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May 29, 2011 / crystalgkoh

Theatre/ Plays Used as A Way to Communicate Science

Written By Crystal Koh

Honestly, before writing this blog entry, it took me a really long time to get my head around the idea of using theatre or plays as a way to communicate science to the public. The first thought that came into my mind was “How could this even be possible? Wouldn’t that make the play a really boring one?”

Then, after reading the two readings, “Why does theatre plus science equal poor plays?” and ” Theatre Review: Human (and Mathematical) Equations“, which I recommend that everyone should just have a browse through of these two links to understand how I came to a conclusion that there could actually be a few techniques needed in order to make a theatre or play about science interesting.

Before reading further, watch this short video clip about the life of a scientist. It’s just a small part of the play where it explains a little about the discovery of the moon and star.

Though many think of theatre as more of an art and not a science. However, after watching the video and from reading the two readings above, there is evidence to say that science and art can be combined together to communicate science. This may seem rather complicated and tough to do, but actually this isn’t true.

Here is a list of important things to think about that may help to make this possible:

  1. Creativity- The writer of the play has to be creative. He has to have the ability to think outside the box, to blend art and science together in order to capture the attention of the audience.
  2. Emotions- The writer has to think of ways to set an emotion into each character, and these emotions needs to be felt by the audience. For example, would this play be a comedy, romance, mystery?
  3. Right choice of actors – This is important as if the actor does not have the talent to act his character out well, the main message of the play might be interpreted wrongly by the audience.
  4. Audience- The writer has to decide on the type of audience he would be aiming at. If it were a science play for schools or students, then the plot of the story would differ greatly from a play aimed at adults.
  5. Jargon- As the aim is to produce a science play; the writer would have to keep in mind of his audience. If it is aimed at school kids, the play would have to be as jargon free as possible, or if there were jargon, the writer would have to think of a way to explain this really well by acting it out. If the play was aimed at adults, the use of jargon could be possible, but there would still be a need to keep it as simple as possible.
  6. Technology- The use of technology, things writers need to think about, lighting, sound, visual effects. These would all aid in capturing the attention of the audience.
In summary, the main importance is to have the ability to engage the audience to think and enjoy the play. As mentioned by Soloski A, 2010
Rather than making the scientific stuff intelligible to the average layperson, perhaps writers should let it remain difficult, let the audience struggle a bit, allow certain principles to remain complicated and elegantly remote. And perhaps writers and directors can make use of the available theatrical technologies to render these theorems more vividly.
Also, communicating science by using the methods of theatre or play is just like telling a story. Hence, using this method to communicate science can be an effective way, as story telling is a good way for people to recall the facts of the story and it engages the reader/ audience. This has been mentioned in previous blog entries about the “power” of story telling used as a way to communicate science.
I am certian that there may be many other points that I may have missed out on and the list can go on. I encourage everyone to think about the points mentioned, and to also add-on to the list for further discussion.
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4 Comments

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  1. afiza / May 31 2011 12:27 pm

    Hi Crystal,

    You had done a great job. At first, I am also thought that putting science into a theater or plays would create a disaster. However, after reading your post, I agree that communicating science through theater/plays is just like a story-telling.

    I would like to add that a good script also plays a crucial part in theater/plays. Adding some humors sometimes help to ease the tension if the theater/plays present a complicated science. Thus to create a successful theater/plays, it is essential for the writers to learn the relevant science very well. For instance, Lauren Gunderson is a science playwright in Atlanta, used to do a lot of research from science magazines, web site, theory in making a good script. He also used jargon in his science plays by letting the actors speak freely like a scientist. As he mentioned, it is not to confuse the audience but to prize the actors for their expertise.

    Overall, I think you had covered most of the important points. Once again, thank you for a great
    post.

    Reference : Science plays come of age, TheScientist http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/24160/

    • cgak05 / Jun 3 2011 4:30 am

      Thank you for your comment Afiza.

      Yes you’ve made an important point that a good script does play a crucial part in theater/plays. Thank you for also adding extra information about science plays. The reference that you have provided will indeed encourage more discussion around the topic.

  2. kategap / Jun 2 2011 7:51 am

    Dear Crystal,
    I really enjoyed your post and I have learned a lot from it. The video was a great idea! It made me think about “Heaven and Earth”. I never bothered to think that someone looking at Earth from the moon would see Earth the same way: half, a quarter, etc. – an “earth cycle”.
    I think that an important part of writing a good science play is to have science intertwined with a great story. For example, “The Disappearing Number”, the play from the Guardian article you quoted, has a love story structuring the play. To make a good play is to stir emotions in people – pure science can rarely do this to a non-scientist. Well, maybe stir fear and confusion, but certainly not the great passions.
    Once again, well done!
    Best Wishes,
    Kate

  3. poonamrajmane88 / Jun 5 2011 10:03 am

    Hello Crystal,
    I liked the way you have structured your post with the video and attributes that are responsible to make a good science play. It was not difficult for me to understand the concept of communicating science through plays. Coming from a place where I was an active participant of theatre. I was fortunate enough to have stumbled across such plays.
    The overall idea of conveying science concepts to kids at an earlier stage is essential for building a knowledge ladder. Of course communicating science through theatre is the best way in todays world. Most people now are not interested in reading scientific books. I as student turn to national geographic channels to get the dose of upcoming science research. I guess media plays a very important role in conveying science to masses. But it is equally important that one should keep in mind what the target audience is.
    In terms of theatre the script usually plays an important role and how is it used in relevance to target audience. There is a theatre group called “English Theatre Berlin” and has many plays to it’s credit. Here the actors cooperate with new age scientists and the students who have better understanding of particular topic.
    It is easier to make a science film but to enact in order to convey a science fact is more difficult because one should keep the script, humor and target audience in mind. Even if the scipt is good the burden lies on the characters on how they convey emotions and engage the audience in complex and crucial questions of science.
    Thanks for the post, It really made me think that nowadays we don’t get to see such things.

    Regards,
    Poonam Rajmane

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