing and Translation and teaches at the University of Arkansas. He is also an associate company member with The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre. For more of Tobias’ contributions, see his author page.