High School Kids Stage Alien: The Play, Get Kudos from Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver

High school dra­ma depart­ments tend to work from a pret­ty stan­dard­ized reper­toire, which makes sense giv­en the strict lim­i­ta­tions they work under: short time frames, school-sized bud­gets, teenage actors. The elab­o­rate, Hol­ly­wood film-like pro­duc­tions staged by Max Fis­ch­er in Wes Ander­son­’s Rush­more speak to frus­trat­ed high-school the­ater direc­tors and their fan­tasies about what they could put on stage with a bit more in the way of resources. But just this month, a real high-school dra­ma club put on a show that out-Max Fis­chered Max Fis­ch­er, draw­ing not just the aston­ish­ment of the inter­net but the respect of one of the most emi­nent film­mak­ers alive.

“A New Jer­sey high school has found itself the unex­pect­ed recip­i­ent of online acclaim and viral atten­tion for its recent stage pro­duc­tion of Alien, the 1979 sci­ence-fic­tion thriller,” writes the New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff. “Alien: The Play, pre­sent­ed last week­end by the dra­ma club of North Bergen High School, starred a cast of eight stu­dents in the film roles orig­i­nal­ly played by Sigour­ney Weaver, Tom Sker­ritt, John Hurt and Ian Holm. Where­as the movie had a bud­get in the range of about $10 mil­lion, Alien: The Play had cos­tumes, props and set designs made most­ly from donat­ed and recy­cled mate­ri­als.” Or as North Bergen stu­dent Justin Pier­son put it in NJ.com’s video on the sur­prise hit: “This is going to sound real­ly fun­ny but (the set crew) used garbage essen­tial­ly.”

With that “garbage” — “just any­thing that was lying around, like card­board and met­al” — they built not only a set that con­vinc­ing­ly evokes the dark claus­tro­pho­bia of the space ship Nos­tro­mo, but a shock­ing­ly accu­rate-look­ing alien, the ter­ri­fy­ing crea­ture orig­i­nal­ly born from the mind of Swiss illus­tra­tor H.R. Giger.

The young cast and crew get into detail about how they did it on Syfy’s Fan­dom File pod­cast: “Much of the atten­tion has high­light­ed and embraced their DIY approach,” writes host Jor­dan Zakarin, and “they were end­less­ly cre­ative in build­ing the sets, with hand-pup­pet aliens, egg crate walls, a stuffed cat (the stand-in for Jones was a par­tic­u­lar­ly inge­nious idea), and oth­er swed­ed props.”

Respons­es to the video clips of Alien: The Play that have cir­cu­lat­ed on the inter­net include a per­son­al con­grat­u­la­to­ry mes­sage from the orig­i­nal film’s star Sigour­ney Weaver as well as a let­ter from its direc­tor Rid­ley Scott, which Alien: The Play’s direc­tor, North Bergen Eng­lish-teacher-by-day Per­fec­to Cuer­vo, post­ed on Twit­ter. “Lim­i­ta­tions often pro­duce the best results because imag­i­na­tion and deter­mi­na­tion can sur­pass any short­falls and deter­mine the way for­ward — ALWAYS,” writes Scott, who has built his rep­u­ta­tion in the film indus­try on tak­ing firm and deci­sive action in the face of any and all pro­duc­tion dif­fi­cul­ties. He also offers both the funds for an encore pro­duc­tion as well as a sug­ges­tion: “How about your next TEAM pro­duc­tion being Glad­i­a­tor.” No doubt Cuer­vo and his enter­pris­ing play­ers are feel­ing pret­ty vin­di­cat­ed in their deci­sion not to do Our Town right about now.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rid­ley Scott Demys­ti­fies the Art of Sto­ry­board­ing (and How to Jump­start Your Cre­ative Project)

Rid­ley Scott Walks You Through His Favorite Scene from Blade Run­ner

Ele­men­tary School Stu­dents Per­form in a Play Inspired by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Orson Welles Presents Thorn­ton Wilder’s Our Town, the Most Pop­u­lar High School Play of All Time (1939)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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