“We either repeat mistakes or don’t update our own sense on what love is for,” Kathleen Akerley, artistic director at Longacre Lea, said in our recent interview about her upcoming debut play Interstellar Ghost Hour. She has long been interested in the lessons we give children about love and how to love, and specifically what we are taught about our own lovability and how we take that into the world.
One of the greatest lessons for Akerley happened after her parents died, and she realized that one more level of learning existed about love.
“There’s a final stage of adulthood that occurs, and with the knowledge you get from that, it would be interesting to talk to your parents about what you just learned,” she says, “but, by definition, that’s impossible.”
That thinking set the stage for Interstellar Ghost Hour, a loosely autobiographical play that Akerley wrote and will direct at Catholic University’s Callan Theatre, Aug. 16-Sept. 9.
The word “loosely” is used because the story follows an astronaut in space who goes back in time to talk to her dead parents and have that conversation she herself had wished for.
“She wants that but there are a lot of obstacles in the house to accomplish it,” Akerley says, explaining the owner of the house sees the astronaut as a ghost and hires a ghost hunter to expel her out of the house. “The play winds up being about the fact that you have to simply live your life and you can’t constantly go back and examine it.”
Putting that in the context of science fiction derived from Akerley’s desire to find the most provocative image of showing what it’s like to enter the world as an adult and believe profoundly in your solitude.
“My parents were both pretty excellent people but for varying reasons, I did get out of childhood with the message that I could take care of myself. I have a very high sense of autonomy and I have to be really motivated to seek the type of bond you need when you’re in a relationship,” she says. “[Outer] Space for me is the best metaphor for that. Not even being in the same atmosphere.”
Moreover, Akerely liked that having the story set in space invited a greater story telling possibility for incorporating life forms that don’t yet exist—different experiences of reality controlled by time and space.
“The way I describe this is it’s about how reality will not sit still for you,” she says. “We need to take our selves seriously, but not too seriously, which I think is a big invitation cosmically. It’s definitely a comedy, even though it’s a serious issue.”
Interstellar Ghost Hour
from Longacre Lea
August 16 – September 9, 2018
Details and tickets
Interstellar Ghost Hour’s cast includes Scott Ward Abernethy, Moriamo Temidayo Akibu, Christine Alexander, Dylan Arredondo, Ryan Sellers and Julie Weir. There are also 10 actors in a video component of the show, which allows her to cast some friends and actors who weren’t available for the run.
“This is the first time in a long time that a show doesn’t have anyone in the cast who is a company member,” Akerely says. “Some of these six I have worked with before, but some are still learning the company language and I’m learning their language. It’s a fantastic cast.”
Akerely knew when she wrote Interstellar that she also wanted to direct it. “A theater in Chicago had done two of my plays. The first time they did it was in 2010 and they did it beautifully and it was so good,” she says. “On the other hand, I had a 10-minute play at the Source Festival and it was atrocious to watch what had become of my piece. I felt it was a failure of writing; how could I not have made clear that none of the scenes that the director thought they were about were really about that.”
She feels her writing often doesn’t explain itself on face value, and the dense material makes it hard for someone to see her vision.
“I’m trying to develop as a playwright the skills of inviting people into unusual worlds, but doing it in a way where artists working on the play will know what they are,” she says. “I don’t want to over-explain my plays and certainly they should be available for others to produce.”
Akerley recalls putting on plays with friends in the neighborhood when she was younger and always felt a desire to write her own stuff and have it seen.
“I wrote a comedy with my friend when I was around 8 in which we came up with this whole screwball story of a man sleeping and someone breaks into his house and because of various mishaps, the final scene of the play has the burglar passed out cold in the bed and the man sneaking back through the window,” she explains. “I loved telling stories and my brain is always working on how something can be structured into a story.”
Akerley has realized that she has always seen the world—framing things in her head in terms of different shots, and so her company, Longacre Lea, is now transitioning into film.
“It’s just a personal tendency to see things in terms of stories and to want to tell them,” she says. “I would have liked to have had an impulse for a career that was something higher paying, but it was not meant to be.”