From Space University to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Hi all!

This is my final update for Headstuff on all things Space for now. And also the end of the summer for us all.  In my last post, I was in the middle of my final week on the Space Studies programme in Athens Ohio. And I have to admit that that last week was pretty rough, lots of long nights, and pressure to get the final report over the line and to prepare a big group presentation of our team project ‘Vision 2040’. Well, needless to say we all survived it and all went okay in the end. And once it was over, it was the strangest feeling not to have some sort of a deadline to meet, or job to do. None of us knew what to do with ourselves- except celebrate. Which we did. And prepare for our journey back home.

Vision 2040 SSP -
Team ‘Vision 2040’ after our final presentation for Space Studies Programme

You might recall that I had to cut my trip short to get to Edinburgh in time for my run of ‘To Space’ at the Fringe festival so I missed out on the official closing ceremony and graduation from SSP. My biggest regret about being absent was missing the speech given by our ‘Vision2040’ team leader and my closest pal during the SSP experience, Elburz Sorkhabi.  I got to catch it online later, but it would have been nice to have been there for that. He did a great job and captured the essence of the experience for us all succinctly and sincerely.

During the closing ceremony, the SSP Director, John Connolly places the special International Space University pin on your lapel to officially invite you as alumni of the programme. So obviously I missed all that, having to leave a day early. But instead, John Connolly came to the pub we were celebrating in the night before to place my pin. So technically I graduated a day earlier than everyone else!

SSP Graduation -
SSP15 Director John Connolly present me with my graduation pin

I hadn’t thought about saying goodbye to this group of 100 space fanatics like myself until I began to pack my bags the night before. It was tougher than I had anticipated to leave behind some of the people that I had formed a close working relationship with. These were people who I spent up to 16 hours a day with, ate almost 200 meals with and were rarely apart for the 63 days of the programme. You  can often underestimate how close you can get to people in such a short time and how strange it is when you’re no longer around them. You miss them as much as the structure of your day. But then Edinburgh came and swept me off my feet and I had no time to even think or process everything that had happened during the summer, because the second I landed, I had to completely switch focus to performance and theatre and publicity and ticket sales.

To Space 2015 Fringe -
‘To Space’ at Summerhall venue, Edinburgh Fringe 2015

Its hard to describe the festival season in Edinburgh without experiencing it for yourself. Seemingly there are 3,000 shows on every day. It’s a monster, and impossible to keep on top of everything that’s happening- there are so many venues, so many people, with terrific shows on in every available empty space in the city, somewhere with seats to fill and tickets to sell. If you were to go to 10 shows a day for the full duration of the festival, you would still only catch about 25% of the official programme of the Fringe festival. And on top of that, there is the International Arts Festival, a literature festival, the Free Fringe festival and the Tattoo. The pace is hectic, everywhere you look are show posters (just when I thought I had seen them all, I realised that I just hadn’t walked far enough) and the streets are packed with tourists, festival goers, street performers, musicians, magicians, and flyerers gently coaxing you to come to their show. It’s exhausting just to walk  the Royal Mile, let alone joining the flyerers to promote your own show and thankfully I had a great support team in my producer Joanna and technical crew Conor & Liadain (who were also ace flyerers).

And so the daily schedule went from being all about Space to all about ‘To Space’. And making sure we had an audience. Which thankfully we did. Being a part of a curated programme of science-related shows, at the Summerhall venue beside The Meadows, was a big bonus. But that still didn’t stop Joanna and Liadain getting into their Spacesuits everyday to hand out flyers on the crazy Royal Mile while I kept the Box office and its environs stocked up with our publicity material. Because in Edinburgh you can take nothing for granted. No amount of reviews or media coverage will guarantee a full house. It’s a hard graft, and an expensive month for all involved. So much so, that to have a run at Edinburgh where you break even would be considered a success. And having now experienced it for myself, I couldn’t agree more.

Fringe Posters -
A selection of posters for all the events at Summerhall venue, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Hard work aside, its also a great opportunity to see work from international audiences that you normally would never see before. Especially those specialising in making science-related work. Summerhall had a great programme, which included Daniel Bye’s new show ‘Going Viral’, and the multi-media show ‘Abacus’ from Los Angeles Performance Practice. Another gem was a photographic event ‘Portraits in Motion’ from Volker Gerling, who created portraits of people he met on his travels and presented them as flipbooks. This same show comes to the Dublin Fringe Festival and I highly recommend that you get yourself a ticket. Outside of Summerhall, I also got to see Festival of the Spoken Nerd’s excellent show ‘Just for Graphs’ – a mix of comedy and maths, all about, well graphs!! Presented by stand-up Mathematician Matt Parker, scientist & comedian Helen Arney & BBC TV’s Steven Mould. Its a lovely mix of fun maths facts, geeky in-jokes aimed at our inner nerd and some really nice science too. Unfortunately there are no plans for this show to come to Ireland anytime soon. But, if like me, you go to UK Science Festivals, I’m sure you will could catch it at Cheltenham 2016 or Edinburgh Science Festival 2016. And speaking of Edinburgh Sci Fest 2016, looks like I might be returning to Scotland sooner than planned….. Watch this space.

There was a natural interest in my personal story about Space, and I was fortunate to get some great media coverage as a consequence. It also meant that some local community groups contacted me to meet and chat with them too. Like the Ragged University an initiative run by Alex Dunedin to share knowledge freely across Edinburgh & Manchester and at a science meet-up group. As well as meeting like-minded lovers of all things Space, it was also a nice opportunity to meet and chat with local residents of the city. I think of all the evenings I spent in Edinburgh, that evening was my favourite. You can’t beat just having a good old chat with people about your shared passions.

And thats my summer, folks. I’m now back home in Dublin and taking stock of the past 12 weeks and the world that has been opened to me. It was a really great summer that has made me see the world differently and my place in it. Lovely to back home too, to catch up with everyone , especially all the family. But I have lots of work ahead to realise the next phase of what is needed, but I couldn’t be more excited. In the meantime, next stop is CultureTECH in Derry, to visit schools and tell them all about how they can get to Space. And then its a great night of comedy & science at Bright Club. Always pushing science to new audiences. And I can’t wait. For all of it.

Thanks to all of you when kept up to date with all the blogposts, thanks to everyone who helped me get to the Space Studies Programme and to bring ‘To Space’ to Edinburgh.  If you found my summer interesting, don’t hesitate to make contact if you’d like to know anything more about the Space Studies Programme or the International Space University.

See you in Space sometime, I guess.