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SYFY WIRE Podcasts

How that amazing Alien high school play got made [Ep #79]

By Jordan Zakarin
Ripley from Alien

Last Thursday night, a relatively large crowd of parents and community members showed up at the auditorium in New Jersey's North Bergen High School, excited to watch the drama club's latest unconventional production: a stage adaptation of the classic space horror film Alien. It was a bigger crowd than normal — the year before, they had done Night of the Living Dead — and so the cast and crew were already a bit nervous about the expanded spotlight.

If they had only known what was in store for them.

Less than 24 hours later, it seemed like half the internet had heard about and seen clips from their show, which was a viral sensation thanks in large part to a post on Reddit that crewmember Justin Pierson put up on a whim the next morning.

"My friend who was in the audience sent me pictures and I was like, maybe Reddit will like this. Throughout the school day, my phone started blowing up from Reddit notifications," Pierson told The Fandom Files. "It was insane. I started showing it around to the cast and we were just like, wow, we're, we're like really big now."

After that, the trailer went viral and the attention began to pour in. Steven Defendini, a teacher at the school and the play's art director, remembers seeing a tweet from the TV host Adam Savage while they were breaking down the set that Saturday morning. The acclaim continued to pour in, with articles in a cavalcade of national outlets, including The New York Times, and culminating with a video message from Alien star Sigourney Weaver and a letter from director Ridley Scott.

After some uplifting, if oddly placed, rhetoric about the importance of self-sufficiency and the immigrant spirit of the New World, Scott even offered to financially back an encore staging. Not bad for a group that didn't exactly get permission from 20th Century Fox to put up the show.

The cast and crew spoke with The Fandom Files on Thursday night, shortly after receiving the letter from Scott. It was the latest in an unthinkable procession of highlights for a modest theater club in northern New Jersey, and they were excited to dive deep into how they put on the show. Much of the attention has highlighted and embraced their DIY approach, and as they told The Fandom Files, they were endlessly creative in building the sets, with hand-puppet aliens, egg crate walls, a stuffed cat (the stand-in for Jones was a particularly ingenious idea), and other sweded props.

It's been a whirlwind for this bunch of teenagers, many of whom had never worked on a stage production of any type before or even seen Alien, but they've taken it in stride. They're excitable but haven't seemed to let viral fame go to their heads — unfortunately, putting on a hit play doesn't get you a pass on math homework.

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