Why Saturdays – and why ‘In The Dark?’

Blame William Shatner.

Long before Ingmar Bergman, Sam Shepard, Sidney Lumet, August Wilson, LeRoi Jones, Athol Fugard, Alan Paton, Emily Mann, Charles Dickens…before any of these people impacted or influenced my artistry…

…it was William Shatner and a Venusian alien.

And – of course – the Zanti Misfits.

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One of my first childhood memories – and maybe this will give you some unwanted insight into my childhood development – was William Shatner’s frightened face as he peered out through his spaceship’s portal and saw the gruesome visage of an alien creature emerging from the thick, gaseous atmosphere of the planet Venus and slithering towards him.

No. It wasn’t a “STAR TREK” episode.

This was William Shatner before he became Captain Kirk and T.J. Hooker and Captian Kirk again and the mustachioed menace from “LOADED WEAPON” and Captain Kirk once more.

This was a very young William Shatner is an episode from the second season of “THE OUTER LIMITS.”

Shatner plays an astronaut who has just returned from a space mission to the planet Venus. He seems to have been unharmed by the mission until -gradually – strange dreams and fevers start to afflict him. He’s been infected by some mysterious illness.

Or – has he brought some mysterious force back with him?

And then it was the Zanti Misfits. Those creepy-crawlies with faces that looked like weathered beatniks – like some strange amalgam of Robert DeNiro and Maynard G. Krebs. Unnerving creatures. And I remember being so delighted at how creepy they were. The men in the television were trying to freak me out – and I LOVED the fact that they were trying to freak me out – and succeeding with such panache.

I must have been 4 or 5 years-old, watching television with my father. It was a late-night showing of episodes from “THE OUTER LIMITS,” “THE TWILIGHT SHOW,” and Rod Serling’s “NIGHT GALLERY.”

And it was a Saturday night.

That’s what Saturday nights came to mean for me – before they were date-nights or party-nights. Long before they were nights devoted to pubescent and post-pubescent tomfoolery and dorm parties and nights out on-the-town with a new romantic hopeful.

Long before I knew Saturday nights were alright for fighting or a Bay City Rollers’ song.

Saturday nights were my one opportunity to turn off all lights in the living room and get lost in other worlds.

Sister was ill and on the brink of death.

I watched Tod Browning’s “DRACULA” with Bela Lugosi with my aunt Cathy while Mom and Dad were at the hospital.

Parents started to fight.

I ran to my bedroom, turned the cooling fan in my room all the way up, and – as papers blew around me – imagined that I had to cross some great vortex pulling me towards the appliance. As I played this slightly destructive (at the very least somewhat messy) game of pretend, I watched “STAR WARS” on a 5-inch, black-and-white screen attached to the portable TV/Radio combo set that I had either borrowed or stolen from my parents.

We moved towns.

I discovered the local PBS station was running a curious and enchanting little sci-fi called “DOCTOR WHO” that seemed to speak to all of my instincts of escaping the growing complications of life. Step into a phone-booth and it might be bigger on the inside than on the outside – and driven by a weird but oddly charismatic man who uses this strange contraption as a vehicle that could take you to any point in time and space.

Any point in time and space. Woah. That’s a lot farther than Venus.

At so many points during my parents’ divorce, I secretly wished that I would turn a corner and see this beat up spacecraft disguised as an English police box so I could get the hell out of my dysfunctional home-life.

“DOCTOR WHO” ran at 10:00pm on Saturday nights.

Life continued to get complicated.

And it hasn’t stopped.

When I was thinking of when to do this little theatrical experiment and how to brand it – I just kept thinking back to Saturday nights.

The idea of the project was to simply get some work up and running and see how it felt. Actors and directors often have plenty of opportunities to get material up on its feet. It’s what they do and what makes them remarkable.

Writers?

We stay inside of our heads too damn much.

And we too need opportunities to get things up on their feet.

But proper staged readings do bore the hell out of me. Don’t misunderstand me. They have an important place. I won’t disagree.

But they bore the hell out of me.

And I wanted something that spoke to that part of me that remembered William Shatner and the Venusian alien.

So – SATURDAYS IN THE DARK. It’s a springboard for other things to come. New series and new productions. A chance to try out new stuff that may evolve into bigger stuff.

It’s the thrill of seeing where something new is going.


 
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