Having acted, stage managed, run tech, and carried out a whole host of other roles for Masque Theatre and other companies, Megan Lucas is taking on the challenge of sitting in the director’s chair, this October, with Defying Gravity by Jane Anderson (Madmen, Olive Kitteridge). In the coming months, she’ll be sharing her progress in bringing the script to life.
Part I: Pre-flight checks
At the end of September last year, the curtain closed on the Northampton Arts Lab’s Lullaby of a Bottlecap Queen, a production I co-directed. Despite numerous projects on the horizon, I was filled with a desire to direct again. But what to direct? My play-lore is not the greatest however the internet can be a treasure trove. Sifting through synopsis after synopsis, my eyes were drawn to a thumbnail for a play that contained a Space Shuttle. To say my interest was piqued would be an understatement.
I’ve loved space for as long as I remember, and as a child of the 80’s it was the Space Shuttle that I loved the most. Something about the black and white shape of the Orbiter, coupled to the orange main tank nestled between two white boosters, captured my imagination and never let go. My wife and I altered our New York holiday to include a night in Washington DC, just so I could I visit the Shuttle there. When we couldn’t get in, because the museum closed early, there were a lot of tears. We made up for that by visiting the Shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles during our honeymoon a few years later. Before it was retired, I would watch a live launch online, before going outside 20 minutes later to see the two ‘stars’ of the Orbiter and discarded tank, fly overhead. In short, I adore the Shuttle. Almost as much as I adore the theatre.
Reading further, I discovered it was set around the accident that claimed Challenger and the 7 astronauts aboard, including the ‘Teacher in Space’, Christa McAuliffe in 1986. This was a part of the Shuttle’s history that has always affected me deeply, particularly as there are lesser known parts of the story that are frankly heartbreaking. I’ll speak about those in a future post, but for now, it was looking as if I had stumbled upon my ideal play.
My interest was given a further boost when I noticed the play included a large number of projections. I’ve used numerous projections in previous productions, whether as director or tech, and I have something of a reputation for pushing the limits of what is technically possible in community theatre. It was increasingly seeming as if this play had been written especially for me, but it still needed to be a great script. I ordered a copy and waited impatiently for the postman.
I read it the moment it arrived, then immediately read it again. I loved it! I approached Masque’s powers that be, and the process began in earnest. Over the next few months, the script was passed around the reading committee, which proved to be a nervous time for me. I loved the play, but had I been blinded by a style and subject matter that I am so close to? I needn’t have worried, the responses were better than I could have hoped for. The play was approved, the date was set, and all we needed to do now was to secure the rights.
This meant that Matthew Fell, who looks after Masque’s programming, had to hunt down the rights holder, which turned out to be based in America and secure them. It was my job to not excitedly harass him too much, and resist the urge to work on the project before it was confirmed. I failed with the latter, you’ll have to ask Matt about the former. However, a price was agreed, the contracts are now signed, and opening night will be the 16th of October, this year, at The Playhouse.
I can’t wait to share what I have in mind for this production and the journey towards it. Those of you who have seen Madame Bovary or Midsummer Night’s Dream and a fair few others will have an idea of the quality and attention to detail I strive for. In those instances, I was just helping to realise another’s vision. This one is very much my baby and the very definition of a passion project. If my plans come to fruition, Defying Gravity should be something special.
For now, I’ll share one last detail. Something that I’d unwittingly kept for over thirty years, almost precisely for this moment. Whilst reading the script, I noticed something significant within the prop list. A toy Space Shuttle. You’ll notice the toy Shuttle in the marketing image for the play. It’s mine. It was given to me for Christmas in 1985, just a few weeks before Challenger was lost.
Megan Lucas is a stage manager, lighting & sound designer and technician, set and prop maker and designer, director, playwright and occasional actor. Defying Gravity takes to the Playhouse Theatre stage from Tue 16 – Sat 20 Oct at 7.30pm. Tickets will be on sale soon.