Arts & CultureCampus & City

The Space Between Stars: Christine Lesiak’s journey from physicist to playwright

Taking inspiration from her undergrad, Lesiak's passion to share a new take on astronomy, mythology, and a literary classic knows no bounds.

Playful, illuminating, and magical, Christine Lesiak’s play The Space Between Stars takes the audience on a bittersweet journey through the cosmos guided by an astronomer grappling with the loss of her six-year-old son. The astronomer’s journey teaches the audience astronomy and mythology, play and curiosity, and of the value of the time we have today. 

Lesiak, a University of Alberta alumni, is well-acquainted with space and the stars. Prior to completing her masters in fine arts and pursuing her passion for theatre, Lesiak completed a bachelor of science specializing in physics. 

“I loved physics, I did. I moved to Edmonton to pursue it. And then at some point, I realized I didn’t feel the calling for it,” Lesiak said.

Despite switching away from physics, Lesiak speaks with a profound passion for astronomy. The knowledge and passion she fostered during her studies is evident in her work.

There are many moments in The Space Between Stars where I found myself learning new things, or hearing facts from my science lectures accurately said — only, Lesiak presented it in a way that didn’t leave me struggling to stay awake.

“You can take the person out of the lab, but you can never take the experimenter out of the person,” Lesiak said. “I am an experimenter. I am always interested in the ‘what if?’ I’m interested in doing things that have never been seen done before.” 

In spite of its 2023 premiere at the Skirtsafire festival in the Fringe Art Barns, The Space Between Stars was actually born in 2016 from Lesiak’s The Object of Constellations. This earlier piece was a “radical adaptation” of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and was presented in the U of A Observatory domes as she finished her masters degree in fine arts. Besides the clear references to The Little Prince, Lesiak’s adaptations of key elements such as The Drunkard, The Businessman, and the definition of “being tamed” were refreshing yet true to the original meaning.

“One of my goals, as someone who adored the original text, was to create a very new interpretation that honoured the spirit and the fundamental meaning of [The Little Prince] that would feel satisfying to people who love the book and, maybe, to inspire people who haven’t read it.”

While looking at images found on Lesiak’s production company’s website, you’ll find telescopes dressed in intravenous (IV) drip tubing, papers, and star charts scattered throughout the classroom. A swirling display of paper stars, created with the talents of Ian Walker, is the same paper star display that was set-up as a lobby-art installation during the festival.

“It was pretty magical, I have to say. One of the really big challenges that we’ve had… is how to keep that essential feel and core of what that piece was and carry it into a more traditional theatre environment.”

“[The Object of Constellations] was a 20-minute monologue …there were 25 people, and magnets on the walls, and that’s what it was. It is now a full-fledged theatre piece.”

One of the biggest changes from Lesiak’s earlier work is the addition of projection techniques. Throughout the performance, the audience is treated to displays of the stars, swirling galaxies, and glimpses of a playful and interrupting spirit. 

“A lot of the projection design elements that are required to tell the story didn’t exist. We had to innovate new techniques to make that happen… The night sky is a character in the show, and without it, the show couldn’t function.” 

The projections of the night sky expertly flow into the live performances and add to the overall awe of the story. The ability to see precisely what the astronomer was referencing and experiencing, while being interrupted by the playful ghost of her child, adds a new-kind of magic to live performance.

Lesiak’s The Space Between Stars is a new and welcome adaptation of The Little Prince that can be enjoyed by physicists, theatre-goers, enthusiasts of the book, and everyone in between. The combination of innovative projection techniques and the dive into astronomy and mythology carry the story further into the stars while bringing the essence and feel of the original story into a new light.

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