As one might surmise from the way I’ve titled this post, I am very excited about today’s topic!
Yesterday I had the privilege to hear my work read by a professional for a very first time as part of the Traverse Theatre’s Young Writers Scratch Night. For ten weeks I’ve attended weekly workshops with various playwrights, and finally each of us were given five minutes to present what we’ve been working on, directed and acted by working professionals.
I’m currently working on a play for my science communication dissertation. The concept is to develop a series of monologues from the perspective of different insects, which I will eventually perform for evaluation as a one-person show. The main goal of the piece will be to challenge perceptions of insects and their life stories, which can actually be highly dramatic and, dare I say it, theatrical. The Scratch Night has proven invaluable in the development of this project by giving a voice to the words. And it was also a delight to feel taken seriously as an artist and theatremaker.
The experience of creating science theatre takes me back to when I applied for my first research fellowship as a freshman in college. One of my academic advisors alluded to the parallels of science and theatre as practice, since I was both a microbiology major and a high school theatre kid. Both take obsessive devotion to completing projects (often over long periods), both can involve late nights, and both involve rigorous inquiry and reflective criticism. I was largely resistant to these ideas at the time, since I wanted to be a scientist, not a mere “theatre person.”
But in the afterglow of the scratch night, I start to take these words a bit more seriously.
Scratch nights are a type of experiment undertaken by writers, directors, and actors. They work out the best version of the show possible at that stage in a rehearsal room, and then try it out on the audience, who provide data for analysis in their reactions. Audience feedback informs the next phase of development and the cycle continues, just like the analysis of data and reincorporation into better experimental design.
My own piece was about a mother insect describing to her children how she and her siblings ate their mother. Unsurprisingly, I was concerned that perhaps the speech would be too grim. After all, it is a science communication and public engagement dissertation first; I don’t want to turn off my audience with something depressing. But remarkably, I learned that the piece is actually quite funny, due in no small part to excellent acting by Meg Fraser. Hearing the piece gave me insight into its tone, which will be critical in developing it into a full-length piece.
I performed a preliminary experiment, and the result will inform a larger study. The piece will have various iterations with various levels of success in different areas. It will take calibration to specific audiences the way that equipment takes calibration to different conditions.
Theatrical development and scientific research are just alternate forms of analytic inquiry.
Ultimately, to make a great play, I will have to be a bit of a scientist about it.
And I think I am well up for the challenge.