Riding high on their summer success at the Toronto Fringe Festival, Planet 12 Productions returns to The Theatre on King (TTOK) this fall with the first of four installments of Space Academy on Friday, September 28th.
The brainchild of director/writer Derek Weatherdon, Space Academy has Planet 12’s young company pairing up with familiar Peterborough performers to recreate episodes of an obscure live-action kids’ TV series from 1977 that few people have heard of, and even fewer remember, in a series of “episodes” that aims to return audiences to the fun and creativity of 1970s-era Saturday morning television.
“Television today isn’t what it was like forty years ago,” Derek explains.
“Saturday morning was the mecca. My love for that Saturday morning ritual has never gone away. It was a magical time for television which wasn’t like any other time of the week. All the ads were for you. All the shows were for you.”
The writer of Planet 12’s first two productions, Boy Wonders and Incident on Gun Mountain, Derek has been drawing inspiration from the things he loved as a kid growing up in the late 1970s.
“One thing I’m doing artistically, and as a writer, is that I’m really going back and recreating things that I loved during my childhood,” Derek says.
“I fell in love with comic books at that age, which inspired Boy Wonders. Sasquatch was big at the time, and I went on my first hunting trips, which is where Incident at Gun Mountain comes from that place. So the next obvious place for me was to recreate Saturday morning television.”
Building on the success of previous hits like Shazam!, The Secret of Isis, The Ghost Busters, and Ark II, Filmation Studios under the guidance of producers Lou Shrimer and Norm Prescott jumped on board the Star Wars craze with their new series Space Academy in 1977.
Set in the year 3732, the Space Academy, under the watchful eye of Commander Isaac Gampu, assembled some of the brightest and best kids from earth and beyond to a school located on a faraway asteroid, to train them in space travel. Five good-looking teenagers, a mysterious alien boy, and a lovable robot named Peepo were featured in 15 futuristic episodes.
VIDEO: “Space Academy” TV Intro (1977)
Despite spawning its own action figure line and a memorable spin-off, Jason of Star Command, the series never gained the cult following of previous Filmation shows and faded into obscurity.
However, Derek feels that’s exactly why it’s perfect for the Planet 12 company to bring the series back.
“When I talk to people that are around the age of forty about Space Academy, I get a nodding acknowledgement by people who say ‘I remember that show, I’ve heard of that show,’ but they can’t place ever having seen the show,” Derek explains. “People can’t recollect it, but that’s fine. People know the 1970s, they know sci-fi, and they know Saturday morning television. They get those notions.
“Space Academy is basically Star Trek set in high school. It’s a great property that no one really knows about, so we get a lot of leeway. If we don’t do a note-perfect recreation, it’s okay. We have freedom to do homage and be creative a little bit. We have freedom to reimagine it. It’s going to go through the Planet 12 lens, but our goal is to recreate that Saturday morning experience.”
Space Academy features Planet 12 veterans Emma Meinhardt, Abbie Dale, Emily Keller, and Samuelle Weatherdon, with new member George Knechtel alongside Adam Martignetti as Commander Gampu and Brad Brackenridge as Peepo the Robot.
The company will be doing a combination of episodes from the series over four consecutive months, with “guest stars” being made up of other familiar faces from the TTOK stage. For Episode 1, the guest star will be Robyn Smith in the role of The Mind.
Although the Planet 12 version of Space Academy will stand on its own, Derek does point out that full episodes of the series are available on YouTube for audience members to see it for themselves.
“People can enjoy the original version if they want, and then they can see how we interpret it,” Derek says. “They can see what we keep and what we discard, and the things we keep we are going to do as tight as we can. The tone is going to change.”
Although the plan is to stay as faithful to the show in most ways, Derek does plan on making some changes to the Planet 12 episodes to make the series more interesting. One of those changes will be to Adam Martignetti’s character Gampu, originally portrayed by Jonathan Harris (best known for playing Dr. Zachary Smith in the original Lost in Space from the 1960s).
“We are reimaging Commander Gampu a little bit,” Derek explains. “I see Gampu as if Captain Kirk had lived to be three hundred years old and can’t really logically be commanding a starship anymore, so they just drop him on a high school on the edge of the frontier to train them, but secretly he wants to keep going out on missions. That’s where I want to go with the character.”
Derek also plans to include a storyline through the four episodes derived from the actual series that was never resolved. In the first episode of Space Academy, the crew discovers a mysterious orphan named Loki who they take to the school. However, after 15 episodes Loki’s true origins were never revealed. Derek plans to change that.
“Loki is a tough character to do because he doesn’t add much narratively and it’d have forced us to cast someone quite a bit younger than the rest of the cast,” Derek says. “So Loki is going to be used as more of a plot device that will interlock interface and can speak through Peepo. Loki’s story, and what it is and what it means, is going to be the underlying thread between all the shows, leading to a pay-off in the final episode.”
With special make up designed by Hayley Montgomery-Griffin, and set construction by Amy Keller (who created the brilliant set for Incident on Gun Mountain), Planet 12 is working with costume designer Kathryn Bahun for the first time.
“Kathryn Bahun is an artist who creates wearable art, so clothing is her medium,” Derek sayss. “She contacted us and she has a very science fiction-y mindset, and her design are great. We’re drawing in some iconic influences, so you’ll see some Lando Calrissian and Buck Rogers in her designs.
“We’ve lucked into some really cool stuff to build the costumes around. We’ve acquired a whole bunch of decommissioned Canadian military jumpsuits, which we can build the costumes around.”
Possibly one of the most brilliant things about the idea of Space Academy at TTOK is that it’s a property so obscure that nobody really ever asked for it, so this is a chance to rediscover something that you didn’t know you’d love.
“It’s not overburdened with expectation,” Derek says. “But if on the odd chance someone does come and says ‘This was my favourite show as a kid’, they are going to be so glad we’re doing it they’ll overlook any changes. I have faith in our group that we’ll do a good show. Our timeline is tighter than we usually do, but we need that challenge.”
Space Academy will be performed in four one-night-only performances over four consecutive months this fall. Episode 1 will be staged on Friday, September 28th, with the following episodes being staged on Friday, October 19th, Friday, November 23rd, and Friday, December 21st. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15 at the door or pay what you can.