This is something I wrote a few days after I’d been to see Apollo 13: Mission Control. Originally posted on FB I’m reposting it here because I needed to be reminded of how it made me feel. I wrote it in 2009. It’s unchanged.
“Apollo 13: Mission Control” changed my life: a love letter to superb theatre
“Apollo 13: Mission Control” the stage show changed my life. I haven’t really been able to tell anyone about it so I thought I’d write about it here. Before you go much further I invite you to make a decision as to whether you want to read about me. Do you want to know me this well? Don’t get me wrong, I want people to read this (if I didn’t I would have posted it on my blog *haha*) but… well, there is such a thing as knowing too much about a person right? Fair warning – it gets a bit soppy (and it’s over 1500 words long.)
I’ll help you out so you don’t have to feel obliged to read all the way through. Here are the points I’m going to make…
1. You don’t know what will come along to help you become the person you want to be
2. You won’t be able to talk about it
Still with me?
I haven’t exactly been unhappy over the past three years but there have certainly been times when I’ve been depressed. I guess it started when I couldn’t do a full Ironman because of the bad weather, continued with my boyfriend leaving to work overseas, persisted by having a very good friend suddenly stop talking to me, and finished with the same overseas boyfriend breaking up with me after a year away (right decision but it still hurt). I had days when all I seemed to be able to do was sob uncontrollably. Annoying enough on the weekend; bloody inconvenient on a work day. It got so bad that if you’d asked me to describe myself I would have said bitterly “a short fat woman with terrible skin and frizzy hair” and I would have meant it. (I wouldn’t even describe someone I hate in such terms.) It was a horrible head-space to be in. (I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty or whatever, that was just the way it was. Everyone has their own issues to deal with.)
Then along came “Apollo 13: Mission Control”. I went by myself because I couldn’t find someone to go with (turns out I was asking the wrong people). The premise intrigued me enough to book a solo ticket.
The show is based on the Apollo 13 mission. It’s about the team of astronauts who were supposed to go moon walking but instead had to rely on the ingenuity and skill of the NASA Mission Control team to get them back to earth after their Command Module was damaged. This show is a dramatisation about what happened in Mission Control. Actors play the Mission Control lead team and two of the three astronauts. There are two ticket options.
1. Press Gallery – sit around the edges of Mission Control and observe what’s going on.
2. Mission Control – sit at consoles (with buttons, switches, lights, headsets, phones and operating manuals) and participate in tasks which need to be completed.
Audience members can also put their hand up to be the guest astronaut…
I went to two shows. In the first, I was part of Mission Control as a Surgeon Commander, manning the phone for my team. It took a while to get the hang of the consoles and the show itself. There’s no falling out of character and it’s all taken very seriously. (Although I think ‘Gene’ came close to cracking up when both of the audience interviewees were called James.) It was an incredible adrenaline rush to role play a HASA team member. It feels as if you were making a difference to the story. I’d done my homework (watched the movie) beforehand so I could answer the question about how to boost power in the Command Module. I was given a badge for that effort – a tiny thing but it meant such a lot to me.
I didn’t fall asleep until after 3.30am the next morning. My head was whirling with the emotional highs and lows I had just been through. That day I tweeted “HAD SUCH A GOOD TIME AT APOLLO 13:MISSION CONTROL STAGE SHOW I CAN STILL ONLY SPEAK IN CAPS @apollo13_co_nz IM GOING AGAIN!”
Yes – I was IMPRESSED.
I was lucky to get a ticket to the second show. I’d been doing nothing all day and had jumped on Twitter to see what was going on. I got into a conversation with someone who I’d just started following. She’d had a hard night out and was supposed to go to the show but couldn’t quite muster up the energy. I told her she had to go because it was so good I was GOING TO GO AGAIN. She said it was closing night which I hadn’t realised was coming up so soon. I immediately rushed off to buy a ticket.
I had a plan.
The full extent of my plan was to apply for the guest astronaut role. Just to apply and count that as a ‘win’. It would be one step closer to, well, some kind of fulfilment. I was looking forward to sitting in the Press Gallery and picking up all the subtle things I’d missed in the hustle of Mission Control. Because, why would they pick me right? I’m “a short fat woman with terrible skin and frizzy hair”.
Four of us applied to be the astronaut that night. After some questions from HASA Command about where we were from and why we thought we’d be a good team member ‘Jim’ (Mission Commander) made his choice.
He chose me.
They. Chose. Me.
I don’t know why they chose me. Maybe they liked my t-shirt? (Lots of people like the t-shirt. It’s the most complimented shirt I have.) Maybe it was because I said I’d been in Mission Control? Maybe it was my reference to the Stargate BLUs? Maybe it was because they’d tried to interview the usher instead of me? Who knows.
They chose ME.
All I could think was…
I’m the guest astronaut.
I’m. Tonight’s. Guest. Fucking. Astronaut.
I’M THE GUEST FUCKING ASTRONAUT.
Christ! What do I do now?
(Fine. Maybe I was also thinking “I have GOT to tweet this”; there just wasn’t time to do it.)
The setup was a blur of changing into costume (which omg I could fit), stumbling around in gumboots many sizes too big and having my photo taken. (I probably look grumpy – it’s because I was nervous. Cheers and thank you to the person who kept saying “yes, we have time to do this.”) ‘Freddo’ was particularly nice during the early stages. (Actually, she was very patient and supportive in general. At the end she told me I was “very calm” which I’m choosing to interpret as ‘easy to act around’ instead of ‘like a bloody brick-wall to act off’ thankyou.)
I’ll admit I nearly lost it when ‘Jim’ asked if I had any support crew there with me. “Er, no. I’m here solo.” The whole goal was to stand up and apply, not get the fucking job. I was out of my depth and feeling sorry for myself. Once we were in the module I felt much better. The rest of the experience is a bit fuzzy. Compared to Mission Control it is quiet, hush-hush in the Command and Lunar modules. I think I was a bit shell-shocked. I remember snippets – eye contact, handshakes, grins – but not really in any coherent way. Looking back on it, I think I did an okay job. I was pleased with some of the things I did; I’m kicking myself over some of the other things I didn’t do which would have been funnier or better done slightly differently. It doesn’t matter so much because…Guest. Fucking. Astronaut. Here. (Sure, one-in-four chance but still – chosen!)
The next day was a disaster. Full on sobbing and uncontrollable crying. It got quite ridiculous. I ask you – who lies down for a nap and has to get up again because they can’t stop crying? I couldn’t understand it. WHY WAS THIS HAPPENING? It wasn’t until later that evening that I figured it out. I was crying for the past and all the wasted time being someone I didn’t like. Standing up for the guest astronaut role and then getting it reminded me of the person I used to be. It made me consider that maybe being me was okay.
It’s difficult to talk about this. It’s made such a difference personally, going to this show. It completely changed the way that I see myself. (It’s telling that when I told my sister I’d been she didn’t say “What did you think?” or even “Did you enjoy it” but – “DIDYOULOVEIT?”) However – what can I say? “Oh yeah, I went to this show and I got a CD, a postcard, some coffee, a magazine, a squishy star and a satisfying sense of self-worth”? Uh, no. I don’t think so. It was an intensely personal experience which can’t be translated easily.
So. Thank you to the Hackman team. Thank you to the “Apollo 13: Mission Control” cast and crew. Thank you to ALL my friends (and THEIR friends) in the performing arts with all my heart. This was the show that did it for me, although honestly – any show could have the same effect on someone else. You never know what will remind someone of who they want to be. (I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this…)
Average theatre just makes us think.
Good theatre gives us an insight into the lives of others.
Superb theatre reminds us who we are and gives us hope that maybe, who we *are* is good enough.