Josh Gross, artistic director of Puppeteers for Fears, has written a new horror musical comedy, “Robopocalypse: the Musical!” which opens Oct. 20 at Pioneer Hall in Ashland. It features live puppets, a live rock band with synthesizer, puppet rap battles, a light show, and multimedia backgrounds. I met Gross at Case Coffee Roasters on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland.
JG: A core part of our mission has always been to create new art and new pieces that come from a local voice. No one will have ever seen a puppet show quite like this one. We want to make theater for people who’ve never been given a reason to like theater. They’ve never seen a show that speaks to them, and they’ve never seen it in a place that they feel comfortable. There’s a whole untapped market out there.
EH: What are you saying with this musical?
JG: We should all be very afraid of artificial intelligence. Technology is now progressing faster than our understanding of its implications: It’s, in many cases, operating outside of a moral framework. It’s barreling along so fast, that we don’t know what we’re doing with it. The core of the musical is just a family drama, and how you cope with loss.
EH: How does this relate to politics?
JG: Our politics are not addressing the real threats that we face. We’re dumping money into military defense, and yet we’re actively at cyber war and little to nothing is being done about it. It’s this slow-moving disaster, where the groundwork is being laid, and no one sees the threat until it’s too late to do anything about it. We have integrated technology into our lives, but we aren’t thinking about, “What happens if it fails?” There are serious consequences that are worth serious consideration and careful policy. But I wouldn’t say that that’s the major emphasis of the musical.
EH: It has a happy ending?
JG: It ends with a brave self-sacrifice, but it leaves the possibility of the new world in the wake of destruction — a buoyant, uplifting, bittersweet ending. We want people out of their seats — to feel triumphant.
EH: People speak about the next generation, as if they’ve lost a longer attention span.
JG: We do live in a short-form culture, but the bestselling book series of this generation is Harry Potter. Those books are 800 pages long, and there are seven of them. We have obsessively watched “Game of Thrones.” People are into the long form, it’s just that it’s got to be good. It’s not necessarily the length of the storytelling: If the story is good, it will stay engaging the entire time. It’s more about getting to the point and being effective. It’s not that audiences are less capable. They have become accustomed to the narrative devices, especially since we see more stories that play out in media. You have to give them something to hold on to, to hold their interest. You can’t be lazy in your construction of them. It’s a challenge that becomes more challenging as time goes on; but I don’t think that the fundamental structure of how we experience things has changed that much. Personally, I like a good long story. I like something I can get lost in. We have more exposure, so we’re becoming more savvy.