February 17, 2015 7:58 pm

Behind the Scenes at My First StarTalk Live!

Today’s guest post is written by Heather R. Archuletta, who tweets @pillownaut and was kind enough to volunteer as our live tweeter at StarTalk Live! at SF Sketchfest 2015. Formerly with NASA Flight Simulations, Heather writes the “Pillow Astronaut” blog and recruits analogs for sim programs at Johnson Space Center. Here is her account of that evening.

The text from my Hubble Hangout buddy, @ScientificScott, was innocent enough, “Hey, you want to go behind the scenes at StarTalk?” Multiple emails and conference calls later, I had tickets and social media credentials for the SF Sketchfest StarTalk Live! show in San Francisco, featuring Bill Nye. Nerdvana!

I’ve worked rocket launch events, and I’ve toured with a rock band — but the backstage atmosphere is entirely different. Not quite as uncertain as launches, not quite as chaotic as musicians — the science theater set has their own green room culture, with an unshockingly brainy flavor.

Image of @pillownaut's tweet as she gets ready to live-tweet StarTalk Live! from SF Sketchfest.

Preparing for multiple personalities. Credit: Heather R. Archuletta.

The job? Live-tweeting the StarTalk Live! show from the @StarTalkRadio twitter account, and perhaps also tweet personal comments from @Pillownaut at the same time. I arrived hours early on show day, scouted out my seat in the audience, but knew immediately I wouldn’t be able to sit in it. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones are severely frowned upon in theatres, and I would disturb other attendees by typing madly on a brightly lit screen.

My advice to any who follow in my guest tweetsteps: find a shady spot where you won’t bring down the wrath of over-zealous ushers (my friends in the audience would later tell me they had been scolded multiple times for trying to RT me!). My shady spot was a dark corner at stage left, on a couch that clearly pre-dated the Eisenhower Administration, but in clear view of the monitors filming the chairs set up for Bill, his comic co-host and guests: two scientists and another comedian. Interesting formula!

Shown: Rick (@jetforme) tweeted this image of Heather R. Archuletta touching Bill Nye's bow tie, one of the 7 wonders of the geek world.

Girls gone bowtie wild. Credit: Heather R. Archuletta.

As he prepared himself to go live, Nye humored the media backstage with amusing selfies, encouraged us to get fed and watered before the action, then took center stage as the lights went up, greeting thunderous applause from the 1600+ packing the historic Nourse Theatre. Science and space nerds everywhere, from basement to balcony, were eager to get their geek on!

I settled in to tweet about all the featured speakers as they were introduced, and Bill asked them various questions about their respective fields. As ever, StarTalk staple and co-host Eugene Mirman was present, and the surprise comedian of the evening was the quippy H. Jon Benjamin of Bob’s Burgers, Dr. Katz and Family Guy fame.

The science guests were Yvonne Pendleton, Director of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute and G. Scott Hubbard, Sentinel mission architect and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University.

Photo of the StarTalk Live! panel, left to right -Eugene Mirman, H. Jon Benjamin, Bill Nye, Yvonne Pendleton, G. Scott Hubbard, taken by Heather R. Archuletta.

Panel: Eugene Mirman, H. Jon Benjamin, Bill Nye, Yvonne Pendleton, G. Scott Hubbard. Credit: Heather R. Archuletta.

Have you ever tried to keep up with scientists and comedians while they argue about possible trips to Mars? From two different Twitter accounts? Like mascot tweeting, or live-tweeting an event for company brands, it’s like a warp speed version of having multiple personalities.

Whenever the crowd grew particularly raucous, as it did when Bill’s leadership of the Planetary Society was mentioned, I deviated from tiptoeing around backstage to peeking through the side curtains, or running out to the floor to snap pictures of the action.

Photo of science popularizer and defeater of Venusian lava, Bill Nye, taken by Heather R. Archuletta.

Bill Nye – science popularizer, defeater of Venusian lava. Credit: Heather R. Archuletta.

At one point, in a spirited simulation of what it would be like on planet Venus, Bill Nye jumped up on his chair — no joke — to play the Lava Game, where you can’t touch the ground for fear of being burned. I was too slow to catch that on film, but he did catch ME snapping his picture once, whereupon I scurried back to my devices to tweet new photographs.

As exciting as it is to be part of a LIVE experience, as opposed to watching Nye on television or YouTube, there is a definite downside to live-tweeting as a job. You cannot ask questions! I was burning to run to one of the microphones and ask everyone’s favorite Science Guy: What do you think of the new 3D printer on the space station? Are you keeping up with all the new potentially habitable planets discovered by the Kepler mission?

Shown: Bill Nye tweeted this photo of bare slopes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming due to climate change.

Will we be the generation to listen and act? Credit: Heather R. Archuletta.

Sadly, I had to review most of the Q&A via the video monitors. At this point, the first serious, powerful moment of a very fun evening brought Bill Nye’s true mission in life into sharp focus. Upon being asked about the issues closest to his heart, he lamented that data about global climate had been publicized since the 1960s — and also ignored just as long.

“What I want all of YOU to be is the next Great Generation,” he said with great emotion, as silence settled the hitherto chuckling crowd. “I hope YOU are the generation that truly, FINALLY addresses climate change and saves the Earth for us. The Earth will be fine otherwise. But, be the ones who save it for the humans.”

Well said. And well received. Even if one new fan came to StarTalk to hear this message, it was worth it! Rest assured, however, that with comedians onstage, they feel the pressure to keep everyone — including The Science Guy — in stitches. As they steered the conversation back toward rockets before signing off, the evening ended on a high note. About 250 miles high, to be exact…

Shown: live tweet about Bill Nye making rocket sound effects, by @StephEvz43.

Heather’s friend @StephEvz43 had a few pithy live tweets herself.

Hope to see you at the next StarTalkLive… at the theater or on Twitter!

Get the most out of StarTalk!

Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Ad-Free Video Episodes
Stickers & Mugs
Live Streams with Neil
Priority Cosmic Queries
Early-Access Videos
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more