Scientists and playwrights collaborate on Collider 2012

Playwright K. Frithjof (right) discusses his play after the premier reading at Fox Valley Rep with the audience alongside Fermilab’s Bruce Worthel (center) and Fox Valley Repertory Artistic Director John Gawlik at last year’s Collider 2011. Photo: Fox Valley Repertory

Physics takes center stage in three plays being premiered in St. Charles this month.

Beginning this Saturday, Fox Valley Repertory will bring Collider 2012, a series of staged readings of science-themed plays, to Chicago-area audiences. Taking advantage of its proximity to Fermilab, the theater company called on a few Fermilab scientists to partner with the playwrights toward the final stages of production, helping to bring a thorough scientific understanding to bear on the stories.

The partnership also gives the scientists a chance to observe the choices a playwright makes in telling a science story.

“We wanted it to be a shared process,” said John Gawlik, Collider 2012’s artistic director. “Scientists and playwrights ask similar questions about who we are in the universe, but come at it from very different perspectives.” As the writer and scientist discuss the story, perspectives shift, helping point the way for more compelling science narratives.

Fermilab scientist Elizabeth Buckley-Geer, one of Collider 2012’s volunteer scientists, worked with writer Gloria Bond Clunie on her play, “Quark,” to bring realism to the science. She took Clunie on a tour of Fermilab.

“Working with her, you get to see the physics through her eyes,” Buckley-Geer said. “It gives you a new appreciation for how cool this place is.”

The science-writer collaboration also helps produce a work where the science and story intersect at more than just one point.

“They’re telling science stories in an integral way,” said Fermilab physicist Bruce Worthel, who was invited as a science consultant for both last year’s and this year’s Collider productions. “The idea is to have physics or something science-related that wasn’t just an add-on.”

After the readings, audience members are invited to share their thoughts and ask questions of the cast, playwrights, directors and scientists. This year’s Collider playwrights, who come from as far away as North Carolina, may then use the post-performance discussions to tune their scripts even further.

“It’s wonderful that people at Fermilab are willing to work with us on this,” Gawlik said. “It would be great to get one of the plays into production and be able to say that it was created at Fox Valley Rep and Fermilab.”

The Collider 2012 staged readings take place on Saturdays July 7, 14 and 21 at 1 p.m. at the Fox Valley Repertory theater, located at Pheasant Run Resort. They are free (suggested donation of $10) and open to the public.

Leah Hesla