After a round table of introductions, choreographer, performer, and educator, Liz Lerman spoke about her recent project, The Matter of Origins. Here are key points that resonated with me:
- Both theatre and science come to the art and work in a space of inquiry. Artists and scientists are seeking knowledge, comprehension and understanding about the world through their work.
- The arts can help scientists communicate thoughts, discoveries, and challenges to the community.
- Scientists can help artists see the power and impact of the research and discovery. (I would also add that science can help artist understand the importance of failure in the development of a new work.)
Liz also shared a number of compelling questions that arose in her work:
- In the creation of art and sharing of information, there is sense of awe and wonder in the moment of discovery. With regards to the human condition, how does this new knowing or unknowing invoke sadness or empower our position in the world/understanding of where we are in the universe?
- When engaging stories about science and ethics, how do we tell stories in a way that honor the individual and share the knowledge?
- What happens when artists draw a conclusion about the research that makes the scientists uncomfortable?
Next, Ann Merchant, Deputy Executive Director for Communications for NAS, shared more about the mission and vision of the Science & Entertainment Exchange. I was particularly struck by the following:
- Risk is a space of vibrancy in the world of science. (How can theatre benefit from this?)
- How can we raise awareness about what artists are doing in the same space where scientists are sharing the knowledge they have?
- How do we access and evaluate the success and also the cognitive and creative outcome? What is the goal and objective?
- While story trumps science, science can improve the story. Still, what is the ethical question around accuracy?
Ann then shared thoughts from scientist, professor and writer Sidney Perkowitz, on the idea of getting it right:
“You have to bend accuracy. Entertainment starts with an assumption that a lot of scientists don't start with: The story and the science have to somehow blend. You can't just insist the science be 100% accurate. It's better to have some science in there that's more or less accurate, than to have it badly done or not there at all. So [as advisors] we'll bend some in return for having some input.”
We ended the meeting contemplating ways that theatre artists, especially playwrights, and scientists could collaborate:
- We can create a space where entertainment presents information and become accidental curriculum.
- We can create residencies where artists can be embedded in lab or where scientist can work with a theatre.
- We know that high school and colleges are interested in plays about science and history. Playwrights can think about plays for educational purposes, for young audiences and performers.
- We can work together to develop TED talks and podcasts.
I was thrilled to continue this conversation. It gave me an opportunity to discuss next steps for my new play, AMONG THESE WILD THINGS, which I’m researching and writing. I have the great fortune of working with Dr. Jim Evans, who you’ll remember from the Drama of DNA workshop, on getting the science right in this play. I hope to have two drafts completed by May. Also, I was able to share ideas about the cross-disciplinary science/theatre initiative that I’m working to cultivate at UNC-Chapel Hill. I’m the fundraising and resource gather stage for this initiative, but can hardly wait to share more as it comes together.