Kevin Dean, artistic director at A.D. Players at the George Theater, thinks there’s a lot of parallels between 1968 and 2020.
“1968 was an extraordinarily challenging year in our history,” he says. “There was political upheaval over the Vietnam War; it was the height of the Civil Rights movement. And 2020 was tumultuous too.”
Both years, however, saw the resilience and triumph of the human spirit.
We know all about the resilience of 2020 … seeing as we lived it, but in 1968, that came in the form of Apollo 8, NASA’s first crewed spacecraft to orbit the moon. Now, Houston audiences can relive that historic moment in the world premiere of A.D. Players’ Apollo 8, a play commissioned specifically for the company.
"This is the first time we saw the Earth, and there is such humility in it, knowing we are a just a speck in the universe,” says Dean.
Written by Houston playwright Jayme McGhan, Apollo 8, which is streamable May 3–16 as part of A.D. Player’s Metzler New Works Festival, follows the journey of the dramatic NASA mission, as seen from the lives of ordinary Americans. The script, Dean says, is probably 75 percent historically accurate, but is definitely a work of fiction.
“Our characters experience what is happening with this race to orbit the moon in their own lives,” he says. “This isn’t Apollo 13 on stage, but it is a look at a huge event in our history.
There’s plenty of drama in the actual story of Apollo 8, from a compressed mission prep, to an unforgettable takeoff, and a special present sent from space. On Christmas Eve following the mission’s December 21 launch, the astronauts aboard the spacecraft delivered a message home: the first images of Earth taken by man from space (we’re sure you’ll recognize one of those pics) and a reading of the first 10 verses of Genesis.
“Obviously, that was compelling to us,” says Dean.
To deliver the show for a streaming audience, A.D. Players provided each of the nine actors in the show with light kits, cameras, microphones, and SD cards. They were recorded on Zoom, after which the theater company collected all the footage and took two weeks editing it to create a seamless production. While Dean admits many people might be “virtual-ed out,” he’s confident the story of Apollo 8 will have them tuning in.
“There’s such a sense of hope here,” he says, “that we can endure hardships, but the human spirit still triumphs.
May 3–16. Free. Online. More info and tickets at adplayers.org.