A dreamy, musical astronomy show will return to its birth town of Seattle next week after more than a decade away. Starball, created by John Kauffman and Dan Dennis, will play at West of Lenin in Fremont from September 7–11.
According to the show’s Facebook page, “Audience members play villagers in a dystopian future in which the global government, or World Regime, has ended the relationship between humanity and the stars. But two Astronomasons, the Conductor (Kaufmann) and the Proxy (Dennis), have rebelled, calling the villagers to a secret clearing for a creative ritual.”
It sounds a little dark, but director Rachel Katz Carey and producer A.J. Epstein call it “giddy fun.”
Carey said Kauffman and Dennis were the perfect people to create this show.
“They’ve got charm and charisma for days and they’ve got improv experience and they’ve got huge, open hearts, so people just want to jump in and work with them,” Carey said. “They also have the hard science. They’re not just theater guys who thought they found a gimmick; they really, truly know their astronomy.”
Both were working at the Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center when they created and first performed Starball in 2002. In 2004 they brought in Carey and Epstein to help take the show to new places.
“What they needed was scaffolding to give some form and structure,” Carey said. “It’s been my experience that improv thrives the best when there is a scaffolding and structure to support it.”
In the intervening years Starball has been performed in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and even Spain. For its return to Seattle it will be performed in an inflatable planetarium on the West of Lenin stage.
Epstein explained that as audience members enter they will be asked to anonymously jot down notes about a recent dream. During the performance dreams will be drawn at random, and the actors and audience will look for parts of the dream in the stars projected on the planetarium dome. The audience and actors together will create stories based on the dreams identified in the sky.
L-R: Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer, Starball producer AJ Epstein and director Rachel Katz Carey in front of the inflatable planetarium in which Starball will be performed Sept. 7-11 at West of Lenin. (Photo: Greg Scheiderer)
“By the end of the night we have an entirely new sky mythology, not just individual constellations but a mythology unique to that group of people,” Epstein said. “And then they write a song.”
“An original song for every show based on what’s shown up in the sky,” Carey added.
“A Jungian devotee would have a field day with this show,” Epstein laughed.
He laments that, as a culture, we’ve lost our connection to the night sky.
“Most of us now live in cities where we can maybe see a couple of stars,” he said, “so the show really is very loudly but very elegantly getting people to actually look up at the sky and make a connection.”
At Seattle Astronomy we like to explore the intersections of art and science. Some would set up a divide there, but neither Carey nor Epstein see it.
“That’s sort of a Mac/PC religion question!” Epstein laughed.
“The stars were art before they were science,” Carey said. “We’ve been telling stories about stars long before we had telescopes.”
“The best scientists and the best writers about science that I know absolutely have the connection to art and imagination,” Carey added. “How do you get the big discoveries if you can’t imagine ahead of your data and then do the work to see if it’s there?”
Both admit to bias because of their involvement, but insist that Starball is way different than any planetarium show you’ve ever seen.
“You just have to be there, and when you leave you’re different because you’ve figured some stuff out,” Carey said.
“This one really grabs an audience by the heart and brings them to a place where they get it,” Epstein added.
Starball runs at West of Lenin for seven performances September 7-11. Tickets are $20 and are available online. Early purchase is recommended because the planetarium will only seat around 40 people.
Learn more! Listen to the podcast of our interview with Carey and Epstein: