When a global catastrophe causes all of Earth’s superheroes and villains to lose their powers, what are they to do?
Find out in “MAN,” a new serialized live performance and podcast that begins this Wednesday at the Firehouse Theatre. Written by local playwright and actor Chandler Hubbard, “MAN” will have three of its 12 episodes performed and recorded live at the Firehouse each Wednesday over the next three weeks. For audience members who can’t make a performance — or wish to follow along virtually — previous episodes will be posted online.
“It’s very much similar to a radio show back in the day, where people would come and listen as people performed vocally and it would be sent out over the airwaves,” Hubbard explains.
Though Hubbard wrote “MAN” before the pandemic, he says it previously had iterations as a sitcom and cartoon before he adopted its current format. Hubbard says delivering “MAN” via live show and podcast are reflective of the fact that we’re still in a “weird place for the theater.”
“So many people are not ready to come back to the theater, and the ways in which we used to operate aren’t viable anymore, so part of it was trying to find a way to bring theater to the masses,” Hubbard says. “It’s kind of akin to watching a ’90s sitcom where there’s a laugh track, or where there’s a live studio audience laughing along to the jokes. It helps you feel that you’re part of the audience, that you’re part of the experience.”
In the show, former enemies Dom “Marvelous Man” Taylor and Patrick “Professor Peril” Pritchard join forces to brave this new world where they no longer have superpowers. Other characters include the vigilante Iron Maiden and reporter April Anderson. Hubbard says that the massive shakeup of the world order has some parallels to the pandemic.
“It’s an exploration of power dynamics and the status quo sort of being pulled from beneath everyone,” Hubbard says of the superheroes losing their powers in the show. “It’s up to the normal people of the world to find out who caused it, and [figure out] who is picking up the mantle in that vacuum of power. It’s an exploration of a lot of different institutions and the ways in which they uphold and push forward the status quo.”
To help the audience quickly grasp this comic book world, Hubbard says he leaned into tropes common among caped crusaders. Dom “Marvelous Man” Taylor is analogous to Superman; he can fly and has incredible strength. Patrick “Professor Peril” Pritchard is the smartest man alive and has similarities to Lex Luther and Doctor Strange. Cast members include Bianca Bryan, Anne Michelle Forbes, Paul Major, Amber Marie Martinez and Adam Turck.
Following the first performance, every successive show will begin with a recap so that audience members can keep up if they’ve missed an episode. At the conclusion of “MAN’s” run at the Firehouse, there will be a second iteration of the podcast that will be released through Jackleg Media.
Each episode is expected to last about 30 minutes but may run longer depending on actor’s comic additions and audience reactions.
“There have been an embarrassment of riches with the cast,” Hubbard says. “We are trying to keep them to 30 minutes, but we have some of the best comic actors in town, and sometimes they’ll riff on a performance and it breaks my heart to have to dial them back.”
In modern portrayals of superheroes, Hubbard says we’ve lost some of the “magic in the campiness of superheroes,” like in Adam West’s Batman or George Reeves’ Superman — the ridiculous aspect of someone donning a mask and a cape to leap around buildings trying to help people.
“There is something inherently silly about that. This world sort of recognizes that. Yeah, this is a weird sort of life choice that you made,” Hubbard says, before mentioning Marvel’s recent box office bomb “Morbius.” “I think people are a little overwhelmed with super self-serious superheroes. Hopefully [audiences] like the fact that this is self-aware enough while still being straightforward.”
“Man” is serialized show and podcast with its first live performance of three episodes taking place on June 29 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. Three additional episodes will be performed live on July 6, 13 and 20. For more information, visit firehousetheatre.org or call (804) 355-2001.