jakub | April 6, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | Releasing the Potential Energy of ‘The Light Chasers’

A scene from “The Light Chaser” at Know Theatre.

“Who is going to write the book to a Cloud Cult Light Chasers sci-fi rock opera so that I can design it?” tweeted Andrew Hungerford, artistic director of Know Theatre of Cincinnati, in early 2022, referring to a cosmic album released in 2010 by the Minnesota indie rock band. Chicago-based director Jess Hutchinson, a fan of Cloud Cult as well as of Know Theatre, saw the tweet and was intrigued. Before long, Hungerford himself created a story about a teenage scientist, Nic, who lives with her mom while her dad is away on a mission in deepest space. The resulting music-theatre piece, The Light Chasers, plays at Know, April 5-28, with direction by Hutchinson and Hungerford and music direction by Rob Stark.

“Some of Know’s best artistic successes fall into this category of adventure play, sci-fi/fantasy, musical, or some combination of those,” said Hungerford in an interview with Hutchinson, citing Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Brant Russell’s Bankers, and Justin Huertas’s Lizard Boy as examples. His script describes the setting for The Light Chasers as “a liminal space that bounces back and forth between a town in the middle of Ohio and a spaceship on route to Proxima Centauri…The stage is full of potential for transformation.”

Hutchinson seemed enthused by this potential. “I’ve been thinking about that space of possibility,” she said, noting the show’s partnership with the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, whose students fill many of the show’s 10 roles and for whose faculty the show’s movement director, L. Lucía Duque, works. “Andrew is really giving us a lot of room to discover with the cast the physical embodiment of the story, as opposed to: ‘Here is a table you can really only use as a table; do not stand on it.’”

The cast of “The Light Chasers” at Know Theatre.

The album’s chief songwriter, Cloud Cult frontman Craig Minowa, was similarly open to interpretation. The original Light Chasers record doesn’t have a clear narrative, or even delineated characters, like, say, The Who’s Tommy, but instead traces a sort of pilgrimage to enlightenment. But Minowa signed off on the sci-fi concept, Hungerford said, because he was “really moved by how we were interacting with and building on the piece.”

Will he catch The Light Chasers onstage? “That’s our hope,” said Hungerford. “We open just before the solar eclipse, and Cincinnati will be close to totality. So if Craig is traveling with his family around that time, he might be able to see it.”

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