CONTACT Thompson CU visiting artist, directing 'They Promised Her the Moon' - Kent Thompson

It is an honor to direct a talented cast at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Theatre & Dance as the department’s Roe Green Visiting Artist. Playwright Laurel Ollstein’s “They Promised Her the Moon” is the department’s 2021-22 Roe Green Production. The show runs April 15-24 at Loft Theatre in the University Theatre Building.

For more details, including a schedule of performances, and online ticket sales, click here.

Reading “They Promised Her the Moon” for the first time, I fell in love with its little known female superstar, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, who almost became an astronaut in the early 1960s. And I was equally taken by its other, older female superstar, Jackie Cochran, who funded “The Mercury 13,” the first program to test Jerrie Cobb and 12 other female pilots for our country’s space program. They took on the men (“The Mercury 7,” including John Glenn) and matched or bested them. And yet, male power and privilege would deny women access to the NASA program; that honor—a U.S. woman traveling into space—would have to wait 20+ years for Sally Ride.

These two women were extraordinary. They broke barriers and held world records in aviation. Jackie Cochran was a pioneer in women’s aviation, as one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation. She was the first woman to break the sound barrier in 1953! She was the wartime head of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (the “WASPS”) in WWII, when more than a thousand female pilots ferried planes from factories to overseas airfields near the frontlines. She also ran a successful line of cosmetics. Jerrie Cobb knew from a young age that she wanted to fly; her determination led her to pilot dozens of aircraft. She, too, broke records in speed and altitude; she won international awards in aviation. When tested for space, she bested everyone (including the men). And she became instrumental in pushing for women to become astronauts. When space was closed to her, Jerrie went on to pursue life as a missionary.

I regret that I knew nothing about this. When I asked around, no one with whom I spoke had ever heard of Jerrie Cobb or Jackie Cochran. I found myself becoming more and more excited to direct the play. This was a story that needed to be told. And the more we have worked on it, the more we have discovered the barriers these women faced. It has been shocking and sobering, but also inspiring to see these women’s courage and resilience. Laurel Ollstein has crafted a remarkable play about these two women and their pursuit of space. Jackie Cochran is the older and tougher woman—she is unafraid to use her feminine wiles at the same time she demands attention, respect and results. Jerrie Cobb is humbler, less wealthy and privileged, and less outspoken, but no less driven.

How would the world be different if Jerrie Cobb had made it into space? And how did she deal with the sexism and male privilege that sidelined her and the Mercury 13 women?

Times have changed—somewhat. More people know about Jerrie and Jackie now. There’s a Netflix documentary about the Mercury 13, and an Apple+ TV show, “For All Mankind.” Hopefully, one day there will be as many women as men in space. That will require us to remember the forgotten women who have been overlooked and under-appreciated.

Ollstein, known for the themes of social justice underpinning her works, wrote a first draft of “They Promised Her the Moon” while she was a playwright in residence at The University of Oklahoma. The play received its West Coast premiere at The Old Globe in San Diego in April 2019.

“‘Moon’ sticks the landing—a fascinating true story!” San Diego Magazine wrote at the time.