Ground Control to Major Clumsy...
The Wah and I found ourselves at the Brisbane Powerhouse this evening, courtesy of a last minute offering of tickets to the World Theatre Festival from the divine Aurelie Beeston.
We were there to see Apollo 13: Mission Control, a New Zealand production brought over to help fulfil the WTF's manifesto of showcasing ingenious and different forms of theatre. And boy, did it ever live up to that!
The production seats its audience inside a meticulously recreated NASA Mission Control for the 1970 Apollo 13 launch. Of course, the Apollo 13 mission didn't quite go to plan, and the show's tagline of "Can YOU bring them home?" means it's up to the audience to make decisions to get the three intrepid astronauts safely back to Earth.
But as it turned out a job in Mission Control wasn't my destiny. Oh no, I was going to infinity - and beyond!
Before the show began, The Wah and I were milling in the Powerhouse mezzanine, when a couple of the performers announced there'd been a disaster and they needed volunteers to replace an ill astronaut (the real-life Ken Maddingley). My impro brain just jumped into gear and I put my hand up. I thought it was just some pre-show antics. But when they asked me how much I loved America on a scale of 1 to 10, and I answered "400!" - they told me I'd been picked for the mission and had to follow them backstage.
And thus it was I found myself putting on a beige flight suit, a white space suit and "space boots", and walking out with Jim Lovell and Fred Haise through the "press" to the shuttle capsule (as seen in the above photo).
After the audience was seated, we made our way to the backstage interior command module capsule set, and there it was I spent the next 90 minutes. It was a small, cramped area, and I was surrounded by buttons and switches and labels. "Jim" and "Fred" walked me through some checklists and simple tasks, and we struck up a fun banter - them as geniune NASA spacemen and all-American heroes, me as some Australian ring-in who'd got into astronaut-ing "...because we've got that telescope in Parkes, you know." (that was my back story).
It was a brilliant experience for me as an improviser. Their dedicated character work was a joy to watch, particularly as so much of our interplay was spontaneous. They obviously had certain beats and cues to work with, and I took my cues from them. When we blasted off, I shook in my seat to indicate ignition and the tremor of jettisoning rockets. When we reached orbit, I immediately clicked into "Zero G" mode, making slow, exaggertated, weightless gestures. I answered questions from Walter Cronkite. As Fred Haise became sicker and sicker, I kept offering him water and asking if he was OK. And when Jim Lovell suggested a "direct abort" plan to get the module back to earth, I was on hand to query and say "I'm pretty sure we should try that slingshot-round-the-moon method..."
Of course I can't give you much of a description of the show itself as I only heard parts of it through my headset. But according to The Wah, it's great fun, and really involves the audience. I certainly heard plenty of laughter, and hearty clapping when things when right. It's absolutely worth a look if you're in Brisbane this week - and if you've got kids, definitely take them along. It's science, and history, and critical thinking and fun - I couldn't imagine a better educational experience.
And yes, I DID get to say "Houston, we've had a problem." And it was totally out of this world.