Theatricality of Science
Theatre and Science seem like odd bedfellows. As a student of science and an actor, I am regularly made aware of this. Theatre however can make science accessible to an audience who (in normal circumstances) would have no interest.
Many plays have been written about science, scientific discoveries and scientists – not all of them successfully. But what is it that makes a science based play a success?
Some of the more successful science-based scripts – Arcadia and The Disappearing Number – use the intricacies of the plot and the lives of the characters to explain and replicate the science that is being discussed. Arcadia looks at thermodynamics, a concept explained somewhat by one of the characters but able to been understood by looking at the play as a whole. The Disappearing Number uses the intersections between people’s lives represents finding patterns within mathematical series.
Attempts are consistently made to explain the science in many science plays. Here’s a tip – it doesn’t work. This is not an audience who care about all the intricacies of the science. They care about the plot, the characters, the overall experience.
To quote Alexis Soloski in the Guardian article – “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.”
In order to write a truly successful play about science, care must be taken not to lose our way in the intricacies of the science or within the required aspects of theatre. The two aspects must be used together – character traits and plot points used to spark the audience’s interest, set and lights used to further both aspects and so on. If the science overpowers the theatricality (or vis versa) the audience become disengaged with the content.
What do you think – are you inclined to go and see theatre based in science? And if you have, what did you find were the merits or struggles with the production?
Articles can be found at the below links:
http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/theater/reviews/17disappear.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2010/jul/26/science-plays-stoppard