Arts, Sciences, and Technology

STAGEScientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration – is a unique entity. Embedded within a science and engineering institute at a major U.S. research University, it is a full-scale laboratory devoted entirely to meaningful collaborations among scientists and artists. Specifically, it is at the helm of one of five core research themes, that of “Arts, Sciences and Technology,” at the University of Chicago’s nascent Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering.

In the STAGE lab, we create and develop new plays inspired by science and technology, and we explore telling those stories in new ways, by using technology in the staging of our productions. These are not science lectures disguised as plays. These are emotionally engaging, entertaining stories that happen to be about science and technology, and convey the flavor, substance and texture of scientific activity in a way that goes far beyond any stereotypes. That is how we believe we can make an impact – by giving someone an experience that moves them or makes them laugh. It is that visceral experience that gets people interested in science and technology.

Several factors led to STAGE’s endeavors: the dire need to promote understanding of the sciences in the public arena; the growing, widely-publicized national debate between scientific fact and fiction; scientists’ awareness of their own challenges in communicating their work more effectively, and their hunger to do so; and a desire to cultivate appreciation and collaboration between the two cultures of science and art. Another impetus was the awareness that science has everything that makes for good drama – passion, intrigue, despair, high stakes, and more. As science illuminates how the world works, and theatre illuminates how people work, the two disciplines are well-poised to enhance each other.

Learning details of the scientific process and the value of failure provided the final spark of motivation. Questions that arise from a “failed” experiment can ultimately turn out to be of greater significance than an obvious result. A scientist often sets out to explore a hypothesis, but serendipitously makes a discovery through something unexpected in the data that ultimately leads to a new direction and outcome. In contrast to traditional approaches to creating theatre, we began to think about how to apply aspects of the scientific process to create art, specifically theatre, about science. Out of these inspirations, the vision of STAGE came into focus: a laboratory in which to create theatre relevant to the lives we lead — lives influenced by sophisticated technological and scientific advances at every turn.

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