"What do you want to be . . . an asteroid? Great, now who's the enemy spaceship? You are? OK, we need a sound effect. Anybody have a good spaceship sound effect?"
Within minutes, Golden West College theatre arts instructor Chuck Mitchell has his young actors whirling, buzzing, and blipping their hearts out in the school's tiny Actors Playbox as they rehearse a scene from "Rock Myers in Outer Space," a loosely scripted space fantasy opening today at the college in Huntington Beach.
Mitchell, who conceived and directed the show, has been developing it with the help of his 11-member cast since early January. Auditions were informal--there were no Shakespearean soliloquies, no singing, no dancing. All that was required was plenty of imagination and the ability to move well on stage.
And it didn't hurt if you could simulate a fair oxygen-eating space plant.
"Auditions were basically improvisational," said Mitchell, who has staged more than 100 shows at the college during his 21 years on the faculty. "I gave them a little dialogue so I could hear how they spoke, but I primarily suggested ideas based on concepts I already had and sent them off to come up with something. I had this idea for a kind of mechanized space plant in the back of my mind, so that provided a good starting point."
After a week of auditioning and conversation with his students, Mitchell chose his final cast. Then, basing it largely on comments made during early rehearsals, he scripted a few basic scenes. He brought them back to the cast for further refinement.
Doing a show such as this is "kind of frightening, really," Mitchell said with a laugh. "It puts everybody's talent on the line, saying, 'We'll, come up with something!' "
Peter Conway, the show's production designer, agreed. Actors, he said, "have to be responsible for much more. . . . Actually, it comes closer to mime and dance. They're given positions on the stage where the action should happen, but they're not necessarily told how to render it."
Sets, costumes and lighting will be kept at a minimum in the show, Conway said, to further spark the imaginations of the cast and audience.
"We're trying to bypass the technological sort of thing you'd see in a space film and bring out more of the aspect of children's play acting through simple sound effects and movement."
David Robb portrays Rock Myers, the handsome captain of the starship Destiny, who with his trusty crew does battle against the evil Sin-X (played by David Kosten), a high-tech villain who has stolen a computer sphere that holds all the information in the universe. Trying to retrieve the sphere and save the world from certain destruction, Rock and his crew encounter a series of hurdles that form the basis of the action-packed story.
The hurdles include a trip through a time warp that involves the cast in some tricky reverse actions and a blindman's buff fight to the finish in which Rock must depend on the directions of his faithful crew.
Students suggested props and costumes as well as plot, dialogue and blocking, Conway said. "Maybe one character thinks he just has to have a cape. Fine. In this show, instead of me as a designer telling him 'I envision you wearing this,' the actor is free to share his own ideas. Traditionally, a designer gets people's measurements, designs the show, paints pretty renderings, and the cast is pretty much stuck with that.
"In 'Rock Myers' I'm giving them an exercise: I'll bring in costume and prop pieces, say a towel or a blanket, and with limited directions I'll send them off in groups to do things with them in their characters. . . . Then we'll see what they come up with.
"Who knows? It could be a lot of fun."
Appearing in "Rock Myers in Outer Space" are Golden West students Robb, Kosten, Maria Allgood, Ann Marie Bundy, Frank Carrera III, Ann Fornorola, Roger Pruyne, Gina Roberts, Ann Walker, Mike Wiley and Stephen Wood.
'ROCK MYERS IN OUTER SPACE' Golden West College Actors Playbox production will be presented Feb. 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 28 at 3 p.m. The theater is at the Huntington Beach community college , off the Gothard Street parking lot next to the Mainstage Theatre. Tickets are $4 general admission, $3 for Golden West students, senior citizens with Gold Key cards and children under 12. For information , call (714) 895-8378.