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Science, theatre and the fun factor

Director Sarah Bannister explores the connection between science and theatre in MFA project Experiment 1: Why?


By Aurélie Maerten and Heath McCoy
May 17, 2018

Working towards her undergraduate degree specializing in Theatre Studies and Plant Science, Sarah Bannister always wondered if it was possible to combine the two disciplines, which seemed to be a world away from one another. When she was introduced to devised theatre at the University of Calgary, she found her way. 

“I wanted to focus more on the fun side of science, the ideas of science,” says Bannister. “Reading science plays, I didn’t find anything that worked in the way I wanted. Most science plays I’ve read are really serious, often dealing with universal ideas from physics or are built around the lives of renowned scientists.”

In devised theatre, performances can be created through processes of giving actors physical tasks, such as providing a word or idea as inspiration and asking them to create material within a given set of parameters. Because the focus is on physical exploration, the actors don’t need to have experience with the subject.

“I started rehearsal with an idea and very basic plot line,” explains Bannister. “I would give the actors a word, for example ‘absorption’, and then they get five minutes to come up with something to show to the rest of the group.”

After going through multiples rounds with the ensemble, Bannister noticed the development of recurring characters and ideas, which were further explored in rehearsals.

“It’s very much like a science experiment,” says Bannister. “You try something, see if it works or not. You take parts of that, revamp your experiment and try again.”

Devising a show is one thing, making it immersive is another. Audience members of Experiment 1: Why? will become a part of the scientific experiment by stepping onto the stage, taking a seat in rolling chairs and participating with the ensemble. Over the course of one hour, they will be invited to explore new territory, help solve challenges, and discover new perspectives as the characters learn about their environment, their abilities, and themselves... all in a fun way.

“Humour, fun, and silliness are incredibly important for this show as ‘science’ may make audience members anxious,” says Bannister. “Relax into it and you’ll see it’s not hard to be excited about science.”

Experiment 1: Why? is the last show of the 2017-18 drama season, presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts. Performances take place at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. from May 23-26 in the Reeve Theatre, and from May 30 to June 2 in cSPACE King Edward Studio Theatre.

There are only 25 seats available per performance. UCalgary employees receive 50% off tickets with promocode MYUC.