Sul Ross Theatre brings throwback entertainment to the Big Bend this summer

ALPINE — Tuning into a radio program or pulling up to a drive-in movie may sound like a step back into the mid-20th century, but this summer, both options promise to bring hours of entertainment to the Big Bend, where residents have been cooped up and kept away from live theater and moving pictures for months.

Theatre of the Big Bend, a Sul Ross State University summer program, is in its sixth decade, and for this exceptionally difficult summer, the program is adjusting to meet the community where they are: in their homes and in their socially-distanced cars.

It starts with the Friday release of “Attack of the Killer Super Bugs from Outer Space,” an original science fiction comedy play with social commentary, according to Marjorie Scott, chair of Fine Arts and Communication and assistant professor of Theatre and Communication at Sul Ross.

Written by Bret Scott, a Sul Ross professor, and in collaboration with Marjorie, the play hearkens back to “War of the Worlds” and “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and will premiere on local airwaves, Alpine’s KVLF 1240 AM station. “It’s family friendly, some adult humor but no cursing, with some satire in there.”

The show pays homage to those classics but is updated for today and alludes to current day circumstances. “We include mock ads – it’s tongue and cheek, intended to make the audience laugh, but also think a little bit. It’s not devoid of any kind of thought, but it is funny.”

The play is voice acted by Sul Ross students, alumni and community members, a challenging shift for Bret Scott to direct. “We obviously had to be really creative with how to socially distance while still doing theater,” Marjorie Scott said.

For the upcoming “Attack of the Killer Super Bugs from Outer Space,” actors recorded their lines into their phones, with Scott watching via Zoom to provide direction. Then the recordings were pieced together with editing to create a cohesive play. Marjorie Scott called it a good lesson for students, who are forced to act solely with their voices.

The 45-minute show will air at 8 p.m. this Friday, June 26, again at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 27 and one last time at 2 p.m. on Sunday June 28. Later this summer, the theatre program will present a family-friendly radio play of “Alice in Wonderland,” opening July 31 at 8 p.m., and replaying at 8 p.m. on August 1, and 2 p.m. on August 2.

Throughout the summer and possibly into the fall, the program will set up a drive-in movie theater for the community at the outdoor area by the Kokernot Lodge.

“We’re looking at different films like ‘Jaws,’ ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘The Blob.’ Some are family friendly, some are less so, but we are just offering several different kinds of genres for people,” Marjorie Scott said.

“Theater is immediate. You’ve got productions of ‘Oedipus’ and Shakespeare still, but the play still says something that is relevant today. It’s not necessarily to haul out an old relic, it’s honoring something going on today and letting it reveal it or highlight it,” said Scott.

In the fall, the theatre program is working on a monologue-style performance. Students will interview and record frontline workers, write from the real person’s perspective and perform a series of monologues that will be released as a series.

“Given these limitations, we can continue this way of making theater immediate and about right now. What’s happening right now is quite dramatic. It’s not that we’re capitalizing on it, we’re treating it as the important, historical thing that it is,” Scott said. “Creating a historical document and giving a voice to people that are incredible, doing so much, and are kind of voiceless other than hearing about them in the news periodically.”

The theatre program will have a donation option on their website, since they are not doing any traditional ticket sales, and “want to offer this for the community, for anyone to tune in for free.” Donations are welcome.

A drive-in schedule is forthcoming and the organization will likely begin showings in mid-July. The website will have schedules and a donation page, or interested listeners and viewers can call the Fine Arts office at 432-837-8218 or visit Theatre of the Big Bend for summer season and Sul Ross Theatre Program for fall and spring programming on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.