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February 18, 2016

When Science Meets Theatre

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Maths and science have always been my strangers since I was young. I always hypnotise myself that I am very bad at numbers and science is just another world of mine. To see a performance talking about Quantum Mechanics sounded quite unappealing to me. Yet I was curious what it would turn out to be.

In the evening of 18th January 2016, I had a chance to see a solo performance called The Principle of Uncertainty. It was a part of the IAS visiting fellowship granted to Dr Andrea Brunello and entitled Jet Propulsion Theatre (JPT) at Warwick, which aims to convey science through theatre and to illustrate how science and humanities are connected.

The performance took place at a middle-sized lecture theatre in Zeeman Building, University of Warwick. We audiences were sitting in the room as if we were students waiting for the class to begin. When Dr Brunello, the main actor, entered the room we could notice that his role was a professor who was going to give us a lecture in the next following hour.

The topic focused on Quantum Mechanics and The Principle of Uncertainty. In the first place, I could feel that most of audiences (who I guessed most of them did not really related to these principles) seemed to be alienated from what the professor tried to explain. However, once the play kept going, the beauty of science was eventually unfolded. The lecture was not only astonishing but also entertaining.

This astonishing moment surprisingly reminded me my past when I was a little girl in a primary school. That girl used to enjoy learning maths and science and find that there was some kind of magic and miracle hidden behind there that she wanted to explore. However, when time passed and I went through a higher education, those magic and miracle finally disappeared. Maths and science turned to be boring lessons in massive tedious textbooks which I just needed to read, remember and fill them in answer sheets. My passion in maths and science was gone. Until that evening while I was watching the play, it unexpectedly came back again. It was the most enjoyablescience class I have been so far.

More importantly, the play did not aim to educate the audiences scientific theory. Instead, it connected the theory with our daily lives. When he compared the uncertainty in the momentum of an electron to the uncertainty of a human’s life, I was amazingly impressed. The play began with such a serious topic but smoothly ended up with a very simply touching feeling talking about love and loss. It also showed us that the similarity of science and the humanities was that we were not trying to understand everything but to understand that it was impossible to understand everything. In our lives, there has always been a certain kind of uncertainty, uncertainty is certain.

Having further chances to participate a public talk given by Dr Brunello discussing his project and to join the screening of his previous performance called Pale Blue Dot, as an audience, I think that what Dr Brunello is doing is precious. He employs his insightful scientific knowledge combining it with his skilful theatrical techniques to talk to audiences questioning about the world where we are all living in. His plays provoke me to think as a human who needs to be responsible for the world where I am living in and going to pass it forward to later generations.

Dr Brunello emphasises that his works are not educational plays that aim to teach audiences scientific theories and I strongly agree. Although his works significantly convey scientistic knowledge, it is not as important as how he relates it with our lives. His plays talk science, environment, politics, economics, cultures, future, past, loss and also love. Dr Brunello’s works shows a fine balance between science and theatre which is truly beneficial when different disciplines meet; when there is no boundary between theatre and numbers, when there is no line between feeling and thinking, when we perceive the world in wider lens and when science and humanities are genuinely bounded.

It may be questioned that whether Dr Brunello’s theatrical works will be able to improve education systems, mobilise societies or change the world. Speaking for myself, his plays may not suddenly persuade audiences to stage protest and change the world but I do believe that his works definitely grow something. As a theatrical work, it is impossible to evaluate its value and outcome by conducting questionnaires or surveys. On the other hand, it is like growing a very small flower on earth. One may see the flower’s beauty while others may think it is ugly. One may completely ignore it while others may truly adore it. It is impossible to control audiences’ thoughts. However, there is a scientific fact that the small flower provides more oxygen to the world. As well as Dr Brunello’s works, I believe that his plays have produced more oxygen to this world and I wish they could further persuade people to grow more flowers as he does.

Rubkwan Thammaboosadee

PhD Student

Theatre and Performance Studies

University of Warwick

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