Countdown To Launch | Defying Gravity Director’s Blog Part V

Megan Lucas is directing Defying Gravity by Jane Anderson (Madmen, Olive Kitteridge) for Masque Theatre. This blog series covers her journey in bringing the script to life.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V: STA099

Challenger began its life not as a space-worthy Orbiter but as STA099, or Structural Test Article. In its original guise it was essentially a bare shell, which as the name suggests, was used to test the structural integrity of the vehicle during development. This enabled engineers at Shuttle manufacturer Rockwell to work out the kinks ahead of constructing the first Orbiter capable of spaceflight; Columbia.

Challenger as STA099

In much the same way, most of the early rehearsals for Defying Gravity have been devoted to blocking whilst using a bare-shell version of the set in order to put together a basic structure for the show, and in particular, the movements of the actors. The script is scattered with stage directions, but the Playhouse is a very different stage to that of the original production, so they have required a little more consideration, or a completely different direction entirely.

I’ve had the basic moves, entrances, exits and major beats planned for months, but until this point, I couldn’t be sure it would work in the space. Happily the vast majority worked as planned, and for those that didn’t the experimental nature of rehearsal came to the fore. Together with my cast and crew we experimented until the scene in question worked. There is something deeply satisfying when a scene suddenly slots into place; you can feel when it’s working.

Director Megan with John Myhill (Ed), April Pardoe (Betty) and Lou Chawner (Monet)

Of course the most important consideration throughout this is the view the audience has. A wonderfully acted piece is rendered pointless if large swathes of the audience are unable to see parts of it due to for example, the positioning of another cast member. Fortunately for me, most scenes within Defying Gravity only feature one or two of the cast at any one time, which makes avoiding this problem considerably easier. However, that is not always the case. Many scenes have required a good deal of head-scratching in order to find a solution that is not only practical, but adds to the show.

Megan directing John and April on the bare bones set

Blocking is a combination of practical considerations and a more artistic element of composition. The space on the stage is limited, particularly as the set takes up a large proportion of it, so care must be taken to ensure movements and transitions around this space are smooth and don’t result in the actors bumping into each other or the set. Creatively it’s about positioning of characters so that the scenes are dynamic and interesting, whilst at all times appearing natural. As I say at all times, rules are meant to be broken, and there are a few instances where I’ve done just that. You’ll have to wait until opening night to discover why.

I’ve found the great temptation during blocking is the urge to go into details with the actors’ performances, which I’ve mostly managed to resist. The time for that will come soon enough. Likewise, Challenger had to be patient for its moment to transition from STA099 to OV099, a fully-fledged Orbital Vehicle. Eventually, it would be fitted with everything it needed to reach orbit, a feat it would achieve 9 times. Now that blocking has been completed, it is time to add what Defying Gravity needs in order to truly fly.

Megan Lucas is a stage manager, lighting & sound designer and technician, set and prop maker and designer, director, playwright and occasional actorDefying Gravity takes to the Playhouse Theatre stage from Tue 16 – Sat 20 Oct at 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale at The crew have now taken over the Masque Twitter account, and you can also find them on Instagram @defyinggravitymasque

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V: STA099


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