This book is about science in theatre and performance. It explores how theatre and performance engage with emerging scientific themes from artificial intelligence to genetics and climate change. The book covers a wide range of performance forms from the spectacle of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony to Broadway musicals, from experimental contemporary performance and opera to educational theatre, Somali poetic drama and grime videos. It features work by pioneering companies including Gob Squad, Headlong Theatre and Theatre of Debate as well as offering fresh analysis of global blockbusters such as Wicked and Urinetown. The book offers detailed description and analysis of theatre and performance practices as well as broader commentary on the politics of theatre as public engagement with science. It documents important examples of collaborative practice with extended discussion of the Theatre of Debate process developed by Y Touring theatre company, exploration of bilingual theatre-making in East London and an account of how grime MCs and dermatologists ended up making a film together in Birmingham. The interdisciplinary approach draws on contemporary research in theatre and performance studies in combination with key ideas from science studies. It shows how theatre can offer important perspectives on what the philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers has called ‘cosmopolitics’. The book argues that theatre can flatten knowledge hierarchies and hold together different ways of knowing.
This chapter discusses three different examples of experimental socially engaged creative practice. In each case artists and community groups worked with biomedical professionals in processes of collaborative knowledge co-production. The chapter argues that these processes should be understood as performances of translation with linguistic and spatial dimensions. The three different examples engage with inherited breast cancer, khat and skin colour respectively. The creative projects all responded to dominant ways of articulating an issue by redefining the problem. They got to grips with complex social contexts marked by diverse experiences of globalisation and various forms of inequality. The formation of new biosocial alliances that crossed boundaries between professionals, patient groups, artists and other groups was central to all these projects. Such creative networks can rebalance knowledge inequalities in a process of commoning sense.
This chapter introduces the book’s focus on theatre, performance and science. It sets out the context of the work in twenty-first-century knowledge economies and the politics of science under conditions of globalisation. It shows how science is subject to performance pressure like many areas of contemporary life and explains how this has been manifested in a variety of modes of science communication and public engagement with science. Science-communication practices are often seen as responses to a crisis of trust in scientific knowledge. The chapter introduces the idea that theatre and theatricality can offer both critique and repair to the process of knowledge-making. Theatrical practices of sense-making recognise science’s passions at the same time as they articulate feelings from emergent levels of sensory perception. Theatre does not produce engagement; it is a particular and peculiar mode of engagement. While theatre audiences may form a proxy for a public, a crowd, a group of consumers or a nation, they are not quite any of these collectives. Rather, theatrical events constitute collectives in mobile ways, tracing emergent associations and solidarities articulated through various modes of sensory perception.
Dystopian performatives and vertigo aesthetics in popular theatre
This chapter examines two Broadway musicals, Wicked and Urinetown, and two plays first staged at London’s National Theatre, Earthquakes in London and The Effect. It looks at how these examples of popular theatre register public feelings about contemporary science and technology. Their various modes of theatricality establish a relationship between performers and spectators but also articulate connections between a range of scientific discourses on climate change, population change, water management, genetics and neuroscience; apparently anti-scientific cultural forms such as myth, mysticism and magic; and aesthetic conventions from literary fiction, pop music and fashion. The chapter argues that speculative theatrical practices offer ways of engaging with uncomfortable knowledge.
Over two years, the experimental Anglo-German art collective Gob Squad worked together with a neurorobotics laboratory and a major Berlin opera house, the Komische Oper. This chapter offers a detailed analysis of this process and the performance, My Square Lady, which emerged from the collaboration. It explores the entangled histories of theatre and computer science identifying political problems with tendencies for new technologies to be taken too seriously. It argues that laughing at science might be an important way of both understanding it and registering discomfort and uncertainty about scientific ideas and associated technologies. Comic theatricality offers particular choreographies for holding humans and nonhumans together with their multiple modes of existence.
This chapter provides a case study of the theatre company Y Touring and their development of a dramaturgical process known as Theatre of Debate. The work of the company over more than twenty-five years touring secondary schools across the UK and beyond provides an important benchmark for collaborations between scientists, theatre-makers and educators. The chapter charts the development of the company’s extensive repertoire of plays covering major areas of biomedicine including genetics and neuroscience. It goes on to discuss how Theatre of Debate offers a distinctive approach to an education in somatic expertise opening up emerging ethical issues to contest and debate.
This chapter synthesises the ideas in the book through discussing the performance of cosmopolitics. It discusses the need for creative ways of practising cosmopolitics particularly as a response to climate change. The chapter explores the ship-based artist residencies offered by the organisation Cape Farewell, focusing on creative responses to the experience by the performer Cynthia Hopkins and the choreographer Siobhan Davies. It argues that, through hybrid forms of performance, these artists find productive ways of grappling with the particular difficulties of climate change, including its scale, different forms of knowledge about it and the associated sensory conflict we might experience.