The following is an interview with creator/writer Josh Zeller, whose one-act play, The God Particle Complex, will be premiering at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this month. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Zeller about the science behind the play, his geek love for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Carl Sagan, and how you can learn more about The God Particle Complex, playing June 8-18.
This interview was conducted on May 29, 2012.
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Your one-act play, The God Particle Complex, is a science farce playing this June at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and covers everything from time travel to high energy particle physics! What inspired this amazingly brainy play?
Josh Zeller: Well, I was interested in the Large Hadron Collider since first reading about it back in 2008, when they were first finishing construction and were about to turn it on for the very first time. The possibilities of what it is looking for are really amazing. The Higgs Boson, evidence of other dimensions, miniature big bangs; that’s some sci-fi stuff. Plus, I’m very interested in the merging of science and theatre; the theatre can be so visceral, and I think that it is a great vehicle for making sense of these big scientific concepts. It really grew out of interests I had in the subject matter, and the various aspects of the LHC that somehow relate to time travel were really exciting. And, I also feel that science fiction isn’t utilized enough in theatre, so to do a play about real science behind such crazy ideas as time travel was a lot of fun.
BD: You have quite a talented team surrounding this project! What can you tell us about the creative process of bringing The God Particle Complex to life?
JZ: Chris Bell and I have been writing together for years. We met at The Actors’ Gang, which is a theatre company out here in Los Angeles. We became friends rather quickly and would work on a couple of ideas for plays. We’ve long been working on a Chupacabra hunting cryptozoologist: Dr. Norm’s Wild Field Study. As we started talking about the LHC and time travel, it just seemed like this would make a great play. We talked a lot and saw some movies, particularly a documentary called Atom Smashers, about the Tevatron out in Chicago. We knew we wanted to somehow get in all the conspiracies and dangers associated with the LHC, so, of course, there had to be time travel, other dimensions, black holes, and Strangelets involved; and just maybe the universe wouldn’t survive in the end. After a number of months of mixing those elements into a pot, we somehow got this funny, little play. We submitted it to a science playwriting competition at UC Santa Barbara, STAGES, but have yet to hear back from them. (They didn’t seem too keen on sci-fi, so we are not holding our breath.) We also did a reading at Caltech, with their theatre program TACIT. We got some wonderful feedback and notes, and it was at that point that Debbie McMahon, our director, got excited, wanting to direct it at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. We were able to get a great cast together of these amazing and talented actors, most of whom had worked together before as part of different theatre troupes. So, we all had a common language to pull from. Once we had a cast together, we were able to tweak it slightly to tailor the script to the individual actors.
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival the best venue for the world premiere of your show?
JZ: The Fringe is great, because there is so much going on. A lot of cool theatre companies are doing shows just down the street from us, and the spaces are always running something. There will be a momentum of the excitement of all this theatre and creativity going on to make each performance fresh.
BD: As a science geek, all of the topics covered in your one-act naturally intrigue me. Is the play accessible for audiences that may not be science fanatics?
JZ: I’d like to hope that if you are a geek of any kind, you will like this show! It’s kind of an ode to geeks. There are some subtle references for the Doctor Who fans in the audience, or Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is even a special appearance by the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Yes, there are a lot of high science topics covered, but the main relationship between our two main scientists, Dr. Feldman and Dr. Fleurmon, is a lot of fun. They have a wonderful one-upmanship to their arguments, kind of a scientific odd couple.
BD: As mentioned, the play will be appearing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival from June 8-18. Are there any future plans to perform the one-act at other venues?
JZ: Not yet, but I’d love to see it continue to grow and soar. It would be great to do a longer run out here, with some wild special effects. (It would be awesome to try and take it to San Diego Comic-Con, but that’s crazy talk…) I’d love to take it back to Caltech; there is something magical about seeing these students, these emerging scientists, playing our characters.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects (aside from The God Particle Complex) that you would care to share with our readers?
JZ: I’m kind of a one-project-at-a-time kind of man. I’ve been working on this play for a while. I have a few other ideas, but it’s pretty early to think about that.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite sci-fi plays, TV shows, books, or movies?
JZ: Well, I’m loving Game of Thrones! I’m in the middle of the third book, A Storm of Swords, and I just love the series and the great storytelling. I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who; the Steven Moffat run has been amazing. I love the long-term storytelling full of such crazy twists and turns. He can visualize time paradoxes like nobody’s business. I can’t wait for the next season. And, speaking of Moffat, I’m watching my Blu-Ray of the second season of Sherlock as I type this; even better than season one, if that’s possible. I love to rant about the state of the genre. I think if it turned out to be Khan as the villain of the next Trek film, which would be a huge mistake. But, I think that’s something to blog about another time.
BD: Which individuals have inspired your work, whether they be from the scientific community, the sci-fi genre, or simply creators in general?
JZ: I became of fan of Carl Sagan after obsessively watching the music videos on www.symphonyofscience.com. They are so poetic; his use of language was so amazing and full of wonder. I’ve read Cosmos, Stephen Hawking’s The Theory of Everything, Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe by J. Richard Gott, Warped Passages by Lisa Randall, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I really admire Steven Moffat’s work; he’s a mad genius and he really is good at character, dialogue, and long-term storytelling. The whole River Song storyline was amazing, you just never saw that reveal coming; brilliant. Of course, there is Ronald D. Moore, whose career I had been following since I was in high school. I’m a lifelong Trek fan.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The God Particle Complex and its appearance at the Hollywood Fringe Festival?
Feel free to come by and say hello after the show. We’d love to hear from you.