Scientists stage experiments all the time—but only a few stage plays. But at the University of Chicago, an innovative art/science lab embedded in its Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering has found inspiration in a unique place: the scientific process.
“We use research, brainstorming and improvisation to generate and investigate new ideas, with continuous analysis and feedback,” said Prof. Nancy Kawalek, the director, actor and writer who heads STAGE (Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration).
But these are not science lectures disguised as plays, she said: “By creating emotionally engaging stories, we get the public interested in and excited about science.”
STAGE is based at the PME, the first school in the nation dedicated to defining molecular engineering—an emerging field that builds on advances in basic science to design technology from the molecular level up. In turn, Kawalek works with scholars, students, scientists and artists from across the University, as well as externally, to also use technology as an integral part of staging stories about science.
The STAGE lab group is comprised of scientists and artists who collaboratively develop new theater work through a unique process of improvisation and iteration. Each theater project centers on a scientific concept, which is integrated over months of rehearsals into a story that has an emotional parallel to the scientific topic. For example, the lab’s latest project melds quantum entanglement and kung fu.