To the moon and back

Almost 50 years ago, millions of people across the globe watched from their televisions as astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon—a landmark achievement of human ambition that gave way to those immortal words: “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Next year represents the 50th anniversary of that historic moon landing, and Gretta Berghammer hopes to be able to re-imagine that experience for a new generation.

NASA visit
UNI students, faculty and staff traveled to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to do research for the upcoming "To Touch the Moon" theatre production.

Berghammer, a professor of theatre at UNI, is developing “To Touch the Moon,” a first-of-its-kind immersive theatre production for youth on the spectrum.

“What’s different about immersion theatre is that the lines between actor and audience get blurred,” she explained. “So you’re not just passively watching and occasionally getting up and doing something. You become a character from the moment you enter the theatre.”

The production, which will debut next spring, will consist of three phases: creation, exploration and lunar contact. In the creation phase, audience members will trace mankind’s fascination with the moon back to its earliest stages, becoming part of a tribe of indigenous people.

The exploration phase will take place five months prior to the launch of Apollo 11, and audience members will be tasked with solving real-life problems that threatened to derail the mission. In the lunar contact phase, the production will conclude on the surface of the moon, where the audience members will be able to leave a footprint of their own.

As she was developing this concept, Berghammer was fortunate enough to meet with a representative from the Iowa Space Consortium on campus. He ultimately invited her to tour NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Berghammer, along with Mark Parrott, an associate professor of theatre who will design the sets for the production; Marcy Seavey, UNI STEM coordinator; and two UNI science education students, spent three days at the flight center back in February.

The group had the opportunity to meet with a historian, an archivist and a science educator, all of whom offered enlightening perspectives of NASA’s impact in the past, present and future.

For Berghammer, what most resonated with her was the question of why it was so important at the time to put a man on the moon, from a human perspective.

“I think that is what this piece is going to try to embrace,” she said of the production. “Why was it important for us to be there, to see it firsthand? To try to capture the sense of awe and wonder of seeing something no one else has seen before.”