World's Fair

All together, how about the Galileo Players, Carl Djerassi, Roald Hoffman, Tom Stoppard, and Michel Frayn, for starters. Those, in addition to Playwright Kathryn Walat from this old post.

Scientists of Comedy, the Galileo Players call themselves. Or, officially: “The Galileo Players are a professional sketch comedy and improv troupe that writes and performs original comedic theater focusing on scientific, philosophical and intellectual themes.” They claim to have beem inspired by Galileo’s ideas and life. I cannot vouch for their comedic qualities, but can observe that theirs is an original troupe. No doubt there. Science theater is of course a way to engage the public with and about scientific ideas, but it’s also tricky to balance fidelity to accurate scientific stories with audience comprehension. Not to mention amusement.


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These folks, says their website, have produced, written and performed 8 original shows since their inception in 1998. All of those productions “explore the relationships between people and the scientific realities that surround them.”

Last year’s production, “What Killed the Dinosaurs? You Decide!”, was a “live, interactive, all ages comedy show” presenting “the most scientifically credible dinosaur extinction theories.” And I had the audience deciding which one was/is correct. I don’t know how that turned out.

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I also wonder how their 2002 show, “An Element Never Forgets” (above), compares to the more eminent Roald Hoffman and Carl Djerassi’s Oxygen (which I’ve also not seen).

I’ve heard a lot about that one, especially since my background was partially in the history of chemistry. The play is described thusly at Djerassi’s website:

In 1774, Joseph Priestley was a guest in Antoine Lavoisier’s home, and the English minister described how he had made oxygen. At approximately the same time, Lavoisier received news of a similar discovery from Carl Wilhelm Scheele. While Priestley and Scheele remained unclear about what exactly they had discovered, Lavoisier was able to stake a claim to the discovery of the gaseous element responsible for the combustion of air. Hoffmann and Djerassi take the facts to develop a fictional encounter between the three claimants, bringing all three men and their wives together, at the invitation of King Gustav III, to Stockholm in 1777. The rest of the play shifts between the 18th-century characters, their process of science, politics and ambitions, and the Nobel committee’s 21st century sensibilities as they argue about which of these men should be awarded the first “retro” Nobel Prize for chemistry.

More generally, then, the satirical Galileo Players must fall strangely into the class that, along with Hoffmann and Djerassi, also houses real stalwarts like Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn.

Stoppards’ Arcadia, “a marvelous story that addresses major questions of art, science, and history — and how they intersect,” deals with chaos theory, Newton, and determinism. It was produced in the early ’90s to rave reviews.

Frayn’s Copenhagen, about a meeting between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr at Bohr’s home in Nazi-occupied Denmark, is a staple in my senior ethics class in science, technolgy, and society. It’s quite something. (Frayn will likely be a World’s Fair Advisory Board nominee, so I’ll hold back [I didn’t want to say “refrain,” for fear of the possible pun] on further commentary until that future post.)

Of the Galileo Players? Their world-stage ambitions must be set a bit lower, but maybe with more fun. If anyone’s seen them perform, let me know how they were.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    March 17, 2007

    Frayn’s Copenhagen, about a meeting between Werner Heisenberg and Neils Bohr at Bohr’s home in Nazi-occupied Denmark, is a staple in my senior ethics class in science, technolgy, and society. It’s quite something.

    Indeed it is. We saw an excellent production in Toronto in 2004 – http://www.aislesay.com/ONT-COPENHAGEN.html .

    Very well worth seeing on a number of levels. I’m sure it’s a tough play to do, but with excellent actors, it’s is intellectually challenging and seems to go by very quickly … no mean feat.

  2. #2 Peter Lund
    March 18, 2007

    Niels, not Neils (but please pronounce it as if it were spelled like that but with a much shorter vowel).

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