The Athenian Players to present “The Rocket Men” by Crystal Skillman

The Rocket Men

In the first-ever play commissioned by the Alabama Center for the Arts, acclaimed NYC playwright, Crystal Skillman explores the German Rocket Team that was instrumental in the development of the US Space Program turning the small farming community of Huntsville, Alabama into “Rocket City, USA”.

This new play commission, created for Athens State University and Calhoun Community College, allowed Skillman to work on the play in a unique three-year process.  This premiere production will be directed by Dr. Hugh K. Long at Alabama Center for the Arts April 20th-23rd.

“The Rocket Men” is a unique theatrical experience that carries us through time, and sometimes across the world, in a blink of an eye to present the story of the German “Rocket Men” who used their scientific skills to flee Nazi Germany and settle in the most unlikely of places…North Alabama. Set in a futuristic planetarium, we follow the dynamic relationship of Wernher von Braun and Heinz-Hermann Koelle, a lesser-known young German rocketeer, who joined the “Operation Paperclip” team several years later. These two have set their sights on Apollo’s success in space exploration and colonization beyond the moon. Still, as the play counts down, we experience the haunting cost of their scientific advancements as the play asks us to consider whose names are remembered in history, and why?

“When invited to see my play Geek!, directed by Dr. Long five years ago, with his Athenian Players, two things happened: I fell in love with the work Hugh was doing at Athens State University and Calhoun Community Center, while at the same time, I visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.  There, I discovered von Braun’s story as I got to know the region heavily influenced by his accomplishments,” Crystal shares. “When I discovered the story of Heinz-Hermann Koelle, thirteen years younger, who was brought over to work on the team, I found a way to tell this complex story.”

“It is rare for any actor, let alone students, to have the unique experience of working on a brand new full-length play. It is even more special for these actors to witness a play develop from a conceptual idea and see as it matures into a fully actualized production,” notes Dr. Long. “Crystal’s direct involvement has been invaluable, as she not only taught our students through an online playwriting course offered last fall at Athens State but has generously used her time to teach our actors about the craft of playwriting as this new play commission progressed. This has been an exciting opportunity for all of us involved, as we not only are able to create new work, but share with our community a play about Huntsville and North Alabama,” Dr. Long states.

“Commissioning a new play is incredibly exciting because we are part of creating something new that will have an impact for many decades to come,” Athens State University Interim President Catherine Wehlburg notes,  offering: “Working with Crystal Skillman to bring to life part of the transformative development of rocket science in North Alabama has had a huge impact on our students and our community.  Athens State’s ongoing commitment to engage in both the arts and sciences beyond the classroom is central to our mission as a public university; we look forward to sharing this new play with the world.”

The “Rocket Men” cast features Allyson Payne, Marcus Patten, Sarah Smith, Chelsea Baker, David Dyer, Kathy Earnest, Lennie Flowers, Mary J. Graben, Christina Johnson, Emma Schroer, and William Scott Tuttle. The production’s creative team features lighting design by William Richardson, costume design by Dr. Kim Jack, projection designs by Zana Mercury, sound design by Abby Smith, props design by Giorgi Smith, and original music score composed by Mark Pettey. The production is stage managed by Honey Leeann with production assistants Hailey Board (Projection), Vann Pedersen, and Jamar Echols (Costumes).

Directed by Dr. Hugh K. Long, The Rocket Men will run April 20th-22nd at 7 PM with a matinee on April 23rd at 2 PM. All performances will take place in the Studio Theatre of the Performing Arts Center at the Alabama Center for the Arts, 133 Second Avenue NE, Decatur, AL. General Admission tickets are $15, and Students/Seniors/Faculty/Staff are $10.

This production is rated Theatre-MA for Mature Language and Adult Themes. Audience discretion is advised. For more information, please visit:

Crystal Skillman is an award-winning playwright, fictional podcast writer, and comic book author. Her play Rain and Zoe Save the World, premiered last year in the UK and has begun its journey in America with director Jared Mezzocchi, composer Bobby Cronin, and Dane and Drew Productions. Her play Open, the acclaimed NY Times’ Critics Pick, was awarded a grant from Mid Atlantic Arts for the play’s first international tour in Italy last fall directed by Jessi D. Hill. Crystal is book writer of the musical Mary and Max (composer Bobby Cronin). Upcoming works include her award-winning fictional podcast The Magician’s Magician in partnership with audio production company Boom Integrated, a wing of GRAMMY-winning John Marshall Media. Noted on several best-of lists, her audio drama series King Kirby, penned with co-writer NY Times bestselling comics writer Fred Van Lente based on their acclaimed play, is available from Broadway Podcast Network. Crystal has written for Wondery Kids, Girl Tales, Adventure Time comics, Marvel, and WebToon Studios. First discovered out of her internship at Ensemble Studio Theater, she became a formative member of Youngblood and has had her work developed at WP, Soho Rep, Atlantic, The Civilians, and MCC, among others. She is the recipient of two EST/Sloan commissions and teaches playwriting at The School of Drama at the New School. Her work is published with Dramatists Play Service, Concord Theatricals, and Uproar Theatrics. Insta: @crystalskillman

The Athenian Players are the resident theatre company at Athens State University. They make their home in the new Studio Theatre in the Alabama Center for the Arts, a black box theater designed by Theatre Project Consultants. The Athenian Players produce a play each semester, drawing the cast and crew from the diverse and talented Athens State student body, students at other nearby schools, and the local Alabama community. Their goal is to continue the long tradition of quality dramatic productions from Athens State University’s illustrious history and to be a beacon for future theatre artists in the greater North Alabama region. For more information, visit their Facebook page at For information about the Drama program at Athens State, visit

Previous Post

Athens State Appoints Dr. Troy Adair Dean of College of Business

Academics / April 6, 2023
Next Post

Athens State Ranked by OnlineU in Several "Most Affordable" Categories

Academics / April 19, 2023