Starmaker: the astrophysicist telling stories through music
“Astrid uses real science from my degree as it was important to me that it was as believable as possible”
A science fiction musical co-written by astrophysicist Georgia Rawlins during the pandemic was abruptly cancelled when Covid-19 restrictions tightened shortly before it was due to be performed. This term Astrid finally made its stage debut at the ADC Theatre with a new cast and received rave reviews. Undergraduate Georgia talks science, telling stories through music, and ruining the nativity at school.
What is Astrid about?
Astrid is the first baby born in space, after her mother snuck onto a spaceship when she was pregnant to escape an abusive relationship. What Astrid really wants is to experience life on Earth and when disaster strikes, she and the crew of the spaceship she lives on have a chance to risk everything to make it home. My friend Helena Fox and I co-wrote it, very broadly she wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music but there was a lot of overlap. We sketched out the plot together and paced the songs out carefully to make sure there was the right ratio of music to dialogue.
How did you get into music?
I had a really lovely combination of parents in that my dad got to play lots of music as a kid and my mum really wanted to but never had the opportunity. So both of my parents were really keen that their children would play lots of music. I started with piano when I was seven and I hated it! My parents made me stick at it and I’m so glad they did because once I could play for fun, I really began to enjoy it. I hit the jackpot with my piano teacher at school who taught me skills I’d actually need as well as the skills needed to pass the music exams. I play the piano, flute and reeds now.
When did you first start writing creatively?
I wrote my first musical age 15 when I was at school. It was an absolute mess called Sixteen Years that will never see the light of day but it taught me a lot. Then I wrote one in sixth form called Another Day which was a murder mystery and I got a bunch of friends together to perform part of it. I think writing is something you get better at by doing.
Why did you decide to study science at university rather than music?
Because I was better at science than at music, in the academic sense anyway, and I thought if I dropped it after A-level that I’d never pick it up again whereas I knew I could still be involved in music no matter what. I also didn’t want to turn music into something I had to do rather than something I do because I love it.
Why did you apply to Cambridge and St John’s?
I wanted to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge because I couldn’t decide between physics and chemistry and most universities make you choose between them. I applied to John’s because of all the extracurricular music opportunities available. I sing with St John’s Voices and I’ve done orchestral stuff with St John’s College Music Society and played in lots of pit bands in lots of musicals. John’s is very close to the ADC Theatre, which is very handy!
You are now doing Part III Astrophysics after three years as a Natural Sciences student, what is the course like?
Astrophysics is cool and very interesting. We look at the structure and evolution of stars, extrasolar planets, galaxies, cosmology and black holes. My research is focused around exoplanets and white dwarfs. Astrid uses real science from my degree as it was important to me that it was as believable as possible.
Have you always loved musical theatre?
I went to the theatre a few times as a kid and I remember being blown away by Wicked which reinvented the genre with its very distinct style. I’ve been back again and again and always sit in the cheap seats in the back but it is worth it because the music is just so good. My favourite musical at the moment is Come From Away which is set in Newfoundland in the week following the 11 September terrorist attacks. It is an incredibly moving piece of theatre with an uplifting reminder of the power of humanity at its core.
Do you act as well as write and direct?
No, absolutely not. I’ve done a couple of school plays but my mum fondly tells me I tanked my acting career age six during the nativity production when I told Mary and Joseph to come into the inn as there was plenty of room!
What was it like finally seeing Astrid performed on stage to a sold-out audience?
I have never actually seen it performed in full because I’m always playing in the band. But the reviews have been incredible and the feedback we have had, often from people we don’t know, has been really great. It shouldn’t be so unusual to have strong female characters interacting without romance at the heart of the plot, but it is still very novel and people really responded to it.
Why do you think some people look down on musical theatre?
Like anything, musical theatre isn’t for everyone. But it is a visual spectacle that brings in the most money for theatres by far – some people might be snobby about it because it is so popular with the masses. I also think people just have to find the right musical for them. Musicals can still wrestle with important, relevant themes and challenge the audience even when the story is presented via the medium of singing, dancing and acting. They can also be pure escapism into a magical world where people sometimes start tap dancing just because they can.