The HOME Planet, An original devised play directed by Theresa May
“Looking back at my home from space, I heard voices: the soft whisper of stories and songs from across time and space, rising up from the surface of the earth, like rain falling upwards into the sky.”
Note from the Director:
I have been dreaming about making a play about space exploration for over 20 years—ever since I encounter David Kelly’s extraordinary book, The Home Planet. Published in 1991 by the Association of Space Explorers, this book (there’s a copy in the lobby) pairs breathtaking photography from space with the personal reflections of astronauts from around the world. The Home Planet is a testament to the transformation that took place in the consciousness of many astronauts as they marveled at the astounding beauty and fragility of the place they called home. “We left the planet as technicians,” Russell Schweickart writes, “but we returned as humanitarians.” A scientist and air force fighter pilot, Schweickart writes about his experience as nothing short of a spiritual transformation, one that gave rise to his sense of responsibility to the earth and its communities. The approach of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 and 10—the missions that took humans to the moon and back—seemed the perfect opportunity to look back and ask, what does that remarkable human achievement mean to us now?
It’s impossible to celebrate the anniversary of the moon landing without looking at the whole picture—not only at the miraculous blue planet it revealed to us, but also at the impact humans have had on that home-place. In the intervening years we have seen the rise of an environmental and climate crisis on a scale as mind-blowing as those first photos from space. On the one hand we can marvel at human accomplishment, but on the other, we have cause to weep at what has been lost and will continue to be lost if industrial nations do not change course. Going to the moon was born of military might, the nationalist politics of the Cold War, and a passion for technological prowess. But the results were unexpected: astronauts went up as part of what one calls a “collection of military jocks and science geeks,” but they looked back and fell in love. They found in that vision of their earthly home, not only enchantment, majesty, and fragility, but also a new moral center. At that center is our relationship with one another, and with the life-sustaining systems of our planet. No celebration of beauty and wonder can occur without asking why we are not doing more to safeguard the planet that scientists tell us is both unique and rare—at least in our corner of the galaxy! The thin layer of atmosphere that protects all life from the fierce rays of our sun, the water that weaves together and sustains a diverse spectrum of lives and living systems—these are irreplaceable. These are our sacred trust. Potawatomi writer Robin Wall Kimmerer invites us to consider the Native concept of “seven generations” as a present moment vantage point from which to look back three generations and account for what we have done, and to look forward three generations and imagine the impact of our choices going forward.
Young people around the world are speaking back to the systems that have treated our planet as a stockpile of resources for wealth extraction, rather than as a home. In devising this play, I wanted to explore with my students the tension between the forces of competition and aggression that gave rise to space exploration in the first place, and the perhaps unexpected sense of love and commitment to home, family, and place inspired by the photography that came back. Certainly space exploration celebrates the stunning human capacity for invention and intervention; but staying home, tending to our relationships with family and place, also requires our active and innovative participation. Kimmerer writes that the story of Sky Woman teaches that humans make and re-make the world in partnership with the animals, the water, the wind, the sun. The vastness of space, the challenges of climate change, need not make us feel small and insignificant, but rather that we too are part of making the world going forward. In the process of developing this play, students researched not only the Apollo missions, but also the environmental and social issues that concern them most as young people. They generated poems and stories from writing prompts that asked them to research their own histories, to consider the stories they carry in their bodies, to interview their elders, to consider where they came from, who they are, and where they are going. We talked with folks from Our Children’s Trust, and we met with international students in a story-sharing circle, and listened to their perspectives and concerns about water and resources. We brought these stories together, and worked playfully and physically to find connections and distinctions, exploring how stories provide frameworks for envisioning our relationship with our home-places. We worked with movement and voice to imagine ourselves as part of the very elements that shape the environment around us, for as our new epoch, the Anthropocene, suggests, we must begin to understand ourselves as geologic forces. We have been honored to work with Guest Artists Marta Lu Clifford (Grand Ronde) and Dora Boos, and our Guest Composer, Cullen Vance. The result is a story-weaving that serves as a meditation on the meaning of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but also on the power of stories to shape our relationship with one another and our home.
Theresa May, 2019