Local playwright Maggie Lee leads Pork Filled Productions back to the steampunk universe of “The Clockwork Professor.” Once again there will be corsets, conspiracies, and multicultural casting – all the elements that made “The Clockwork Professor” a bonafide hit for PFP in 2013.
In this loose sequel, two brothers, Atticus and Kai, climb aboard the Tumbleweed Zephyr, a transcontinental train headed from New Providence for the wilds of the Western Territories. Once the train pulls out of the station, their journey will be interrupted by airship bandits, twists of fate, and wayward sparks of romance. The world premiere of “The Tumbleweed Zephyr” directed by Amy Poisson plays at the 12th Avenue Arts Mainstage, 1620 12th Ave., from August 14 to 29.
Lee’s other adventures in comedy, science fiction, and horror include “The Journey of the Bell” at The 14/48 Project, “The Sunshower Bride” and “Paper and Ink” at Live Girls! Theater, “King Arthur and the Knights of the Playground” at Balagan Theatre, “Kindred Spirits” at ReAct Theatre, and H.P. Lovecraft adaptations for Open Circle Theater. A member of the SIS Writers Group, Rain City Projects, the Sandbox Artists Collective, and an Artist in Residence at Theatre Off Jackson, she recently spoke on why steampunk works so well for her and for PFP’s mission.
How soon after finishing “The Clockwork Professor” did you have an idea for a sequel?
I wrote “The Tumbleweed Zephyr” in 2011, a year after I finished writing the first draft of “The Clockwork Professor” but a couple years before either play was even close to being staged! There are a few throwaway lines in “The Clockwork Professor” where the main characters talk briefly about these two young brothers, and how one kid lost his foot working in an umbrella factory. It didn’t really have anything to do with the main plot, it was just supposed to be a minor detail to show an example of the corrupt city government condoning child labor. But somehow those brothers, Atticus and Kai, got stuck in my brain, and I got curious about what happened to them! So I decided to put the two of them on a train and see where the adventure would take us.
So what did it take to create this trip to the West on a stage?
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to build the set for the play, and also finding the right theater space with enough room to hold it. We are really lucky to be at 12th Avenue Arts where we can build a whole train car set, where the actors can climb up on it and have action sequences up on the roof. It’s pretty crazy to dream this up on a fringe budget. But the train itself is kind of a character in the play, so Amy (our director) and the producers agreed that it was important to commit to this vision.
Steampunk’s mix of Victorian costumes and mechanical gizmos continues to influence the look of multiple entertainments, including the recent Cirque du Soleil run here. Is it the goggles? The hats? What makes this look so entertaining?
For me, I feel that steampunk represents the spirit of adventure and invention, the limitless feeling that you can create a better world with science. There’s something really fun about playing with the mix of Victorian formality with a modern perspective, tweaking the familiar to become a strange new universe with its own language and rules. Also, I have a terrible weakness for shiny gadgets and gizmos, so that’s part of the fun as well.
As always, you have a great, ethnically diverse cast. When writing the parts, were you seeing any particular actor in a role?
One of our missions at Pork Filled Productions is to be a champion for racial diversity in casting, and I think science fiction is one of the best ways to achieve this. Since this story exists in a completely different universe, we can create any reality we want – so perhaps particular names don’t have the racial connotations that would exist in our own world, or family members can be mixed across racial lines. Working with Amy is so great because she really supports this vision with her casting. It’s so satisfying to me that my plays can give the actors an opportunity to explore characters that they might not get a chance to play in more mainstream theater.
What’s your favorite part of real train travel?
Doing nothing. I love just staring out the window and watching the world go by. The rocking motion of the train and the lulling background roar of the wheels make for such a relaxing sensory experience. I also love how a train whistle can sound different depending on your mood: sad, angry, lonely, hopeful, optimistic. It’s like all the best parts of a road trip and you don’t have to worry about where to stop for pee breaks.
“The Tumbleweed Zephyr” runs August 14 to 29 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays and Sundays at 2 pm. Check out PFP’s website for more insights on the world of New Providence and don’t wait to book your tickets for this train ride. In steampunk-crazy Seattle, it’s sure to be a sellout.