The Science Fiction Theatre Manifesto
(Published on Cyborphic.com on 30 December 2018)
By Christos Callow Jr
There is a kind of theatre that is both new and old; it is the theatre of the future but exists in the present. Its essence is as old as theatre and as old as literature. It is the theatre of nonhumans, of posthumans, of superhumans, of gods. It is the theatre of the highest concepts and ideas. It is science fiction theatre and this is its manifesto.
On the identity of Science Fiction Theatre
1. Science fiction theatre is cyborphic. By that I refer to its dual nature. Duality is of essence here as, while it is one theatre, it is also necessarily two cultures, two literatures, two species merged into one. Science fiction theatre is a chimera of science fiction and theatre. The term science fiction in itself is a similar synthesis.
2. By cyborphic, I mean that it combines two qualities. The first half of the word, “Cyber” refers to the alternative reality of futuristic fictions and technological advancements; the second half, “Orphic”, refers to another alternative reality, a world of mythology and mysticism. It is born out of that paradoxical nostalgia; for the near and distant future, and for the ancient past. For what could be and what could have been. This duality is the root of science fiction drama.
3. By cyborphic I refer to a cycle; that science fiction theatre is a return to theatre’s roots; that science fiction theatre expands beyond our reality and into mythology, the way that classical Greek tragedy did, only here it is the mythology of our times, the mythology of the digital age, the mythology of the future.
4. Science fiction theatre is cosmic. Cosmic as in cosmic horror. Its main expression is cosmic tragedy. The tragedy of humanity, not only of the human, of the entire human civilisation, not only of the individual. Even the word “global” doesn’t do this justice because its stage is not limited to this globe, to this world. Science fiction theatre is the theatre of the cosmos.
5. Science fiction theatre, beyond cosmic, is not necessarily anthropocentric, though it can be. There is no other theatre that can escape anthropocentricism.
6. By moving beyond individual tragedy, cosmic tragedy requires selfless actors, selfless writers, selfless directors, selfless audiences. By providing the only kind of theatre that can be truly selfless, science fiction theatre is able to and is determined to cure its artists and its audience of narcissism, arrogance, pettiness. Science fiction theatre can thus liberate humanity.
7. By moving beyond anthropocentricism, science fiction theatre promotes a scientific, objective view of the world, of humanity’s place in the universe, and of truth. By providing the only kind of theatre that can be truly non-anthropocentric, science fiction theatre breaks the walls between subjective prejudice or human desire and objective truth. Science fiction theatre is the theatre of truth.
On the internationality of Science Fiction Theatre
8. Science fiction theatre is the only truly international theatre. Science fiction theatre is what all theatre would be if all countries were one. There are no borders in the future.
9. Theatre set in the future knows no accents. Theatre set in other planets knows no accents. Theatre set in alternate versions of the present or the past knows no accents. Broken English is the default mode of English in science fiction theatre. There is no “authentic” accent in the future. The same applies to all languages. The theatre of the future respects no language, breaks all language. The theatre of the future recognises that its members are from everywhere.
10. Science fiction theatre is the theatre of the other or rather, there are only others in science fiction theatre.
On writing the Science Fiction Play
11. The clichés of science fiction have no place in theatre. The clichés of theatre have no place in science fiction.
12. Even classical Greek tragedy committed the sin of expecting the audience to sympathise with the protagonist. Science fiction theatre is not concerned with creating either sympathetic or unsympathetic characters. Its characters transcend one-dimensional ethics. Its constructed worlds, societies, laws transcend the worlds, societies, laws that people are used to.
13. Like every industry, theatre underestimates the intelligence of its audience in order to sell more tickets. Science fiction theatre is more successful when it requires greater mental effort from its audience. In that sense, science fiction theatre has true respect for its audience.
14. Science fiction theatre is not exclusively part of a single culture, either geek culture or theatre culture. Its audience includes but is not limited to theatregoers; includes but is not limited to science fiction fans. Its audience are thinkers. Thinkers transcend culture. Its audience are doers. Doers transcend culture.
15. Science fiction plays should not have the impulse to imitate science fiction film and novel characters on stage. Science fiction theatre is its own thing, is informed by but has a life independently of science fiction literature and film.
16. By combining ideas of science and advanced technology, with philosophical ideas, political ideas, and high concept literature, science fiction theatre is the vehicle for the sciences and the humanities to both merge and be accessible to the general public. Thus science fiction theatre has educative and transformative potential.
17. Science fiction theatre is the playground of all scientists and all scholars and all philosophers and all artists. It seeks to inspire the new wave of polymaths. Itself a blend of several disciplines, it is the theatre of the homo universalis.
18. Do not be content by saying that science fiction theatre is limited to being a genre of theatre or a sub-genre of science fiction; science fiction theatre escapes from and opposes the established science fiction and theatre cultures. Its mere existence is difficult for traditional theatremakers to grasp; less so for science fiction writers.
19. Do not take seriously the words of anyone who talks about digital theatre, or theatre of bots or cyborgs, or theatre and technology but lacks a passion for science fiction, or talks about science fictional concepts without engaging with the science fiction literature. Do not take this lack of vision seriously. Do not trust anyone who seems concerned with the present day but not with the days to come.
20. Science fiction theatre requires an even greater sacrifice of the artist’s ego than all other kinds of theatre. Careerists and opportunists must not be allowed near it, as they’re unable to perform or write another human character any differently than they perform or write themselves; let alone a character that transcends the human condition.
21. Do not worry about anyone who looks down on science fiction or on theatre. Science fiction theatre will outlive them.
22. This manifesto is self-conscious. This manifesto possesses a certain artificial intelligence. This manifesto is aware and critical of its pompous tone, its sweeping statements, its larger-than-life declarations. It blames the art manifestos that came before for the inspiration, though it admits it is enjoying this.
On Science Fiction Performance
23. All existing acting techniques require a human body. Science fiction theatre does not require a human body. For science fiction theatre, there isn’t such a thing as a human body.
24. The senses by which the science fiction character perceives the world are not limited to the scenes the actor perceives the world. There are senses other than these. The human actor imagines nonhuman senses. The human writer creates characters with nonhuman senses. The human director pictures places inhabitable by humans, alien to humans.
25. For science fiction theatre, the blind actor is no more and no less able than the actor who can see. For science fiction theatre, the deaf actor is no more and no less able than the actor who can hear. For science fiction theatre, the actor who cannot walk is no more and no less able than the actor who can walk. Science fiction theatre can be a space where the disabled actor is truly differently able.
26. For science fiction theatre, both the actor who can see and the actor who cannot see are able to tell the future. For science fiction theatre, both the actor who can hear and the actor who cannot hear are able to use telepathy. For science fiction theatre, both the actor who can walk and the actor who cannot walk are able to fly.
On the purpose of Science Fiction Theatre
27. True science fiction theatre is born out of a utopian impulse. Everything else is superficial.
28. By utopian impulse, one means the desire for a better, even a perfect, tomorrow. Everything else is against the heart of science fiction.
29. By utopian impulse, one means the desire for a radically different tomorrow. A passion for change – change of society, change of the human body, change of the norm, change of the laws, change of language, change of the way humans communicate, change of technology, change of the order of things, change of the way things change – a passion so drastic that any attachment to the ways things are or, god forbid, the way things were, is against science fiction theatre, against science fiction, against theatre.
30. Like with science fiction literature, the world and heroes of a science fiction play can be other than male, other than heterosexual, other than white, other than conformist, other than this.
31. There is radical science fiction theatre. Every other kind is superficial.
32. Science fiction theatre is not superficial. The labels “fun”, “exciting”, “shocking” are of the past. There is one word of praise for science fiction theatre: “Meaningful.”
33. Science fiction, as they say, is the literature of ideas; theatre is a playground of ideas, grounded in the conflict of ideas, in dialogue. Both are born out of the conflict of opposing worldviews; utopian drives clashing with one another; one’s will to change the world clashing with everyone else’s. Science fiction theatre is the conflict of conflicts.
34. In the future, all theatre is about the future. All that is to come is science fiction. All the theatres of tomorrow have within them their own tomorrow.
35. To make science fiction theatre is to be enlightened. To make science fiction theatre is to enlighten. Science fiction theatre signals not only the return of true catharsis, it is bringing enlightenment, nirvana, transcendence to the stage.
36. Science fiction theatre is the new adventure in theatre's quest for meaning. It is the cure for the dogma of meaninglessness in theatre, in culture, in art.
37. Science fiction theatre is theatre's last hope. It is a matter of survival but also a matter of dominance over all other theatres, all other fictions.
38. Science fiction theatre is theatre's evolution, its step forward, its future.
39. If science fiction is the literature of ideas and theatre is the performance of ideas, science fiction theatre is living philosophy.
40. Science fiction theatre is the return of the theatre as ritual. It is sacred but sacred by contemporary standards. It is not spiritual, which is a terrible and empty word. But it is sacred in that it carries meaning, it gives meaning, it is the theatre of meaning.