In Interactive Play “Constellarium,” Children Learn to Be Refugees

How the Verigrin came to define themselves as a sanctuary planet.

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At the beginning of 2016, I was toying around with the idea of a one-person show where the president of a faraway planet delivers a speech to his people. I was interested in exploring both the theatricality of political speeches as well as the extent to which one person could paint a picture of an entire world. It was really after the presidential election that November, however, that the play — now called Constellarium — really began to take form. Suddenly, the question became what kind of political power, or sway, theater could have on our world. It occurred to me that making this faraway world a sanctuary for refugees who had lost their own worlds could serve as an interesting analogy for how we think of refugees and diversity.

When the play begins, Earth has been destroyed. Its people have been assimilated into the world of Constellarium, where they meet a variety of different alien races. Humankind, in spite of its differences, is suddenly forced to think of itself as a single entity as they explore vastly different peoples and practices. The people of Earth soon learn that Constellarium is governed by nine ancient, commanding creatures called the Verigrin. The Verigrin have a complex, divisive history that is crucial to the circumstances of their world, considering how they define themselves as a sanctuary planet.

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In creating the history of the Verigrin and their world, I didn’t want things to mirror our non-fictional history too closely. While the intricacies of Constellarium’s past had to ring true, any direct or literal parallels would doubtless make the content come across as too didactic. What was helpful for me was articulating a question based on the reality of our world that I could then examine through this fictional one. I was incredibly shocked by the results of the 2016 presidential election. But after thinking about it for a while, I realized I probably shouldn’t have been. It didn’t come from nowhere. Those whose ideologies I disagreed with were there the whole time, they have believed these things the whole time, and for some reason we couldn’t let ourselves truly see that. We need to examine why it was such a shock to us. This idea of failing to fully recognize the true context of our land is crucial to the story of Constellarium (being produced by Rebel Playhouse, in association with Access Theater).

Since this is a play intended for all audiences, I also wanted to make sure these ideas and questions were accessible. That’s where the science-fiction element came in handy. The world of Constellarium is vast, filled with mysterious landmarks, strange alien races, and powerful, resilient allies. For adult audiences, I hope these elements serve as an effective means of fun, fantastical escapism as well as an examination of the current state of affairs. For younger audiences, I think of it the other way around — that all the otherworldly play elements will help them begin to understand the reality of our era.

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Whenever I describe this play to anyone, they almost always say that it’s difficult for them to imagine it as a piece of theater, let alone a one-person show. Indeed, the story is about an entire planetary system, complete with an array of eclectic characters and locations. Though I knew it would be a challenge, I thought that bringing an entire fictional world to life simply by having one actor stand on stage could thrilling to watch. When it comes to world-building, there is always a delicate balance to be set between explaining too little and explaining too much. I thought the world would best come alive if its central character was the story’s focal point. President Falco is the last of the Verigrin to serve as president; he’s the culmination of Constellarium’s entire past; he bears the difficult task of ending this cycle of power on an uplifting, affirming note. There’s a lot that gets in his way. But while I hope audiences find the trials and tribulations of the planet Constellarium compelling, it is President Falco’s journey of stepping up to the plate and establishing himself as a leader that I hope has the biggest impact.

For tickets to Constellarium, click here.