Noah Mease is an award-winning prop designer who has helped create such memorable shows as John, An Octoroon and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. But he's also a playwright, and in his latest work, Omega Kids, he's found a creative way put both of his skills to use.
In the play, two young comic-book fans named Michael spend a Saturday night on the floor of an unfurnished apartment, geeking out over a group of teenage superheroes called the Omega Kids. To accompany the production, Mease has written and illustrated an entire faux issue of an Omega Kids comic book, beautiful copies of which are not only used in the play but also distributed to audience members—who are invited to read them before, during or after the show.
"The comic is the third character onstage," Mease says. "It prompts memories and sets expectations, and gives the characters a common language to express the exhilaration and fear and vulnerability and hope that hit us all at the start of a brand new relationship teetering on the edge of friendship or something else. But it’s also a companion piece to the play. It's a tactile art object that you get to hold and keep and have your own relationship with, and it’s designed to create feedback loops and echoes of the live performance happening in front of you."
We asked Mease to share and comment on a few pages from his original comic-book creation. He graciously agreed.
1. FRONT COVER
"Most of the play is staged with the characters lounging around on the floor. The audience sits above a square of carpet, looking down onto the actors, who in turn are looking down into this comic: real people watching live performers reading flat drawings. The cover is a nod to that idea. The Omega Kids are lying on the floor—they seem dead but we later learn they’re just asleep, a classically overly-dramatic and misleading comic-cover trick—but the protagonist, Insomniac, is looking up at us."
2. BACK COVER
"Creating the Omega Kids didn’t just mean writing this one issue. The nerdier Michael has an encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise’s many reboots and retcons, and one of the versions of the Omega Kids discussed in the play is an animated show (not unlike the beloved WB shows of my childhood, such as X-Men: Evolution and Static Shock). I created this advertisement for the DVD as away to show the audience an alternative version of the characters, and had a lot of fun reverse-designing their TV-show costumes based on their 'modern reboot' looks."
3. KITCHEN PAGE
"A big part of making this play and comic simultaneously was thinking about how the two media are similar and how they’re different. The idea of the 'gutter'—the white space between panels—is complex and fascinating; sometimes it means that a moment has passed but sometimes it’s twenty years, or it’s the same moment but in a different location. In theater, time usually feels continuous, but we also use all kinds of tricks to make those same kinds of jump. Here I tried to use sound effects in the comic to link moments and draw the reader through, just like our sound designer, Eben Hoffer, carries the audience through scene breaks and transitions in the play."
4. TWO-PAGE KISS
"Here it is: what we’re all hoping will happen at some point in the play. This is two-page spread where the comic characters—who look eerily similar to our actors, Will Sarratt and Fernando Gonzalez—kiss for the first time. This two-page spread sits open onstage like a bear trap through some particularly fraught scenes in the play. I’m interested in the flat, bold, shallow stories you can tell in comics, stories with little subtext and lots of plot; and I’m also interested in naturalistic theater, where not much happens in the plot but the characters can feel deep and true in a way comic book heroes can’t."
"The last page of the issue is a big cliffhanger: a full-page splash of characters you’ve never seen before, promising a whole new adventure. Of course, there is no next issue, so you’ll have to come see the play to (maybe) hear what happens next. I’m not gonna spoil it for you."
Omega Kids plays at the Access Theater through March 25. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.