Ahmed Best had a moment to stop by The Making Star Wars Show on Friday to talk about his his new interactive play Ascension. We discussed the future of theater in the VR era and how digital spaces are shaping the future of theater.
In the interview Ahmed also elaborates a bit on a cut sequence from Revenge of the Sith where now Emperor Palpatine thanks Jar Jar Binks for being one of his earliest supporters and what Jar Jar’s reaction was to that moment. Best also talks a little on what it is like to ride to work with George Lucas and to shadow the legend as a young actor during the production of The Phantom Menace.
Below is the press release for the interactive play which sounds groundbreaking:
Echo Theater Company’s ‘Ascension’ is
interactive, sci-fi, futuristic cyber play
LOS ANGELES (Sept. 7, 2021) — Do you know about it? The Second Sun? It’s real. It’s going to take us home! The Echo Theater Company presents the world premiere of Ascension, an immersive, interactive, sci-fi mystery thriller written by D.G. Watson and directed by Echo associate artistic director Ahmed Best. Performances take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays Oct. 6 through Nov. 18 at Atwater Village Theatre. One preview performance is set for Oct. 5.
In this Echo-commissioned, futuristic cyber play that strikes at the heart of our assumptions about faith, memory and reality, Rebel (played by Charrell Mack, who received her M.F.A. from U.S.C. this spring) is trapped inside a long, narrow pod. Nobody knows she’s in there… nobody but you, the audience. For some strange reason, your minds and hers are psychically linked, and only you can help her escape. But who is she? And how did you become connected in this way?
“Ahmed and I wanted to explore the idea of empathy and isolation, of being in a place where you can’t connect with the people you rely on,” says Watson. “We’ve been living with Covid for nearly two years now. How do we build empathy and trust when we’re physically separated, but can still see and hear one another?”
Karen Sours Albisua (Ammunition Theatre Company’s Ovation-nominated The Giant Void in My Soul, GLAAD award-winner for She Like Girls off-Broadway) plays Dr. Monica Traver, head of AI and Suspended Animation Research at Enventure. Inc. — and developer of virtual assistant Innana, voiced by Elise DuRant. Steve Hofvendahl (Caucasian Chalk Circle, Peace in Our Time at Antaeus, Baby Doll at the Fountain) portrays Monica’s new boss, Julian Raithmore (“I only lied to you because I needed you to trust me.”). And Leandro Cano (American Falls at the Echo, currently appearing as “The Playwright” in The Last, Best Small Town at Theatricum Bortanicum) is the mysterious Caretaker. Also in the cast are Gloria Ines (Echo productions of Handjob and Underneath the Freeways of L.A.) as Monica’s daughter, Lindy, and Samantha Cavestani (recent graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study) as Evan.
Director Ahmed Best is no stranger to sci-fi. He is perhaps best known as the first CGI lead character in a motion picture, having starred as Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. He currently hosts both Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge and The Afrofuturist Podcast. He is also the creator, writer and director of two web series, including the comic sci-fi series The Nebula. As an actor, Best starred in the musical Stomp on Broadway. As CEO of BISN Media, he is executive producer of Dinner at LOLA (Stop That Bangin Productions/BISN Media) and The DL Chronicles (recipient of the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Television Movie or Mini-Series). As a martial artist and fight choreographer, he is the recipient of multiple Ovation, Stage Raw, TicketHolderLA and Scenie awards, including for Echo Theater Company productions of Backyard and Blueberry Toast. He is also an adjunct lecturer at the USC School Of Dramatic Arts, adjunct lecturer at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, and a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
D.G. Watson is the author of The Tragedy: A Comedy (Ammunition Theatre Company), Unbound (IAMA Theatre Company), Snap (winner, 2005 NYC Battle of the Bards), Prime Time (Real TheatreWorks and PSNBC, Abingdon Theater), Remember the Light Rail (Ammunition Theatre Company and IAMA Theatre Company) and the collaborative piece Game On (Actors Theatre of Louisville). Watson was a co-creator and writer for the Emmy-nominated Disney series Johnny and the Sprites. His past exploits include an attempted walk across the United States in the name of world peace, which was featured on NPR’s This American Life.
The Ascension creative team includes “pod” designer Bill Voorhees and augmented reality designer Jesse Gilbert. Lighting and costumes are designed by Elio Oliver. The production stage manager is Christopher Jerabek. Chris Fields, Kelly Beech and Tessa Slovis produce for the Echo Theater Company.
Founded in 1997, the Echo Theater Company has gained a reputation for producing and developing exciting new work. Under the artistic leadership of Chris Fields, the company has championed playwrights for a quarter century, producing and commissioning numerous world premieres and introducing Los Angeles to playwrights David Lindsay-Abaire, Adam Rapp and Sarah Ruhl among others. The Echo has won countless Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Ovation, LA Weekly and Stage Raw awards, and is frequently cited on end-of-the-year “Best of Lists” including by the Los Angeles Times, LA Observed and NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM, among others. The company was anointed “Best Bet for Ballsy Original Plays” by the LA Weekly and was a recipient of a “Kilroy Cake Drop” to honor its efforts to produce women and trans writers. KCRW declared that “Echo Theater Company is on a fierce journey,” and Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote, “Artistic directors of theaters of all sizes would be wise to follow the [lead] of the Echo’s Chris Fields, who [is] building audience communities eager for the challenge of path-breaking plays.”
Ascension opens on Wednesday, Oct. 6, with performances continuing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. through Nov. 18 (dark Oct. 19, Oct. 20 and Oct, 21). One preview performance is set for Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets to all performances are $34, except the preview which is Pay-What-You-Want (subject to availability, $5 suggested minimum). Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. On-site parking is free. For reservations and information, call (310) 307-3753 or go to www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.
Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours will be required of all patrons, and admittance is limited to ages 12+. All current CDC and local guidelines regarding seating and masks will be followed at each performance.
Details for Calendar Listings
Do you know about it? The Second Sun? It’s real. It’s going to take us home! The Echo Theater Company presents the world premiere of Ascension, an immersive, interactive sci-fi, futuristic cyber play that strikes at the heart of our assumptions about faith, memory and reality. Rebel is trapped inside a long, narrow pod. Nobody knows she’s in there… nobody but you, the audience. For some strange reason, your minds and hers are psychically linked, and only you can help her escape.
• Written by D. G. Watson
• Directed by Ahmed Best
• Starring Karen Sours Albisua, Leandro Cano, Samantha Cavestani, Elise DuRant, Steve Hofvendahl, Gloria Ines, Charrell Mack
• Presented by The Echo Theater Company, Chris Fields artistic director
Preview: Oct. 5
Performances: Oct. 6 – Nov. 18
• Tuesdays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 5 (preview), Oct. 12, Oct. 26, Nov. 2, Nov. 9, Nov. 16 (dark Oct. 19)
• Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 6 (Opening Night), Oct. 13, Oct. 27, Nov. 3, Nov. 10, Nov. 17 (dark Oct. 20)
• Thursdays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 7, Oct. 14, Oct. 28, Nov. 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 18 (dark Oct. 21)
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
All performances: $34
Preview: Pay-What-You-Want (subject to availability, $5 suggested minimum)
FREE in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater
• Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours will be required of all patrons.
• Admittance limited to ages 12+.
• All current CDC and local guidelines regarding seating and masks will be followed at each performance.