Space musical makes theater interactive

Aaron West

A high school reunion is, for some, a bunch of people who don’t have much in common anymore rehashing the good old days. But for two graduates of Westwood High School in Round Rock getting together again led to writing and producing a cosmic-themed theatrical dance party about love, revenge and booty-shaking.

“Mighty Five’s Infinite Funk Odyssey,” an interactive space musical that opens at The Blue Theatre on Aug. 18, is the collaborative creation by Phil Aulie and Xaq Webb. The musical tells the story of the electro-funk band Mighty Five and their adventures in Dimension F, a funky reality whose entire existence is dependent upon a non-stop dance party and the Funkatronic Energy it creates. Webb wrote the script with Aulie after listening to and being inspired by VORTEXX, a concept album by Mighty Five.

“The music is just so danceable and the heavy electro-synth has a tinge of comedy to it,” Webb said. “And the lyrics had that same self-aware, hyper-aggressive awesomeness attitude. I couldn’t stop laughing.”

For “Infinite Funk Odyssey,” Webb uses the electro-funk sound and cosmic themes of Mighty Five’s music while adding an interactive element of his own design. The interactivity, which begins with audience members wearing lights and costumes that the cast distributes before the show, peaks at the end of the performance when the musical morphs into a dance party that not only saves Dimension F from destruction, but also blurs the boundaries between actor and audience. The music, provided by Mighty Five itself, is a mixture of songs from VORTEXX and brand new songs created specifically for the musical.

Webb, who was living in New York City in 2010, had been planning on moving back to Austin to start a new kind of theater company that put an emphasis on audience interaction. Christiana Little, Webb’s roommate who he met in Austin, was dating one of the members of Mighty Five and introduced him to the group’s music. Webb said that when he heard their sound, he knew he could use it to facilitate the kind of audience-involved musical he wanted to create.

“I wanted to make shows more like a concert experience so the audience wasn’t sitting in the dark in their chairs ­— they were actually a part of it,” Webb said. “I realized how perfectly in line this band’s music was with what I wanted to do.”
Webb moved back to Austin last August, and upon reuniting with Aulie, they began writing the script over the course of a year.

“It was fun, at the end of our session we’d decompress and think about what we had written and come up with new ideas for next time,” Webb said. “We didn’t want to gloat, but we were kind of patting ourselves on the back. It wasn’t as hard as we had thought it would be.”

Although Webb has a degree in theater management from the College of Santa Fe and Aulie is a founding member of local improvised comedy troupes You Me & Greg and Parallelogramophonograph, they didn’t have any formal playwriting experience. But collaborating on Google Documents with the help of Little Greg Spencer (another Westwood High School graduate and improvisational comedian) and the Mighty Five, the project began to come together. Little added a crucial female perspective, which was important because the musical involves two women, or alien women as Little specified, competing for the love of a robot. Spencer was later cast as Zonn Atomic, one of the lead characters.
“I think Austinites are going to have amazing amounts of fun at this new kind of show,” Webb said. “It’s going to be a crazy time.”

Printed on Thursday, August 11, 2011 as: Round Rockers reunite for funk space odyssey