Science on Stage

Convener(s): Alex Lehman 

Participants: Jacqueline Coombs, Jennifer Jackson, Roses Urquhart, Denise Stephenson, Sam smith, Zoe Cobb, Sian Rees, Sarah Pinshon, Angie Bral, Nicholas McInerny


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Basic Summary:

We talked about portraying scientific ideas without falling back on writing a biographical show about the scientist who discovered the idea.


Actual Notes:

TV show What Makes a Masterpiece, measuring neural responses of audience to art works. Possibility of using this in a live theatre piece.

Wellcome Trust have archive of past sponsored works on website.

Curious Directive

Gecko arts

One participant making a show about the sea heard about some marine biologists in Newcastle who want to work with artists.

Analogue do science shows 

Discovery is the element that links theatre and science

Brian Eno’s opinion that attempts to combine science and art are often not very good  because artists and scientists are engaged in opposite processes – i.e. possibility vs. reality.

Barrier in working with scientists: artists says “what if” this happened and scientist says “but it wouldn’t”

Some scientists only see art as a vehicle for the science and not something in its own right.

Many scientists live in a university environment their whole lives and aren’t great at interfacing with people outside of it.

Oliver Sacks talks about neuroscientists who lack empathy skills

Andrew Dawson theatre lecture The Articulate Hand & work with people who have lost mobility in hands

Unlimited performance called Ethics of Progress, a lecture performance about science and morality

Personal opinion that Wellcome Trust work doesn’t really connect viscerally

An idea must be transcendent & poetic to become a work of art, which won’t happen if it stays grounded in facts

How do you create the feeling of wonder in the theatre space?

Partly it’s down to creator enthusiasm infecting the audience.

Science Fiction as an avenue

“Is it art’s job to communicate scientific ideas?”

Theatre & science as forms of storytelling.

Complicite’s A Disappearing Number as relating mathematical ideas to human narrative

Taking inspiration for structure. Super novae as inspiration for structure of a play.

Godhead @ Oval House is about faith and neurochemicals. Previous production, Kiss of Life, used Argon as a starting metaphor.

Is it possible to create theatre about something ‘other’ than human interests – the way that a painting or music can be? Or is theatre inextricably tied to human narratives?

One participant working on an immersive environment on a Wellcome grant – dealing with light and seasonal affectived disorder (SAD). Debate about whether an interactive environment is an ‘installation’ or ‘theatre’.

Fevered Sleep make scientific theatre shows

The devising process is itself a scientific process.

Atheism vs. religion debates are about the ‘why’ not the ‘what’ and theatre needs to be about the human ‘why’


Engineering is creative and being too logical stunts engineering development just as much as in theatre.

Science and art used to be more linked

Idea that if you give a 5 year old a paperclip and ask him what he can do with it he’ll have thousands of ideas, but a 16 year old will only use it as a paperclip

Devising process – Darwin had mazes that he used to walk through to help his thinking. 

Science itself is a form of theatre. Enjoyment of burning magnesium – bring that into space.

Make partnerships with scientists and people outside of theatre.

Artists and scientists share a certain form of arrogance.

Interactive performance where you ask the audience to become scientists, observing and measuring their worlds

Uncertainty principle can only be expressed in maths and trying to express it theatrically is impossible.

Use of movement rather than story. Blackwatch as a physical, non-narrative form that conveys the idea of patriotism.

Method of scientific inquiry – state of not knowing.

Narrative of process.

Neuroscientist flatmate sez: brain pats of creativity are directly linked to those for movement.

One participant doing PhD in neuroscience of musicians. Doubts that pathways are so specifically linked as above. More holistic.

Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen. Body Mind Centering.

Relation between lower and upper brain in learning – you learn something by using whole upper brain, but once you’ve learned it is compressed and moves to lower brain.

Proposal of scientific theatre event where scientists give talks and artists share artistic responses to same ideas.

One participant working with mirror neurons in dance. Possibility of observing neurons of audience and performers during performance.

Using inspirations as mental filter – put on your ‘biology glasses’ as you go about your day if you want to make a show about biology.

Using forms from science as impro provocations.

Festival of the Spoken Nerd

Creative Learning as a job possibility – giving science shows to teach kids about science.

Night Kitchen Cabaret. Doing a show about comets – one character is a celestial mechanic working on comets. Comets being appropriated by government for use as missiles. Surreal cabaret show using science as inspiration.

Circus as a form of physics. 

Dance piece about virus transmission.

Possible to physicalize entities and forces without anthropomorphizing them.