What’s at the heart of the relationship between Theatre and Science? How might we shape and change conversations about scientific advances and discoveries with plays, interactive experiences, or good story telling? These were just a few of the questions that recent Arizona State Interdisciplinary Digital Media and Performance MFA graduate Boyd Branch has been wrestling with. In preparation for this thesis project Boyd began exploring a more purposeful exploration of these questions by offering a course called “The Theatre of Science.” In this course he directed conversations based on current research studies that students read each week. Students were also asked required to share articles, studies, and fictional works that were informed by or inspired by real science. To further facilitate the process Boyd created a wiki for students to use as a hub for sharing and creating information related to the course. Each week students were tasked with creating best-case and worst-case scenarios for the application of the scientific discoveries discussed. Out of the class discussions and wiki contributions Boyd created two scripts that both playfully and critically examined the implications of real science.
Algae-Nation examined the applications of algae based research in a World’s Fair world-of-tomorrow like booth. A parade of products and testimonials told the story of an ever increasing reliance on green technologies that were both salvation and obsession. Neuro looked at the application of neurochemical research, and how humanity might react to a world where questions of morality and social structure were controlled by the administration of various drugs. Specifically, Neuro painted a picture of a world where traditional bars were replaced with salons that dispensed drinks designed to make people, better, faster, stronger, smarter, more giving, and just plain “better” humans. Before getting a drink patrons would first complete a variety of tests in order to determine what neurochemical cocktail might help them the most. Somewhere between doctors office and night-club the experience was intended to leave participants conflicted about the role of the cocktails being sold. Ultimately, Boyd ended up producing Neuro as his thesis project and mounted this production twice: ASU’s Emerge, and the Spark Festival in Mesa Arizona. While the exploration of science was central pillar of this project, it was also important to create something that was engaging and compelling. At over 600 square-feet of installation space, Neuro was an both visually impressive and immersive. The implementation of this experience involved the creation of four interactive stations that used real-time bio-metric data to drive visualizations and user experiences. The equipment list included five laptops, two iMacs, four HD TV’s, and six projectors.
In contributing to this project I had the opportunity to take Boyd’s course in the Fall, help with the design and technical organization of the experience, and program one of Neuro’s user experiences: The De-Objectifier. Working on this project was an opportunity to learn first hand about creating user experiences and environments that combined pre-made and reactive media. It was also tremendously powerful to have an opportunity to work with Boyd. His vision and passion for this project fueled long conversations and directions that were fun and exciting to explore. Additionally, this project provided insight into the complications accommodations, and planning required when creating a portable installation that can be set-up either indoors or outdoors in a pavilion.