IU Themester class reimagines classic "Twilight Zone" episodesDecember 7, 2017 4:16pm

Dec. 07--What you are about to read is the story of the rebirth of a classic science fiction television anthology. A group of Indiana University students, faculty, staff and community members have joined forces to tell new stories on classic themes.

This is "The Twilight Zone."

Fans of the original series might imagine the words above narrated by Rod Serling, the creator of the series. But in three episodes produced by a class called "21st Century Twilight Zone," the part of the narrator is played by local actress and storyteller Gladys DeVane, an African-American woman. She lends a new voice to Serling's timeless structure rather than mimicking his performance.

IU's Themester topic this semester, "Diversity, Difference, Otherness," was a perfect opportunity for a production class focusing on "The Twilight Zone," which senior lecturer Steven Krahnke has always wanted to do.

"I didn't just want to do the original scripts," Krahnke said. "I wanted to kind of reimagine them."

Instead of reproducing Serling's original work, Krahnke selected three episodes to represent the Themester concept and had students rewrite them. Using classic stories that highlight human reactions to crises, cast and crew were able to play in Serling's world. Krahnke's goal was not to improve upon the stories, but to reimagine them in a modern era.

"We had to be true to what Serling was doing," he said.

Julia Telthorst, a sophomore film major who served as student art director for the episode "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," said the class has given her the opportunity to learn about the whole process of producing a television show. The episode she worked on uses an alien invasion to frame a critique of Cold War paranoia.

"My main desire (for majoring in film) was just a passion for it and a love for storytelling," she said. "I didn't really have a lot of physical experience to back that up. I jump at the chance of anything that can give me that hands-on experience."

She's now been able to experiment and learn what her talents are, as well as work with older students who have taken higher-level production courses. "It's a really special thing," she said. "Everyone's treated on the same level, as professionals. People that I never would have expected to do the jobs they do, with no experience, just step up to the plate."

Telthorst worked with senior Jared Smith, who directed her episode and produced "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" Smith also was looking for an opportunity to create something and said he was drawn to the project, even though he'd only had a little bit of exposure to "The Twilight Zone." On the first day of Krahnke's class, he was pulled in even further while watching a documentary about Serling.

"It turns out he's much more of an interesting character than I thought he was," Smith said, in terms of Serling's art and goals. "I realize now I really want to do the same kind of thing as Rod Serling as an artist, as a director, as a producer. I really look up to him."

Krahnke said he's always been a fan of "The Twilight Zone" and found many of Serling's scripts brilliant -- they get right to the point, he said, and Serling was able to use science fiction as a vehicle for addressing big issues of the time.

"He was losing all of his sponsors because they didn't want him talking about political issues," Krahnke said. "He pitched the idea of this show that appeared to everyone to be a science fiction show, but in reality it was a show about prejudice and paranoia."

Russell McGee, who works for WFIU/WTIU as an on-air promotions producer, directed "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" He said using science fiction as a storytelling device allows television to address hard-hitting cultural issues, and many of the same issues can be addressed today as during the Cold War in the mid-20th century.

McGee said the class's version of the "Martian" script confronts racial and religious stereotypes as the characters become paranoid while trying to determine who is an alien. "It's really dealing with what's going on socially in the world right now," he said. "And I love that about science fiction."

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