I’m the last person in the world to set up my own space startup, but I have a better idea of what might be involved after a week’s worth of whirlwind playwriting for Infinity Box Theatre’s “Centrifuge 2” theater festival.
“Centrifuge 2” was the second running of an exercise adapted from the 14/48 Projects, in which playwrights, directors, actors and other theater people create batches of 14 plays in the course of 48 hours.
My fellow Centrifugers and I had twice that long to come up with 10-minute science-themed plays, plus five-minute introductions by science writers such as myself. But there was no time to waste: The scramble continued all the way up to the first technical run-through on Friday afternoon, followed just a couple of hours later by the premiere.
It all started last Monday night, when I was matched up with playwright Marcy Rodenborn, based on a slip of paper drawn from a jar. I had been kicking around a few ideas, and we quickly settled on a retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin filling in for the warring families.
Our star-crossed lovers, Monty and Julie, would be frustrated by the ambitions of their billionaire bosses, but Rodenborn wrote in an interplanetary crisis that forced Musk and Bezos to bury their differences, work together and save the couple.
Rodenborn and I had a stroke of luck when another drawing on Wednesday matched our play up with a pair of actors well-suited to play Monty and Julie, Zach Sanders and Val Brunetto, plus Liam Lawe, an actor who looks eerily like a young Elon Musk.
Lawe played a double role, signaling the shift from Musk to Bezos by slipping on a stretchy skullcap and mimicking Bezos’ signature horse laugh. To learn the billionaires’ manner of speaking, Lawe pored over YouTube videos of their tech-industry fireside chats. He even brought pictures of Musk to his hair stylist so that he could get just the right Muskian makeover.
Rodenborn picked up on the billionaires’ over-the-top rhetoric in her script for our play, “The Inconstant Moon.” Can you guess which quote is from our make-believe Musk, and which is from our bogus Bezos?
- “I want millions of people, living and working in space. These will be like Amazon super drones, delivering the future to the stars.”
- “Soon, we’ll be offering self-driving pods that will deliver you through a network of tunnels anywhere you can imagine with your beautiful monkey brain.”
I worried that the play would come off as little more than a high-school skit, and that any Amazonians in the audience might take umbrage at seeing their boss portrayed as a drone delivering, um, a sex doll and other goodies. I even worked an apology into my introduction – just in case, in Shakespeare’s words, “we shadows have offended.”
But by Friday night’s premiere, the actors and the crew transformed “The Inconstant Moon” into a laugh-fest on a par with the tragical mirth of Pyramus and Thisbe, if not Romeo and Juliet. Lawe said he heard from several friends who work at Amazon that they loved the show.
— Sally James (@jamesian) May 7, 2017
“Never was there a story of more WOAH,” our Musk says at the end of the play. And I had to admit that I felt the “woah” associated with all the applause and laughter, and with taking my bow alongside the rest of the company. This must be what it feels like to be at a startup on launch day.
As Shakespeare said in one of his sonnets, summer’s lease has all too short a date. Such was the case with “The Inconstant Moon.” Friday’s opening night was followed by Saturday’s closing night.
Few tech startups fade so quickly, and we don’t even have a video to preserve the experience. If only there were a crowdsourcing scheme for saving such froths of fleeting joy on YouTube. Hmm, now there’s an idea for a startup … maybe in time for “Centrifuge 3”?