Come fly with Space Girl, lunar superstar
PTE’s new play does a mind meld on social media, TV, film and the internet
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With bottles of Schweppes Ginger Ale nearby to soothe their parched vocal cords, the cast and crew of Frances Koncan’s new play at PTE, Space Girl, ran lines and discussed their character’s backstories a few weeks before the world premiere.
But first, something a tad more pressing.
“We’re figuring out our star charts,” exclaimed director Krista Jackson. Spoken like a true Scorpio.
It may seem odd to be spending valuable rehearsal time ascertaining where the moon and the sun and the twinkling little stars were on the days the group’s members were born. That is, until Koncan — a Taurus, a Rhodes Scholar of memes, and one of the city’s most exciting playwrights — begins to describe the cosmic origins of the play, which unfolds like the Wizard of Oz if L. Frank Baum set Emerald City in zero-g.
The stars aligned to make it happen.
“Kim K and Kanye got divorced, and right after they separated, Kim rebounded with Pete Davidson, former SNL star and Staten Island king,” she says. “And immediately after that, there was this weird period of time when everybody was trying to go to space.
“Do you remember when William Shatner went? And then, for some reason, Kanye West was going with Elon Musk. And then, on what felt like the same day, Pete Davidson and Jeff Bezos were going too, and everyone was fighting on Twitter just trying to show each other up,” Koncan says. “It was embarrassing and weird, but I loved it. I was entertained.”
So space was on Koncan’s mile-a–minute mind: Dune was also in theatres, and the playwright, an avowed Timothée Chalamet stan, was into that, too.
“I figured if I was going to set something in space, I should do it now,” she recalls, sitting in a circle with the cast and crew.
Koncan, an Anishinaabe-Slovene multi-hyphenate, has previously explored more terrestrial stories. The former Free Press Arts & Life writer’s most recent show, Women of the Fur Trade, was produced at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in 2020. In a Free Press review, writer Ian Ross called the show “a timely and provocative piece of theatre written from a perspective and voice we need to hear.” It is a safe bet Space Girl will follow suit.
After deciding to set her show where no one can hear her screaming, Koncan received seed funding from PTE and began work on what was then an elaborate script, featuring 26 characters.
When it became clear Koncan’s vision was a bit grand, and a lot expensive, the playwright scaled it back. “It became a question of how to make the Wizard of Oz in space financially feasible,” she says. “And here we are.”
After paring down the show to its celestial roots, Koncan devised a story about a girl named Lyra who has earned, by virtue of her natal origins, universal acclaim.
“Lyra has made history by being the first person ever born on the moon,” says Brynn Godenir, a Taurus who plays Lyra. “Since the moment she was born, everybody in the solar system has been watching her, and that has fed into her social media platform.”
Lyra, in other words, is the most famous person not just on this spaceship Earth, but in the entire cosmos; apologies to Neil deGrasse Tyson.
When she read the script, Godenir — who replaced Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed as Lyra when Smith-Dostmohamed earned a spot at this year’s Shaw Festival — was gobsmacked. “I didn’t understand what it was, but I was obsessed,” she says.
In an early run-through, the reasons why this show should appeal to this moment is obvious: Godenir’s character belongs to that class of human — the social media influencer — that is convinced, like twisted Copernicuses, that the world revolves around them. In Lyra’s case, but not in the guy from your high school promoting protein powder on his Instagram account, it’s not far from the truth.
Jackson says that embedded within Space Girl are themes related to social media, television, the internet — both early and late-stage — and film. Each of these worlds collide within Koncan’s brain.
“Frances pulls from everything,” Jackson says. “It feels so current and accessible if you’re engaged with pop culture. Is that the right term still, or is that a 1980s term?”
“I think this show lives in a sci-fi world, but it’s also super of this moment, in conversation with what we do on our phones and on our screens.”
What we do when left to our own devices is often embarrassing. Asked if she has ever rued making a post, Daina Leitold, a Sagitarius who plays the role of management, is blunt. “I regret everything (I post),” she says.
Justin Otto, an Aries who plays five roles in the show, is a bit more free-wheeling on social media. He mostly tweets about the Toronto Maple Leafs, “the bane of my existence.”
Everyone nowadays sees themselves as a brand, says Otto. “In the early days, it was just GE and the railway,” he says in a bit of a simplification which isn’t exactly incorrect. Not long ago, corporations were all-powerful. Now, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have far exceeded the cachet and clout of General Electric. Even their children have.
It’s that world, and the rollicking, cosmic worlds floating above it, where the cast and crew of Space Girl are exploring.
Come with them if you want to live online.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 3:18 PM CDT: Updates spelling of Daina Leitold