The Hubble Roadshow was conceived as a traveling show; a summer tour featuring outdoor screenings of the movie, performances by musicians, live stargazing by amateur astronomers, and various science-fair-style exhibits. Maybe a Gravitron. In concept, it was a seemingly irreverent mashup of science and culture with the goal of creating - perhaps a bit by surprise - a singularly memorable experience for audiences. I managed to tour extensively throughout 2012 screening Saving Hubble all over the country and as far away as Beijing; while I often called these bookings "Hubble Roadshow" events, most were simply presentations of the film with talkbacks that followed. During this time, I did manage to craft a handful of Hubble Roadshow-type events which I considered prototypes for the larger tour I envisioned, each of which were challenging and rewarding to varying degrees.
Throughout 2012, I attempted to make the Roadshow come alive despite a lack of funding, very little logistical support, and a vision that was elemental and underdeveloped. Thinking that the most obvious audience for the Roadshow would be astronomy enthusiasts, my partner Carol and I set out to engage astronomy organizations. Most supported us by offering a venue to screen the film at their conferences. We found that audiences were generally receptive to the film, but we weren't getting any closer to the funding or logistical support we needed to bring the Roadshow to life. Carol and I pooled the leads and contacts we made at conferences and began leveraging the positive appeal of the film and the influence of our supporters to encourage more venues to consider producing "Roadshow events" in the spirit of our vision. What I consider to be the first true Roadshow event took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in conjunction with the International Planetarium Society conference. We screened the film in the Baton Rouge Performing Arts Center and held a star party (live stargazing led by amateur astronomers) on the city plaza following the show. Carol convinced the mayor's office to turn out the lights on the plaza for better observing. A local singer/songwriter played acoustic guitar by moonlight and an artisan hot dog vendor setup shop nearby. In the coming months, we held Hubble Roadshow events at an outdoor music amphitheater in Connecticut, a minor league baseball stadium in Illinois, a hilltop in Hawaii and a half dozen colleges and universities.
2013 was largely a hiatus for the Roadshow vision as I completed a new film and became a father. I've realized in recent months that what seemed like "falling short" of my original idea of a national tour was in actuality success in a way I hadn't considered. Each event was totally unique and full of its own magic. Hundreds of people looked through telescopes for the first time in their lives, seeing the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, or the spectacular craters of our moon up close. I watched conversations unfold between strangers - everything from debates about the moon race to present-day geopolitics - casually, respectfully, over food and live music in the summer night. These events took a long time to plan, made very little money, and were over in an instant; as measured by our results-oriented, income-obsessed, short-attention-span culture they would surely be deemed failures. And yet, the more I think now about what happened, the more I appreciate what was accomplished. The vision was alive, and it grew organically, nurtured by people's enthusiasm to come out and participate. How privileged I feel to have played a part in bringing it to life.
In late 2011, having spent seven years and tremendous personal savings and emotional effort finding the story of Saving Hubble, I decided the movie was "done enough." George Lucas aptly stated that films are never completed, they are abandoned; after many trials, I decided to push back from the editing table. Distributing a film is as difficult as ever despite several thousand different ways a filmmaker might go about it today; I decided that if I was going to be putting in long, hard hours finding an audience, then the effort should be meaningful. I cared deeply about nurturing the potential for the film to create a dialogue around fundamental questions and wanted the distribution of the film to inspire new conversations around the intersection of politics, culture and, of course, the cosmos.
My original inspiration for the Hubble Roadshow borrowed from carnivals, medicine shows and religious revivals. It wasn't until I learned of the Chautauqua movement of the late 19th century that I felt I had a more accurate guidestar for what I intended to create. The Chautauquas were a series of public events geared toward educating the public on a number of subjects in the thinking that there was a social and civic benefit to sharing knowledge. What a concept! And amazingly, this was not mere idealism, the Chautauquas were extremely popular. Imagine twenty-thousand rabid fans passing on a Brittany Spears concert in favor of seeing Neil de Grasse Tyson lecture about the nature of the universe. The Chautauquas evolved into traveling Chautauquas or "Tent Chautauquas" which were essentially tent revivals. There is an excellent history of the Tent Chautauquas and their role in American popular culture here. My reboot of the Tent Chautauqua, the Hubble Roadshow, intended to create events that were fun, educational and inspirational; I envisioned an experience where amidst a deep engagement with the existential nature of the universe, facilitated by the movie, the lectures, the stargazing and the music, something transcendent could happen. It sounds ambitious, but the hope was that Roadshow events would become a new kind of public square where a community could gather to celebrate, debate and connect across the variety of themes and ideas that Saving Hubble evokes.
I tread lightly when I suggest that this was a spiritual or political undertaking because both subjects are loaded guns and most of us (myself included) lack proper handling techniques for both. But for me, the formulation of these unorthodox events was and is spiritual and political work. The goal was never to simply promote Saving Hubble or to educate people about astronomy. The intention of the Roadshow, in it's most elemental form, was and is to bring people together in common cause to stare humbly at the universe and be changed by it. As we look out, alone together on a rock in the vast ocean of space, I wanted the Roadshow to be a vehicle for confronting the question on all our minds, daunting to ask yet perilous to ignore: 'What next?'
I often find that people are moved by the story of the Hubble Roadshow and want it to continue to grow. If you are inspired by the idea and think you can help, then please reach out, introduce yourself and let's talk about how we can keep the Roadshow alive.