Dan Dennis Talks About <em>Starball: A Dreamy Musical Astronomy Show</em>

Starball: A Dreamy Musical Astronomy Show by John Kaufmann & Dan Dennis Directed by Rachel Katz Carey is playing September 7-11th at West of Lenin in Seattle. Get tickets here.

In the show, audience members participate by playing 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 (John Kaufmann) and the Proxy (Dan Dennis), have rebelled, calling the villagers to a secret clearing for a creative ritual.

Starball: A Dreamy Musical Astronomy Show is giddy and fun, but it also illustrates the anthropological side of cosmology: long before human beings invented rockets and space stations, they were seeing themselves in the stars.

Dan Dennis took some time to speak with Equality365.com about the show. It definitely sounds different and intriguing. Get out of the heat and smoke. Discover a new world!

Earle Dutton: How did the idea for a show in a popup planetarium come about?
Dan Dennis: The inflatable planetarium is not really a new idea. There is the permanent space at the Pacific Science Center. They also had these inflatable planetariums that they would take out on the road. They are small. They seat about forty people. I used to take them out to schools and county fairs. It is a way to take the night sky anywhere really. You go in there and it is completely dark, then you reveal the night sky. People are routinely amazed.

People don’t really spend a lot of time looking up into the night sky, especially city-dwellers. City-dwellers often never get a chance to look up at the sky in total darkness, so they don’t really connect with a lot of the stories that have been there as long as there have been people. John and I were both doing these shows at the Pacific Science Center and given kind of a broad license as to the ways we could talk about the star and constellations. We could invent new stories for constellations, research stories from lots of different cultures or talk about the stars in reference to current events. John wrote a great show about vacationing on the International Space Station and what that would entail. We would do very theatrical things. We would encourage a lot of audience participation that would require some improvisation and really be about teaching at the same time. Starball came out of all of that. John had this wonderful show he came up with called, “The Sky from Scratch.” The audience would have a mandate from the new ruler of the world to abolish the old ways and beliefs of the leader that had just been deposed. They would then have to create all new beliefs and stories for all of the things we would see in the sky. That was the beginning of the idea that evolved into Starball.

ED: Is it difficult to lead an audience driven show like this?
DD: It’s interesting because you never know who you are going to get. We have done this show for all ages, for foreign language audiences, some drunken audiences and even preschool audiences. It is always different. We have found that setting up the rules about how the event will unfold and that make up the world of the play helps. It is a slightly different world. We have been doing this for fifteen years and I think the world has become more similar to the original world we created back then. We tell everyone the rules and ask them to participate in ways that don’t belittle them.

I think one of the achievements of Starball and something that is really central in John’s work since I have known him is the desire to make an audience member feel at home enough that they will really become vulnerable. This also makes them comfortable enough to divulge very personal information. So, over the course of the show, what is created is a community. It is pretty rare. I don’t think it is something you see in a lot of theater.

Starball: A Dreamy Musical Astronomy Show (Photo By AJ Epstein)

Starball: A Dreamy Musical Astronomy Show (Photo By AJ Epstein)

ED: People seem to see the show several times. Do you know who has seen the show the most?
DD: (Laughter) I think AJ our producer has seen Starball the most. He started as an audience member. We ran it for about four weeks in 2002 and remounted it again in the summer of 2003 for four or five weeks. AJ just kept coming back week after week. Finally, at the end of the summer, he approached us and said that he wanted it to keep going. He loved it and wanted to produce it.

ED: You gather papers with dreams on them from the audience and use them late in the show. What happens when you pick a very unexpected dream?
DD: We get an audience member to pick the dream and read it aloud. That has varying levels of success depending on the person’s handwriting or even their grasp of English in some cases. Then, John or I will take it and reread it to the audience. Many of them are actually unexpected. They may unexpected because they are very personal or it is a departure from the earlier dreams. I think the first reaction to it is to try to accept it. It is the new reality for the show. Each of the dreams then becomes something or contains a seed of something we will find in the sky. With that dream in their mind, we ask the audience to look into the sky and find a dot-to-dot image that correlates. That becomes the new element of the story.

ED: What would you tell a new person to get them to see the show?
DD: It is a singular experience. It is unlike anything else that they have ever seen. It is about the audience themselves. The audience is directly involved through sharing their own dreams. It is full of music. There is opportunity for the audience to get physically involved. By the end of the show we will have created something completely new by the end of the show. We will even write a song by the end of the show that the whole audience will sing with us.

Starball: A Dreamy Musical Astronomy Show by John Kaufmann & Dan Dennis Directed by Rachel Katz Carey is playing September 7-11th at West of Lenin in Seattle. Get tickets here.

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Earle Dutton

Earle Dutton

Earle Dutton is the Chief Blogger and Editor of Equality365.com. He founded Equality365.com in 2013 to provide information about LGBTQ friendly events of interest, and to support LGBTQ entertainers and supportive artists who visit our community. Earle is a successful businessman in the Pacific Northwest with a long history of support for and involvement in, the Northwest LGBTQ community. His personal interests include: music, theater, pets, culinary arts and technology.

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