Apollo 13: Mission Control

Apollo 13: Mission Control at Bats Theatre, Wellington, NZ

Today marks the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon, and I keep having flashbacks. Not to July 20, 1968 — I wasn’t born yet — to October 17, 2008, when I helped bring the Apollo 13 crew safely back to Earth. At least fictionally.

Generally, I don’t have a great rap as a theatre date. Except to the people waiting outside for a chance to take over my seat at intermission. All too often I’m painfully aware I’m in a cramped coach seat watching characters wrapped up in a drama I couldn’t care less about. But Apollo 13: Mission Control hooked me before I even entered the theatre.

_3057_2949728029_c427dd1b4a_m.jpg Outside, a replica of the Saturn V rocket commanded our attention, and as we queued awaiting the doors to open, the astronauts descended the staircase and entered the capsule before our very eyes. We cheered them on then entered the theatre control room.

Instead of rows, we had consoles. Where we chose to sit determined our roles. I was in charge of boosters, my date manned monitor 17. Each one was a masterpiece of fiddly controls and blinking lights, monitors we could switch between feeds of the astronauts and instruments.

Apollo 13 was intended to be the third mission to carry humans to the surface of the Moon, but an explosion of one of the oxygen tanks and resulting damage to other systems resulted in the mission being aborted before the planned lunar landing could take place. (Thanks, NASA.) In this version, it’s up to us to safely return the crew to Earth.

I had only been in New Zealand a couple of months when I saw Apollo 13, but sitting at the console in Mission Control, I felt like I was back in the United States. The U.S. of inspiring dreams, the home of the brave and land of the free, the best and the brightest. Not the October 2008 U.S. of economic collapse, “enhanced interrogation,” and Sarah Palin as quite possibly the next Vice President.

Perhaps this could only be created by outsiders – New Zealanders Kip Chapman and Brad Knewstubb, inspired by a replica control room used for the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Chapman told the New Zealand Herald, “We were worried about that because who are we to tell the story? But it’s such an interesting story and a universal story of survival so why shouldn’t we tell it?”

I’m so glad they did. The accents, haircuts and details were spot on. The sweat, the adrenaline, the excitement – so real. The only sweet giveaway that we were not in Houston was the big map with New Zealand in the center instead of, well, cropped off the right edge.

Apollo 13: mission Control stands out for originality, creativity and geeky passion. By far the most fun I’ve had in a theatre in years. It won’t be long before you can see it in the U.S. – they need it over there! In the meantime, people of Hamilton and Auckland, New Zealand, – don’t miss “Apollo 13: Mission Control

Hamilton:
July 20 – 26, 8pm
The Meteor, Hamilton
Bookings TicketDirect
Auckland:
July 31 – August 15 (no shows Sunday and Monday)
Lower NZI Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland
Bookings TicketDirect

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