792   Roundtable discussion

More than a play: Exploring engagements with science theatre

Recent years have seen a burst of interest in theatre that engages with science themes, whether that is widely regarded plays such as Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen performed in national theatre venues, or bespoke performances addressing topics of community interest in venues ranging from science museums and festivals to schools. The assumption underlying much of this interest is that theatre will engage the hearts and minds with science in a way that factual representations cannot. Thus, theatre is seen as offering an opportunity to reach out to audiences who might not otherwise take an interest in scientific issues. This roundtable discussion seeks to engage critically with the diversity of science themed theatre, whether that is diversity in the ways in which such performances arise and the theatrical styles they adopt, the different spaces they occupy and what we know about the publics they attract and their impact. In this sense, it will bring different perspectives on the theme, coming from both practice and research experiences, from different parts of the globe. It will critically consider the ways in which science theatre engages publics in debates about inclusion and diversity in science and raises cultural and science capital; it will explore community engagement in health through drama in low-income contexts; the contribution of participatory theatre to public dialogue and the extent to which it contributes to the democractising of science and technology; and the concept of translation will be considered in the context of science theatre. Ultimately, the intention of the panel is to present and analyse a spectrum of approaches, audiences and levels of participation – from professional shows to community-led, participatory theatre that aims for deep, reflective engagement – and to stimulate discussion around when and how these approaches can be used to achieve engagement aims.

Author: Emma Weitkamp
UWE, United Kingdom

Speaker: Carla Almeida
Museum of Life, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Brazil

Carla Almeida is a Brazilian journalist and a researcher in Science Communication at the Museum of Life, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), where she leads a science and theatre research group since 2016. For 20 years, the Museum of Life, a science centre of a major health research institution located in Rio deJaneiro, has been offering theatre plays on diverse scientific themes to its audience. This audience consists mostly of elementary and middle school students, from disadvantaged and vulnerable regions of the city, who do not include museum or theatre visits among their cultural habits. Based on the theatre experience of the Museum of Life and the academic research she conducts on the theme, Carla Almeida will focus her presentation on the potential of science theatre to foster debate about diversity, social inclusion and public policy and to boost cultural and science capital.

Speaker: Frank Kupper
Athena Institute, Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands

Participatory theatre is a great way to engage in a collective process of inquiry into our lives and societies. It is well-suited to engage society in dialogue on complex issues surrounding the development of science. In the context of new emerging technologies such as synthetic biology and smart cities, Frank Kupper has developed interactive performances that integrate play, reflection and experimentation to break habitual ways of thinking and fixed beliefs. Actors play out future scenarios to imagine possible worlds. In response to suggestions of the audience, alternative courses of action are brought to life on stage. In this dialogue, the participants jointly discover how they feel, what's important to them and how they want the play to end. Kupper will draw on his experience as a theatre practitioner and public engagement scholar to analyse the contribution of participatory theatre to public dialogue and the democracy of science and technology.

Speaker: Hien Tran Minh
Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Vietnam

Hien is the Public Engagement Assistant in the Public and Community Engagement department at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. His focus is supporting hospital and village healthcare workers who are involved in clinical research studies and primary health care. One of the recurring challenges faced by community-based healthcare workers is how they can engage with ethnic minority, rural community to understand and participate in vaccine uptake. Traditional, top down approaches such as town hall meetings, written health promotion material or radio broadcasts have limited success in engaging these groups. Hien will share the work of the OUCRU PE team, who have partnered with local health workers to use theatre as a means of engagement.

Speaker: Sergio De Regules
¿Cómoves? Magazine, Dirección General de Divulgación de la Ciencia, Universidad Nacional Autónoma, Mexico

Sergio de Regules, who is the current science-content editor of the science communication magazine "¿Cómo ves?", will consider the concept of translation in the context of science theatre. His presentation will explore the ways in which theatre can be seen as a site of translation. For example, science theatre makers need to translate the language of science into everyday language used by audiences. They also act as translators across culture, translating scientific culture into popular culture. However, at the same time, theatre uses its own language, conventions and knowledge domains, which may also require translation for audiences. The concept of translation provides a lens through which to explore the place of science theatre within science communication.

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