Dirty Pop-Up Dating: Dr Awesome’s account

The awesome Dr Awesome (aka Dr Gail Iles) has written about her date with us…

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, May 2010

(C) ESA - Anneke Le Floc'h, ESA

It’s probably every actor’s nightmare.  You’re on stage with no script (there are no lines) no costume (there are no characters) no props (there’s no action) and there’s no ending.

When Jon, Clare and Chris invited me to go on stage at the Sheffield Crucible and talk about my life I thought, “Who on earth wants to hear about that?”

We spent two days making our ‘play’.  Hence the dirty.  On the second day I arrived to find that Jon, Clare and Chris had an outline structure and a lot of faith in my ability not to screw things up on the night.  That night.  The day was intense.  It began with me describing lift-off in the Soyuz.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never done it, but I have a lively imagination.

Prior to my arrival in Sheffield they’d asked me many strange things like,

‘What’s your favourite colour?’

‘When was your first experience of death?’

‘How did it feel when you weren’t chosen to be an astronaut?’

And I’d answered them.  Honestly.  I don’t know any other way to answer questions.  This usually gets me into quite a lot of trouble, however, I do sleep very soundly at night.

It was therefore a shock to see my answers printed on prompt cards during the dress rehearsal (well, the only rehearsal in fact – two hours before the real thing) with the intention that I was to share these details with the audience.  Naturally I rallied and hopefully concealed this shock only to find myself experiencing the strange sensation of being the centre of attention and hating it.   I’ve tread the boards, performed countless gigs and am an astronaut instructor.  Standing in front of people and spouting off is what I love doing.  Yet here I was caught in the cross-fire of positively superpositioned shockwaves rippling back and forth across the ocean of my consciences.  Perhaps this was the pop-up.  The perfect description for the myriad of uncomfortable emotions that emerged as I spoke about private things in public.

Jon, Clare and Chris assured me that it was going to be AWESOME.  They assured me that my life was fascinating and that people would want to hear about it.  I reminded myself that I like a challenge and that it would be good therapy.  A bit like a self-help group.  “Hello, my name’s Gail – I’m not quite an astronaut and my dog died when I was 8.”

So the curtain rose and the audience waited and I stepped onto the stage wearing normal clothes.  Black jeans (they’re slimming apparently), a pink top (it’s my favourite colour) and a wan smile.  I talked about space and astronauting and my life.  We involved the audience a lot.  Jon, Clare and Chris would hand me cards to read from or ask me questions – some rehearsed, some not.  And during that performance we all got to know one another a bit better.  Like a date.

Whilst sharing the metaphorical post-coital cigarette we talked afterwards of the amount of trust required to do such a thing.  I felt exposed and raw and used but I did it because I trusted Unlimited’s abilities as directors and writers.  Jon, Clare and Chris were anxious I would say something inappropriate or freeze or do something, crazy.

As it happens, it worked.  People were inspired.  One woman said it had inspired her to pursue a home study course.  One man said it ‘really got him thinking’ about exploration.  A young woman thanked me for telling my story and said I’d inspired her ‘because I’m a woman’.

So it just goes to show what can happen when you step outside the bubble and into the limelight.  We are all stars.  Some may shine brighter than others, but we are all stars none-the-less.