In space, no-one can hear you scream, but there was certainly much applause for a high school production of Alien. Staged by the Drama Club at North Bergen High School in New Jersey, it boasted performances, detailed sets, and costumes that have turned the show from a local curiosity to a worldwide sensation.
The offbeat and ambitious choice of material has earned rave reviews, with photos and footage circulating on social media. Parents proudly posted lovingly-recreated sequences, such as the infamous egg opening in which Kane (played by John Hurt in the 1979 movie) is attacked by the iconic face-hugger.
It wasn’t long before celebrities joined the conversation. Adam Savage (Mythbusters) loved what he saw and tweeted some praise. Elijah Wood (Lord Of The Rings) and Rosario Dawson (Daredevil) also showed support.
The Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy pitched in. But the best was yet to come when the official @AlienAnthology account commented, “We are impressed!”
Naturally, the school budget didn’t stretch to a multi-million dollar price tag. The Guardian writes that “costumes and sets were made largely from recycled materials.”
Even so, the homemade experience blew people away, with The Hollywood Reporter commenting that they “appear to be almost exact replicas of those from the Ridley Scott film that spawned a massive franchise.”
BBC News refers to “airlock doors with moving parts and the so-called ‘space jockey’ — the lone pilot of a derelict spaceship, which the Nostromo crew investigates.” The notorious “chest-burster” scene was accomplished with a hand puppet.
The idea to bring the legendary xenomorph to New Jersey was the brainchild of director Perfecto Cuervo who, together with art director Steven Defendini, realized this would be a true challenge. Recalling his words to Cuervo, Defendini said in The Guardian, “I don’t even know if that is a thing that is possible but if the students are engaged, then I think we can make it happen, however, we make it happen.”
The pair raided their bank accounts to plow approximately $3,500 into the feature-length play, which ran for two nights in March. Around 20 students were involved and the group even shot a trailer.
To further create the right ambiance, the actual film was projected behind the stagebound action, giving audiences the opportunity to compare and contrast scenes like the exciting climax. In this, heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver’s classic role) ejects the creature into space.
North Bergen is described as “one of the most underfunded schools in the entire state”, making the achievement even more of an eye-opener. For Cuervo and Defendini the experience is all about inspiring young minds and broadening horizons.
“I think the best thing for us was that we showed the kids, and the kids kind of pieced it together themselves, that you can really make something out of nothing,” Defendini remarked.
As for the official franchise, Alien grew from relatively humble beginnings into a movie phenomenon. The alien’s distinctive design was the work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who together with visionary director Scott crafted a nightmare with an enduring legacy.
Following three sequels, the alien locked horns with another sci-fi horror favorite for the Alien vs. Predator series. Scott then returned to the concept for prequels Prometheus (2012) and most recently Alien: Covenant (2017). An animated series based on the game Alien: Isolation is streaming online.
James Cameron, who directed Aliens in 1986, is currently working with Neill Blomkamp (District 9) on a new installment based on the latter’s concept. This reportedly ignores Alien³ onwards, creating an alternate timeline.
The original movie celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, making the play an unexpectedly poignant tribute. And if North Bergen High think this is the end for Alien: The Play, they’re wrong. Because the Mayor is talking about reaching into the coffers for extra performances, meaning this could be a cult classic in the making.