Sit in 1970 NASA control room, help direct Apollo 13 flight

Jesse Tinsley photo

Ben Van Lier, left, and Sam Berkley play the roles of astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise in the interactive production of “Apollo 13.”

January 6, 2013 - Updated: 6:41 a.m.

“Apollo 13: Mission Control” launches in Spokane on Wednesday.

A portion of the Spokane Convention Center will be transformed into a replica of NASA’s 1970 mission control room in an interactive theater show retelling the story of Apollo 13. The fate of the mission will be placed in audience members’ hands as they’re tasked with bringing three astronauts home safely.

Director Kip Chapman said the show appeals to those who are space history buffs and those who know little about it, from young children to those who remember watching the tense, real-life drama unfold more than 40 years ago.

“We’re trying to turn them into heroes,” Chapman said of the audience. “Having fun is our No. 1 goal with it.”

Actors Ben Van Lier and Sam Berkley play the roles of astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, respectively. The third astronaut, Jack Swigert, is played by someone selected from the audience.

Other audience members act as mission control specialists and interact with the astronauts, whom they watch on screens from the mission control room.

The mission control room is made up of rotary telephones and panels with hundreds of working switches and lights, and audience members are encouraged to dress for the part.

In a third room, an actor portrays Walter Cronkite, delivering a gripping play-by-play in a newscast about the event.

The interactive production was created by New Zealanders Chapman and Brad Knewstubb. They were inspired by a 2007 road trip around the U.S., when they visited the Apollo 8 Mission Control Room in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“You couldn’t do anything,” Chapman said. “You just had to watch it behind these bars. It was really boring, to be quite honest.”

So they set out to create a more fun and interactive way to relive the story.

The production has been popular in New Zealand and Australia, Chapman said. Spokane is just the second U.S. city it’s come to, following a 10-day run last month in Tacoma.

While the shows are based on the historical event, each one differs because of the audience.

“Show to show, you can’t predict what’s going to happen,” Berkley said.

Tightly rehearsed acting meets improvisation as the actors work with the guest astronaut and adapt to the audience.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Berkley said. “It’s really unlike anything I’ve done before as an actor.”

If you go

“Apollo 13: Mission Control”

Where/when: Spokane Convention Center starting Wednesday through Jan. 20.

Tickets: Console seats are $52.50 and press gallery seats are $37.50. Tickets can be purchased at the Spokane Arena Box Office, all TicketsWest Outlets, or (800) 325-SEAT. Discounted tickets are available for groups of 10 or more by calling (509) 777-6253.

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