Last weekend, I attended the opening night show of Defying Gravity, performed by Tennessee Women's Theater Project. Nearly all of my Nashville theater experience has been relegated to the realm of TPAC, so I knew I was in for something a little bit different than what hefty budgets and large auditoriums usually produce.
Watching Defying Gravity is a bit like watching Titanic or United 93. No matter how nice things seem, we all know how it’s going to end. Defying Gravity is the story of Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher chosen to go into space. She was on the doomed Challenger flight when it exploded 73 seconds into its flight.
The play refers only to McAuliffe's character as Teacher, and the main character is her daughter, Elizabeth. Other characters, like a retired couple, a NASA mechanic, and a bartender must also come to grips with what happened in the disaster. Elizabeth's voice wavers back and forth between being a confused little girl and a grownup reflecting back on what happened. Luckily, Claude Monet (yes, the painter) is there to tie things together and help everyone move on.
Ultimately, the central story is about defying the gravity within ourselves. Each of us has so many dreams and hopes which easily have us floating upward and reaching for the stars. But with that also comes a barrage of excuses that keep us grounded and often times prevent us from ever daring to do anything remarkable.
But what we see through the Teacher is that dreaming is mandatory, and defying the gravity of our own (or others') excuses and restrictions is the only way anything great comes to pass. Sure, things don't work out as we plan, but the journey to defy our own gravity was really the point all along. Because that's the journey that leads us to discover ourselves.
If you've never had a change to take in local theater, it's on the list of things you need to go to in your community, along with attending a street festival and a local art opening. Events like Defying Gravity show us that if we want something great – a great marriage, a great career, a great family, or even a great community – we've got to go outside our realm of routine to embrace that which is new, daring and different.
And this is exactly what TWTP provides Nashville.
Tennessee Women's Theater Project is a nonprofit organization that seeks to produce plays that express the human condition in the female voice, provide opportunities for women in theater, and bring live theater to new, underserved audiences. Defying Gravity is their 4th production and runs through October 21 at Looby Theater.