Science on Stage is the first full-length study of the phenomenon of "science plays"--theatrical events that weave scientific content into the plot lines of the drama. The book investigates the tradition of science on the stage from the Renaissance to the present, focusing in particular on the current wave of science playwriting.
Drawing on extensive interviews with playwrights and directors, Kirsten Shepherd-Barr discusses such works as Michael Frayn's Copenhagen and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. She asks questions such as, What accounts for the surge of interest in putting science on the stage? What areas of science seem most popular with playwrights, and why? How has the tradition evolved throughout the centuries? What currents are defining it now? And what are some of the debates and controversies surrounding the use of science on stage?
Organized by scientific themes, the book examines selected contemporary plays that represent a merging of theatrical form and scientific content--plays in which the science is literally enacted through the structure and performance of the play. Beginning with a discussion of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the book traces the history of how scientific ideas (quantum mechanics and fractals, for example) are dealt with in theatrical presentations. It discusses the relationship of science to society, the role of science in our lives, the complicated ethical considerations of science, and the accuracy of the portrayal of science in the dramatic context.
The final chapter looks at some of the most recent and exciting developments in science playwriting that are taking the genre in innovative directions and challenging the audience's expectations of a science play. The book includes a comprehensive annotated list of four centuries of science plays, which will be useful for teachers, students, and general readers alike.
Kirsten Shepherd-Barr teaches Modern Drama in the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford and is a Fellow of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. She is the author of Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900 and has published widely in professional journals ranging from Theatre Research International to American Scientist to Interdisciplinary Science Reviews.
"Science on Stage is the best available companion to modern science plays."--Times Higher Education Supplement
"Kirsten Shepherd-Barr describes, analyzes and interprets a host of theatrical scripts and performances with science as their themes. She provides important historical context and lots of interesting insights, especially regarding the most recent plays. . . . Who will read this book? Who should read it? Scientists, playwrights, directors, humanists."--Stuart Firestein, Nature
"With science plays, [Kristen Shepherd Barr] says, what has been neglected by scholars is their theatricality. With that focus in mind, she analyzes plays on physics, mathematics, medicine, and the natural sciences, describing how they integrate form and content to, in effect, enact the ideas they engage."--Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education
"Is there a dichotomy between scientific investigation and staged drama? Not at all, according to Kirsten Shepherd-Barr . . . whose fascinating new book Science on Stage puts the relationship under the spotlight. . . . Whereas dramatists of previous generations such as Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw debated scientific issues, she says, modern writers like Frayn and Stoppard do much more: they enact the ideas they engage."--Michael Billington, New Scientist
"The author's learned analysis of her topic, and her discussion of such plays as Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Proof by David Auburn, and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is an intellectual stimulant for anyone interested in theater of equations and formulas."--Misha Berson, Seattle Times
Table of Contents:
CHAPTER 1: The Tradition of Science Plays 15
CHAPTER 2: Why Theater? The Appeal of Science Plays Now 41
CHAPTER 3: "Living Newspapers" and Other Plays about Physics and Physicists 61
CHAPTER 4: Copenhagen Interpretations: The Epistemology of Intention 91
CHAPTER 5: Evolution in Performance: The Natural Sciences on Stage 111
CHAPTER 6: Mathematics and Thermodynamics in the Theater 128
CHAPTER 7: Doctors' Dilemmas: Medicine under the Scalpel 155
CHAPTER 8: "Just a Fiction": Staging History and Truth 182
Conclusion Alternating Currents: New Trends in Science and Theater 199
Appendix: Four Centuries of Science Plays: An Annotated List 219