Friday, December 18, 2009

Stolen Chair Theatre's Community Supported Theatre: Event #2

This is the third in our series of postings about Stolen Chair Theatre's new initiative, Community Supported Theatre. It's written by our embedded journalist, Jo Ann Rosen.

December 14, 2009

Despite the torrential rains, die-hard members of Stolen Chair’s Community Sponsored Theatre (CST) showed up for an evening of movie clips that demonstrated the effect of science on popular culture and everyday life. Reactions to the clips followed. The movies are part of CST’s research and inspiration for a play to be written by Kiran Rikhye, resident playwright. The year-long creative process is being shared with its membership. This year’s theme: Quantum Poetics: A Science Experiment for the Stage.

The movie clips highlighted nuclear energy, mathematics, electro-magnetics, and quantum physics. But, before you turn your back on topics you feel you’ll never understand, consider this: among the films were award-winning A Beautiful Mind, with the ever-engaging Russell Crowe, The Matrix with Keanu Reeves, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind featuring Jim Carrey, and Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Also included were an embarrassingly naive government-sponsored propaganda film from the 1950s illustrating the proper way for elementary school children to protect themselves during an atomic explosion (Duck and Cover), an animated film moderated by Martin Sheen demonstrating dimension (Flatland), an historical re-enactment of the discovery of electro-magnetic activity by the scientific genius Michael Faraday (Einstein's Big Idea: E is for Energy), Contact, a science fiction film featuring Jodie Foster, Memento, a movie in which the protagonist functions without memory, and Awakenings, the popular movie starring Robin Williams based on Oliver Sacks’s book of the same name, which describes Sacks’s treatment of catatonic patients with a drug that brings them back to life, if only temporarily. Following each clip, attendees participated in animated discussions moderated by Emily Otto, resident dramaturg.

It was clear from the start that one didn’t have to be a math wizard to enjoy A Beautiful Mind. Rather, someone offered that the movie elicited a great respect for genius and a voyeuristic thrill for discovery without demanding an understanding of the equations scrawled all over the movie’s university campus. After viewing Flatland, one participant suggested that scientific knowledge could actually hold back progress. Just as the movie’s animated two-dimensional line could not fathom the words ‘above’ or ‘below’, it’s all-knowing sphere was equally baffled by the possibility of a fourth dimension. Jon Stancato, resident director of Stolen Chair, said he liked NOVA’s production of Einstein's Big Idea, because it showed that a mark of a good scientist was his bold ideas and his rebelliousness – not unlike some of the best playwrights. He also found it appealing that Michael Faraday, who discovered electro-magnetic induction among other things, was depicted as an awestruck child and that he used his science not only to reinforce his religious beliefs but as salvation, in general. Another attendee noted that many scientists found inspiration outside of their field, such as Newton with his apple and Faraday and his wedding ring.

Bringing science into the living room or even the bedroom humanizes the concept. In Sliding Doors, Gwenyth Paltrow inhabits two universes simultaneously: one in which she misses her subway, because a child got in her way as she raced down the stairs, and another in which she actually catches that train, ultimately making a disturbing discovery. All in all, the films inspired thought and conversation – just what the exercise was meant to do!

Following the clips and discussion (did I forget to mention the popcorn and wine?), we read snippets of dialog written by Kiran, ideas that may or may not appear in the final play. The creative process continues. Members can look forward to another stimulating evening on January 24th, where again, science will take center stage.

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