Theater club at NASA center gives scientists creative outlet

 
 
Updated 6/7/2018 10:40 AM
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  • In this April 12, 2018 photo, director Randy Booth, right, reviews notes as performers Shawn Perry, left, and Sara Collins pause during a Music and Drama Club rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The theater club's members include NASA scientists, engineers and managers whose work focuses on everything from weather satellites to space telescopes like Hubble to sophisticated unmanned spacecraft.

    In this April 12, 2018 photo, director Randy Booth, right, reviews notes as performers Shawn Perry, left, and Sara Collins pause during a Music and Drama Club rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The theater club's members include NASA scientists, engineers and managers whose work focuses on everything from weather satellites to space telescopes like Hubble to sophisticated unmanned spacecraft. Associated Press

  • In this April 12, 2018 photo, director Randy Booth, top left, and keyboardist Susan Breon, bottom left, review musical cues with performers during a Music and Drama Club rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center review musical cues during a rehearsal in Greenbelt, Md. "We've got more engineers per square foot than any other theater group around," said Barth.

    In this April 12, 2018 photo, director Randy Booth, top left, and keyboardist Susan Breon, bottom left, review musical cues with performers during a Music and Drama Club rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center review musical cues during a rehearsal in Greenbelt, Md. "We've got more engineers per square foot than any other theater group around," said Barth. Associated Press

  • In this April 12, 2018 photo, members of the Music and Drama Club at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center leave an auditorium after a rehearsal in Greenbelt, Md. At right is a photograph depicting astronauts working on the Hubble Space Telescope. Club members say the theater group acts as a creative and social outlet, helps them with their day jobs and shows the public another side of scientists at the sprawling flight center.

    In this April 12, 2018 photo, members of the Music and Drama Club at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center leave an auditorium after a rehearsal in Greenbelt, Md. At right is a photograph depicting astronauts working on the Hubble Space Telescope. Club members say the theater group acts as a creative and social outlet, helps them with their day jobs and shows the public another side of scientists at the sprawling flight center. Associated Press

  • In this April 30, 2018 photo, cryogenics manager Susan Breon stands in a cleanroom with NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission Three Fluid Transfer Module, which will be launched to the International Space Station, at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. A scientist by day, Breon plays the keyboard for a musical production put on by the center's music and drama club.

    In this April 30, 2018 photo, cryogenics manager Susan Breon stands in a cleanroom with NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission Three Fluid Transfer Module, which will be launched to the International Space Station, at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. A scientist by day, Breon plays the keyboard for a musical production put on by the center's music and drama club. Associated Press

  • In this April 30, 2018 photo, a sign greets visitors at the entrance to a cleanroom as cryogenics manager Susan Breon adjusts her face mask at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. A scientist by day, Breon plays the keyboard for a musical production put on by the center's music and drama club.

    In this April 30, 2018 photo, a sign greets visitors at the entrance to a cleanroom as cryogenics manager Susan Breon adjusts her face mask at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. A scientist by day, Breon plays the keyboard for a musical production put on by the center's music and drama club. Associated Press

  • In this April 30, 2018 photo, calculations cover a white board in chief electromagnetic compatibility engineer John McCloskey's lab at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. An engineer by day, McCloskey plays the bass guitar in Goddard's music and drama club musical production.

    In this April 30, 2018 photo, calculations cover a white board in chief electromagnetic compatibility engineer John McCloskey's lab at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. An engineer by day, McCloskey plays the bass guitar in Goddard's music and drama club musical production. Associated Press

  • In this May 1, 2018 photo, John McCloskey, right, reads sheet music as he plays bass during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    In this May 1, 2018 photo, John McCloskey, right, reads sheet music as he plays bass during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Associated Press

  • In this May 1, 2018 photo, Mary Estacion, front left, and Don Mitchell perform during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    In this May 1, 2018 photo, Mary Estacion, front left, and Don Mitchell perform during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Associated Press

  • In this May 1, 2018 photo, performers' headshots are on display during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Club members include NASA scientists, engineers and managers whose work focuses on everything from weather satellites to space telescopes like Hubble to sophisticated unmanned spacecraft.

    In this May 1, 2018 photo, performers' headshots are on display during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Club members include NASA scientists, engineers and managers whose work focuses on everything from weather satellites to space telescopes like Hubble to sophisticated unmanned spacecraft. Associated Press

  • In this May 1, 2018 photo, Music and Drama Club member Katrina Jackson applies makeup as she prepares to perform in a dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The club has existed at Goddard since 1970, and it has put on at least one production each year, including musicals like "Oklahoma!" and "The Sound of Music."

    In this May 1, 2018 photo, Music and Drama Club member Katrina Jackson applies makeup as she prepares to perform in a dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The club has existed at Goddard since 1970, and it has put on at least one production each year, including musicals like "Oklahoma!" and "The Sound of Music." Associated Press

  • In this May 1, 2018 photo, performers listen as director Randy Booth, foreground left, delivers notes before a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    In this May 1, 2018 photo, performers listen as director Randy Booth, foreground left, delivers notes before a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Associated Press

  • In this May 1, 2018 photo, performers participate in a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    In this May 1, 2018 photo, performers participate in a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Associated Press

  • In this May 1, 2018 photo, Melanie Pino-Elliott, left, and Katrina Jackson perform during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    In this May 1, 2018 photo, Melanie Pino-Elliott, left, and Katrina Jackson perform during a Music and Drama Club dress rehearsal for the musical "Weird Romance" at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Associated Press

GREENBELT, Md. -- Susan Breon wears two hats: scientist and musician.

By day, she's a cryogenics engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where she works on what she calls a "baby step toward a mission to Mars." By night, she participates in Goddard's Music and Drama Club, often known as MAD. She played keyboard for the club's spring musical.

"The work here can get very intense," said Breon, a 30-year NASA veteran. "We did our thermal vacuum testing a couple of months ago, and it was an around-the-clock, 24/7 operation."

The club members include scientists, engineers and managers who work for NASA on projects including weather satellites and space telescopes, and they say the club is a creative outlet for them.

"We've got more engineers per square foot than any other theater group around," said Randy Barth, who directed the club's latest musical, "Weird Romance."

MAD has staged at least one show a year at Goddard since 1970, from "Oklahoma!" and "The Sound of Music" to science-fiction fare. Club members say it helps them with their day jobs and shows the public another side of scientists at the sprawling flight center northeast of Washington.

Astrophysicist Kim Weaver is the club's president. Doing theater helps her connect with people who aren't scientists, she says.

"When I say I'm an astrophysicist, I usually get a blank stare. So in order to get (people) to actually open up and smile at me, I then say I also do theater, because that's the part that they think is cool," Weaver said. "You say you're a scientist, and I think that scares people. They think they can't talk to you."

She was a graduate student intern when she saw a flyer about the club's auditions for "Sweet Charity." Making the show was what led her to take a job at Goddard.

"It really helped improve my chances, even in my career," Weaver said. "I met some more senior astronomers who later on down the line were able to help steer me and guide me in my career path."

"Weird Romance" combines science and drama.

In the first act, "The Girl Who Was Plugged In," a corporate mogul creates his own celebrity using a beautiful, artificial body that is controlled by a homeless woman.

The second, "Her Pilgrim Soul," was adapted from a "Twilight Zone" episode. In it, a projector shows holographic images of a woman that were not programmed into it, to the surprise of the scientists involved.

One of the production's stage directions describes a character as having "a smile that could melt frozen methane."

Breon considered that a good omen, since her job actually involves melting frozen methane.

"We have to do more than smile at it, though," she joked.

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