Two empowering Fringe shows are hoping to teach kids that women can reach for the stars or even walk on the Moon 

Words MARK FISHER    

It’s the morning of the first performance of Valentina’s Galaxy, and director Heather Fulton is feeling ‘sick to the stomach’. Why? It’s just the normal tension any of us might feel when we’re about to be seen in public. Having put her heart and soul into directing the show, Fulton wants it to be a success and avoid embarrassing herself.
     

“It’s the fear of getting things wrong,” she says. “It’s the idea that I’d rather not try than do it and get it wrong. You’re putting something of yourself out there and you’ve no idea how it will be received. The idea of getting it wrong is horrible – but we still do it.”

That’s very like the character at the heart of Valentina’s Galaxy, who grew up idolising Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, but has had the confidence knocked out of her. She’s convinced herself that she’s no good and now, however many letters she gets from NASA imploring her to join them, she’d sooner stay earthbound and study plants.

“Women look at the things they can’t do rather than what they can do, and don’t put themselves forward,” says Fulton, artistic director of Scotland’s Frozen Charlotte. “But someone’s got to do it, so why not me?” When it comes to women in space, she points to evidence that children as young as two are prone to gender stereotyping. It doesn’t help to know that NASA recently cancelled an all-female space walk for lack of women’s spacesuits.

“I like the idea that kids could go away from Valentina’s Galaxy and think, ‘Of course I could be an astronaut,’” says Fulton. “The character is quite girly, but that doesn’t mean she’s not serious, intelligent and capable.”

Aimed at the under-fives, although suitable for older children, Valentina’s Galaxy is a visual treat that transforms an ordinary living room into an outer-space spectacle. A swivel chair becomes a lunar module and the door of a washing machine an astronaut’s helmet. Finally, we’re dazzled by a canopy of stars. “Parents have told us they were looking for something empowering like this,” says Fulton.

Fifty years after the first Moon landing, Valentina’s Galaxy is one of several space-themed shows on the Fringe – and not the only one that puts women centre stage. Produced by Ditto Theatre Company, Rocket Girl is a puppet show about an eight-year-old who watches the giant leap for mankind in 1969 and determines to follow in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong –
if only the world would let her.

“The number of women who have gone into space is still only about 10% of all astronauts,” says lead puppeteer Polly Bycroft-Brown. “There was a programme for women to land on the Moon but they changed the rules at the last minute, saying you could only be in the crew if you were a jet pilot. At the time, women weren’t allowed to be jet pilots, so it was a catch-22. We find Rocket Girl resonates with children, but it also emotionally affects their parents because we have to be better at encouraging equality.”

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