What COULD Make a Great Play About Science?
The Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Project (EST/Sloan Project, for short) is an initiative designed to stimulate artists to create credible and compelling work exploring the worlds of science and technology and to challenge the existing stereotypes of scientists and engineers in the popular imagination. Over the past 18 years the EST/Sloan Project has awarded more than $1.5 million in grants to some 270 playwrights and theatre companies. During this time more than 150 productions of EST/Sloan-developed plays have been mounted nationwide. (You can view previous commission recipients on the EST/Sloan webpage and submission guidelines here). In 2016 EST/Sloan funded two EST Mainstage productions: Boy by Anna Ziegler (co-produced with Keen Company) and Please Continue by Frank Basloe.
Every year the highlight of the EST/Sloan Project submission season (September 1 to November 1) is the Fall Artist Cultivation Event. At this eagerly anticipated event, a panel of scientists, science writers and playwrights engages in a far-ranging and free-wheeling discussion with an audience of prospective playwrights about “what could make a great play about science?” The 2016 Fall Artist Cultivation Event will take place at EST on Tuesday, October 25 at 7 PM. The event is free and any playwright interested in developing a play about science or technology is welcome to attend.
This year's panelists include:
Neuroscientist Heather Berlin, Assistant Clinical Professor, Psychiatry, and Assistant Professor, Neuroscience, Mount Sinai Hospital where she conducts research to better understand the neural basis of impulsivity, compulsivity, and emotion with the goal of more targeted treatment. On October 6 at Symphony Space, Dr. Berlin will collaborate with her husband, the rapper Baba Brinkman, to perform an excerpt from Off the Top, the science/improv/comedy show that received rave reviews during its run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. A popular lecturer and frequent guest on science talk shows, she has co-hosted CUNY-TV’s Science Goes to the Movies and Discovery Channel's Superhuman Showdown.
Stuart Firestein is the former Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences where his laboratory studies the vertebrate olfactory system, possibly the best chemical detector on the face of the planet. Aside from its molecular detection capabilities, the olfactory system serves as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of signaling and perception in the brain. His laboratory seeks to answer that fundamental human question: How do I smell? Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience, Firestein serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science. He is the author of Failure: Why Science Is So Successful (2015) and Ignorance: How It Drives Science (2012).
A natural storyteller and an intrepid reporter with a gift for making cutting-edge science understandable, Jonathan Weiner is one of the most distinguished popular-science writers in the country: his books have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Scientific American. He is the author of Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality; The Beak of the Finch; Time, Love, Memory; His Brother’s Keeper; The Next One Hundred Years; and Planet Earth. He is currently the Maxwell M. Geffen Professor of Medical and Scientific Journalism at Columbia University.
Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer, author of Informed Consent, which EST co-produced as the 2015 EST/Sloan Mainstage Production with Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street to much critical and popular acclaim. Deb is also the author of End Days (EST/Sloan 2009 Mainstage Production and awarded The ATCA Steinberg citation). End Days received a rolling work premiere through the National New Play Network, and went on to receive over 50 productions after that. Her other plays include Leveling Up, Sirens, Out of Sterno, The Last Schwartz, Meta, The Three Sisters of Weehawken, Fortune, The Gulf of Westchester, Miniatures, and Random Acts. Deb has received the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award and the Lilly Award.
This year’s moderator will be Ivan Oransky, vice president and global editorial director of MedPageToday, co-founder of Retraction Watch, and founder of Embargo Watch. He teaches medical journalism at New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program and is vice president of the Association of Health Care Journalists. He has also kindly served as moderator for talkbacks for the EST/Sloan productions of Headstrong, Fast Company, and Please Continue.