“I‘ve wondered what it would be like for a sentient being to experience the end of the galaxy, when the stars have burned out, when everything there is to be discovered has come and gone,” says composer Jim Territo. It’s a phenomenon he contemplated quite thoroughly while writing The Daedalus 2 Mission: A Space Opera (D2M), which debuts at Planet Ant Theatre on June 22. The narrative centers on the life and death of space probes in the distant future, questioning the point at which their artificial intelligence ceases to be artificial.
Jim started working on the project about four years ago with lyrical help from his nephew, Joe Territo. This was their first time working together; Jim had written musicals in the past, but with D2M, the duo joined both their musical credentials and sci-fi interests. (Jim says they’re both “sci-fi nerds.”) They initially envisioned the opera as a concept album, writing the first song about the end of the galaxy and working their way back in time. As they wrote, it evolved into a stage production. “For a story like this, the lyrics came first,” Jim says. “Then we built out the music. You look for the hook — the chorus, that one line that really gets at the concept and emotion of the song — and it informs the melody and beat.”
The opera is hardly one that audiences will identify as classical: the 21-song show includes a variety of genres, from musical theater and hard rock to reggae and hip-hop. One of Jim’s favorite songs appears in the middle of the production, aptly called “Beyond and Between.” “The space probes speculate what it would be like to see multiverses,” he explains. “It has a really groovy, Paul Simon-esque drumbeat in the background, with some big, fat vocal harmonies over the top.”
To ensure audiences don’t mistake the A.I. space probes for human beings — something Jim felt strongly about — smart, imaginative costuming was key. For that, he called on Michael Ameloot and Buddy VanLoon, the designers behind the extravagant costumes of a recent production of The Little Mermaid.
“The whole sci-fi thing turned me on a bit,” says VanLoon, a makeup artist and hairstylist by day. He’s also a self-described “cos-play nerd” with a penchant for attending Comic-Con, the wildly popular comic convention, which served as perfect inspiration for the D2M costumes. Unlike in The Little Mermaid, where VanLoon and Ameloot were confined to designing costumes similar to those in the iconic movie, they had free reign to create whatever they could dream up. After brainstorming and sketching, they decided the cast would be outfitted in black jumpsuits fashioned from futuristic materials like foam armor, vinyl, silver paint, and glossy PVC, which helps to alter silhouettes by creating optical illusions. Everyone’s costume is similar, as all of the actors — even the onstage orchestra — emulate space probes aboard a ship.
“In a production like this, costumes can elevate the show so audiences really feel like they’re watching space droids,” Ameloot says. “The trick was making sure audiences could still identify with them, while distinguishing them as non-human.” Clever costuming helps the actors, too: “There are times it can be difficult for them to find their characters, but the first time they put their costumes on, they immediately come to life,” he says.
That statement is especially — and quite literally — true for this show, where the costumes are integral to the plot. Every space probe has lighting attached to their jumpsuits (which Ameloot and VanLoon outsourced to a special-effects electrician). “Each robot has a life light that represents their heart,” Ameloot says. “These robots are on a never-ending mission, they have an inception and a point where they’re no longer alive — they’ve served their purpose, and the life light goes out. They stay on stage for the whole show, but at what point are they still a part of the actual story? What is their inception, and what is their demise?”
It’s hard to say which aspect of the show is more enticing — the upbeat, varied music or the thought-provoking plot. There’s little doubt audiences will exit the theater deep in their own discussions about the meaning of life, the end of the galaxy, and all things beyond human comprehension. But if Territo hopes viewers leave with one takeaway, it’s to maintain a sense of wonderment. “A lot of astrophysicists, like Carl Sagan, always repeat one phrase: ‘look up.’ I think that’s a good phrase to describe the inspiration for this show,” he says. “Imagine what’s out there, imagine what it tells us about our life, imagine what’s beyond our earthly experience that can still inspire us. You can always be in awe.”
For more information, visit daedalus2mission.com.