Defying Gravity is a play set around the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986, which took the lives of seven astronauts, including the ‘teacher in space’, Christa McAuliffe.
Unfortunately, it is devoid of any singing witches. At the heart of the story is the relationship between a mother and her daughter, and the ordinary people caught up in a much larger story.
Much of the play consists of story-telling monologues, interspersed with vignettes of the events before and after the accident, not all of them rooted in reality.
At times it is funny, others deeply sad and emotional.
Elizabeth is the largest part, but the rest aren’t very far behind. Everyone has a fairly equal amount of stage time, lines, and story.
It will be an extremely technical play, involving projection mapping, a complex set, and a little bit of theatre magic.
In contrast, most of the emotional scenes will be simple and stripped back.
It’ll be a long rehearsal period, but to begin with, it’ll be fairly relaxed with just one a week or so. I really want everyone to be off book early on, so we’ll be doing workshops, blocking and character building, whilst everyone gets of book before rehearsals really get going.
I would like to use accents. Most of the characters are American, but the right cast and a good performance is more important to me than having them, so don’t let that put you off auditioning.
- Elizabeth (F) 20-35 - The daughter of the ‘teacher in space’, Elizabeth plays herself 20 or so years after the accident, and also her 5-year-old self, often in quick succession. A daughter dealing with the loss of her mother, in the most public way possible, and her emotions in the build-up to that point. Much of the emotional weight (and some of the humour) is on her shoulders. This role will be a challenge, but one that should be interesting to play. Her character acts as one of the narrators of the story.
- Teacher (F) 30-45 - In all but name, the Teacher is Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger accident. She has to deal with the excitement and fears of being an ordinary person about to do something extraordinary, and the realisation of the impact that has on her daughter especially. As her character name suggests, she’s a teacher, so most of her part is set in a classroom, not a space shuttle. One of the biggest challenges will be to act as if she’s teaching kids, without the audience feeling as if they are being treated like them. She also gets an astronaut costume. Who wouldn’t want that?
- Claude Monet (M) 30+ - Yes, the actual Monet. Sharing narration duty with Elizabeth, Monet is a ‘traveller through time’. Personifying the whimsy of the play, he interacts with most of the characters as the play develops, in doing so, links the separate stories together. His other task is to convey the sense of humanity’s quest to explore and expand their horizons, and at the end, plays a circus ringmaster.
- Betty (F) 40+ - In the script she’s retired, but it states that it’s an early retirement, it gives a lot of age flexibility. The key will be that her and Ed are believably a married couple. They bicker a fair bit but love each other deeply. Together with Ed, she performs most of the play’s comedy. However, they also are jointly responsible for what should be the play’s most heart-wrenching scene, the accident itself. At the end she will be an acrobat at the circus, but no acrobatics will be needed, save being on a swing.
- Ed (M) 45+ - As with Betty, the casting will depend on the two of them working as a couple. Keen photographer Ed is a little down-trodden, but holds his own. As with Betty, most of the comedy comes from him, but also most of the tragedy. Betty and Ed are ordinary people, exploring their own world, with dreams of travelling further.
- CB (M) 20-50 - CB’s age is mostly irrelevant, again, the only important aspect is being in a believable relationship with Donna. A member of the NASA ground crew, he probably spends too much time in the local bar where crew and astronauts hang out. As is natural, he blames himself for the accident, despite being a small cog in a big machine.
- Donna (F) 20-50 - CB’s girlfriend, she runs the bar where all the NASA folk, and other visitors, hang out. Of all the cast, she’s the one with their feet most firmly on the ground, particularly considering her fear of heights. She’s something of an agony aunt for her customers, the Teacher and CB especially, and really cares about her ‘flock’.
In addition to the on-stage roles, there are a number of small pre-recorded roles as follows:
- TV presenter (M/F)
- Radio presenter x1 (M)
- Astronauts x 6 (M/F)
- CAPCOM (M)
- NASA announcer (M)
- Assorted others (M/F)