EXCERPT: Zero G R&J by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of the novels Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass, Without a Summer, and Valour and Vanity. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2011, her short story “For Want of a Nail” won the Hugo Award for Short Story. Her work has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press.

Romeo and Juliet . . . in SPACE!

Funded! This project was successfully funded on Mar 11.


Pledged of $540,000

seconds to go

NASA’s artist-in-residence program experiments with zero-G puppetry. David Tennant & Mary Robinette Kowal perform in space!

About the Project

Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the best known and most frequently adapted of Shakespeare’s plays with productions appearing all around the world. But one place Romeo and Juliet has never been adapted for is the weightless environment of space.

The idea to perform Romeo and Juliet in a weightless environment was sparked by the phrase “star-crossed lovers.” Puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal originally conceived of the idea for a production of Romeo and Juliet that explored weightlessness in 1993. But at that time, the technology within her reach that most closely approximated the concept was kites. Though interesting, the weather made performance too unpredictable.

In 2005, she revisited the idea when she read about NASA’s artist-in-residence program and realized that zero-g offered manipulation possibilities that would be unthinkable on Earth. She said, “You’re always fighting gravity. Most of the physical effort of a puppeteer is just holding the thing up. As a builder, I’m always trying to lighten the weight so that puppeteer can put more of their effort into acting and less into being a support structure. Weightlessness? It opens new worlds of possibilities.”

The artist-in-residence program covers the training of the puppeteers, but the performers will also require a substantial amount of rehearsal time to prepare for the flight as well as needing a team to build the puppets themselves. While some of the rehearsal can be done in an Earth-normal gravity field, other aspects have to be tested in zero-G, which will require several sub-orbital flights. If our performers get into space and discover that a puppet does not work as planned, there is no way to easily return to the workshop for repairs.

The Jim Henson Foundation has given a generous seed grant. However, it will not cover the full cost of producing Zero-G R&J, even in a stripped down production. This is largely due to the size and weight limits on the puppets in order to meet payload requirements. Puppetry has always been on the cutting edge of new materials, as builders strive to produce lighter and more durable puppets. While much of the technology already exists, the costs are significant. There are additional factors that will require research and development in order to create a cast of characters that pack down into an 18” box.

Who is involved?

Our award-winning team comes from several different disciplines. Using state-of-the-art technology, combined with historic techniques, we will create the entire cast of Romeo and Juliet.

Jodi Eichelberger (Scriptwriter)

Mr. Eichelberger is a puppeteer, writer, director, and composer with credits on the television series LazyTown, the Tony award-winning musical Avenue Q on Broadway, and Jim Henson Pictures.

Mary Robinette Kowal (Performer)

Ms. Kowal is a professional puppeteer and voice actor, has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures, and is the founder of Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve.

David Tennant (Performer)

Best known for his roles on television (including the iconic SciFi series Dr. Who), in his early career Mr. Tennant worked as a puppeteer for Mr. Mulligan’s Travelling Show touring to schools in Scotland and Northern England. He went on to train at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Risks and Challenges

Death. When you back this Kickstarter, please understand that it involves strapping two puppeteers to a large rocket and shooting them into airless space to make art. The possibility exists that things could go horribly wrong and that they might not return to Earth. Seriously. You should see the waivers they had to sign.



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