Audience to the rescue in space drama

By Amy Shanks

From a concept dreamed up by two Kiwi blokes, to the next big thing - Apollo 13: Mission Control is about to put interactive theatre on the world map, but not before giving Hawke's Bay people a sneak peak.

For the next two weeks, the Hawke's Bay Opera House Assembly Room will be a hive of activity as the play's cast and crew set up 100 fully active control panels with working knobs and phones, which will come alive when local audiences take their seats for the first time on October 3.

The show, written by industrial engineer Brad Knewstubb and actor Kip Chapman, follows three astronauts as they fight for their lives, trapped 320,000km from earth after an explosion has ripped through their spacecraft.

They are rapidly running out of oxygen, power and water. As the world waits helplessly, the elite staff of the US space agency try to find ways to bring the crippled craft home - that's where the audience steps in.

People seated at "mission control" panels will work with flight director Gene Kranz to make critical decisions, while others listen to the astronauts' plight via headsets in allocated "press gallery" seats.

In reality, two of the three astronauts are actors, seated in a room on the top floor of the Opera House and beamed on to a big screen on stage, while a third astronaut will be selected from the audience each night.

"But that's only for the bravest of the brave," Mr Chapman said. "They are worked into the play, and get to say lines like 'Houston, we have a problem'. Over the years, we have had a 70-year-old lady, an 11-year-old kid, a drunk person and a crazy Polish lady.

"People go nuts but it's a totally safe environment. We are not trying to make a fool of anybody. We just teach people how to do it, step back and see what happens."

Those seated at the consoles had to work together but could put in as much or as little effort as they liked.

"We designed it so everybody could use it. You could prank phone call people all the time or get in an argument with the lead actor or you could sit back and flick a few knobs.

"For those people that freak out, they can take a back seat. They will be able to put on their headsets and hear what the astronauts are saying."

Apollo 13: Mission Control will run from October 3-14 in the Hawke's Bay Opera House Assembly Room before heading out on a world tour. Tickets are $52.50 (console) or $37.50 (press gallery), available through Ticketek.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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