“WHAT MAKES A GREAT PLAY ABOUT SCIENCE?” Four playwrights and three scientists join Doron Weber on November 19 for a special 20th anniversary EST/Sloan Artist Cultivation Event

 Clockwise, from top left: Lucas Hnath, Cassandra Medley, Charly Evon Simpson, Anna Ziegler, Darcy Kelley, Stuart Firestein, Gabriel Cwilich, Doron Weber.

Clockwise, from top left: Lucas Hnath, Cassandra Medley, Charly Evon Simpson, Anna Ziegler, Darcy Kelley, Stuart Firestein, Gabriel Cwilich, Doron Weber.

To celebrate its landmark twentieth anniversary, the EST/Sloan Project is bringing together on November 19 many of the people who have been critical to the program’s success. Joining Sloan Program Director Doron Weber to discuss “what makes a great play about science?” will be playwrights Cassandra Medley, Lucas Hnath, Charly Evon Simpson, and Anna Ziegler, all of whom have had (or will soon have) EST/Sloan mainstage productions. Also participating will be EST/Sloan’s three veteran scientist/consultants: Gabriel Cwilich, Stuart Firestein and Darcy Kelley.

The 2018 Fall Artist Cultivation Event will take place at EST on Monday, November 19 at 8 PM (with a reception beginning at 7:30 PM). The event is free and any playwright interested in developing a play about science or technology is encouraged to attend. Expect a free-wheeling and far-ranging discussion about science, storytelling, and what makes plays work.  Reservations recommended. Reserve your ticket here.

“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.”—this has been the mission of The Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Project (EST/Sloan Project, for short) for the past 20 years. Over that time the EST/Sloan Project has awarded more than $3 million in grants to some 300 playwrights and theatre companies. 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).

Two related events culminate each EST/Sloan season: 1) The First Light Festival is a series of readings and workshops that showcase plays in development—this season’s festival will take place in January-February, 2019—and 2) a full mainstage production of at least one work. This season’s mainstage production will be BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson, which will begin previews on January 9 and run through February 3. Previous mainstage productions have included BUMP by Chiara Atik (2018) on pregnancy and childbirth, SPILL (2017) by Leigh Fondakowski on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Boy (2016) by Anna Ziegler on sexual identity, Please Continue (2016) by Frank Basloe on Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, Informed Consent (2015) by Deborah Zoe Laufer on scientific research and Alzheimer’s, Fast Company (2014) by Carla Ching on game theory and confidence games, Isaac’s Eye (2013) by Lucas Hnath on scientific method and rivalry, and Headstrong (2012) by Patrick Link on sports and concussions.

The 2018 20th Anniversary Artist Cultivation Event panel features:

 Doron Weber

Doron Weber

Doron Weber, Vice President, Programs and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, helps the President oversee and improve all aspects of the foundation’s programs and plays a leadership role in Sloan’s broader philanthropic efforts with the foundation community. For the past 20 years, Doron has run the program for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics at Sloan, which uses diverse media—books, radio, television, film, theater, opera and new media—to bridge the “two cultures” of science and the humanities and to educate and engage the public. He helped start Radiolab, Tribeca Film Institute, and World Science Festival; supports Emmy-winning television on American Experience, NOVA, and National Geographic, award-winning plays at not just the Ensemble Studio Theatre, but also the Manhattan Theatre Club, and London’s National Theatre, and Oscar-winning films via film schools and film festivals at Sundance, Tribeca, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. He started the EST/Sloan Project with a grant for Arthur Giron’s Flight in 1996. Doron’s published works include the acclaimed Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir (2012) and three works of nonfiction. On November 14, the National Book Foundation presented Doron with the 2018 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, which is given to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading. Under Doron’s leadership, Sloan has helped ensure the publication of numerous groundbreaking and acclaimed books such as Hedy’s Folly by National Book Award Winner Richard Rhodes, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter, Carl Zimmer’s She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, Jared Diamond’s Collapse, Stuart Firestein’s Ignorance, and Eric Kandel’s In Search of Memory.

The Playwrights

 Lucas Hnath

Lucas Hnath

Playwright Lucas Hnath* is the author of Isaac’s Eye, which EST produced as the 2012 EST/Sloan Mainstage Production and which won the 2012 Whitfield Cook Award. More recently, Lucas wrote A Doll’s House, Part 2, which had its world premiere on Broadway in 2017 and closed after 30 previews and 173 regular performances at the Golden Theatre. With the original cast featuring Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashad, the play garnered eight TONY nominations—the most of any play in the 2016-2017 season—and a Best Actress win for Metcalf as Nora. Lucas’s new play, From the Words and Writings of Dana H., will receive its world premiere at the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles in May, 2019. His other plays include A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, The Christians (which won the 2016 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off Broadway Play and a 2016 Playwriting Obie), and Red Speedo, which also won a 2016 Playwriting Obie. Lucas has been a resident playwright at New Dramatists since 2011 and is Assistant Professor in the Department of Dramatic Writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

 Cassandra Medley

Cassandra Medley

 Cassandra Medley*’s play Relativity, about the conflict of two generations of black scientists and melanin research, was the 2006 EST/Sloan Mainstage Production. Coming Up for Air, her play about fracking and climate change, was part of the 2016 EST/Sloan First Light Festival. Recently produced plays include: American Slavery Project (NYC), Cell (Molelo Theater, CA, and Ensemble Studio Theatre Marathon 2011, NYC), Daughter (Ensemble Studio Theatre Marathon 2009, NYC), and Noon Day Sun (Diverse City Theatre Company, NYC). Cassandra has the received the 2004 “Going to the River Writers” Life Achievement Award, the 2002 Ensemble Studio Theatre 25th Anniversary Award for Theatre Excellence, the 2001 Theatrefest Regional Playwriting Award for Best Play, the 1995 New Professional Theatre Award, and the 1995 Marilyn Simpson Award. She teaches playwriting at Sarah Lawrence College, has taught at New York University, and has also served as guest artist at Columbia University, the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop and Seattle University.

 Charly Evon Simpson (Photo: JMA Photography)

Charly Evon Simpson (Photo: JMA Photography)

Charly Evon Simpson’s play BEHIND THE SHEET, about the untold stories behind the rise of modern gynecology, will be this year’s EST/Sloan mainstage production and will begin previews at EST on January 9, 2019. Her other plays include Jump, Behind the Sheet, Scratching the Surface, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, The Flea, P73’s Summer Residency, National New Play Network through its NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and National Showcase of New Plays, and others. Jump will receive an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Playmaker’s Rep (Chapel Hill, NC), Actor’s Express (Atlanta) and Milagro Theatre (Portland, OR) in 2019-20.  She’s currently a member of WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab, The New Georges Jam, The Amoralists 18/19 ‘Wright Club and she’s The Pack’s current playwright-in-residence. Charly is a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s 17/18 Early Career Writers’ Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre's Youngblood, and Pipeline Theatre Company’s PlayLab. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Purchase and an engager at The Engaging Educator.

 Anna Ziegler

Anna Ziegler

Anna Ziegler*'s widely produced play about Rosalind Franklin, Photograph 51, was the 2010 EST/Sloan mainstage production. It has been or will be produced in Germany, Latvia, Sweden, Italy, India, Japan, and Australia, among many other countries. When it was produced on London’s West End in 2016 (starring Nicole Kidman, winner of the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress), Photograph 51 won the WhatsOnStage award for Best New Play. Her play Boy was an EST/Sloan mainstage production in 2016 (co-produced with Keen Company) and was nominated for the 2016 John Gassner Award by the Outer Critics Circle. In 2017, The Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Manhattan Theatre Club and The Geffen Playhouse premiered her play Actually (winner of the Ovation Award in Los Angeles for Playwriting of an Original Play), and The Roundabout Theatre Company produced The Last Match. Her work has also been produced at The Old Globe, Seattle Rep, The Magic Theatre, Playwrights Realm, City Theatre, and many more, and developed at the Sundance Theatre Lab, The O’Neill Playwrights Conference, NY Stage & Film, Soho Rep and the Cape Cod Theatre Project, among others. Anna is developing a television series with Michael Showalter for HBO based on Actually and a screenplay for Scott Free Productions. Oberon Books has published a collection of her work entitled Anna Ziegler: Plays One.

The Scientist/Consultants

 Gabriel Cwilich

Gabriel Cwilich

Gabriel Cwilich is a condensed-matter-theory/statistical physicist in the Physics Department of Yeshiva University. He works on the physics of disordered media, including at the nanoscale, and has a strong interest in the physics of complexity and computer simulations. He has also explored the connections between the origins of classical physics and the cultural world of the renaissance, and periodically brings American students to Italy to teach them about that. He has been lecturing in the US and in Latin America on the connection between science and theater and has been collaborating and advising several theater groups and foundations in NYC (among them the Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Epic Theater Ensemble) in projects that bring the world and ideas of science to the stage. He is also the Division Coordinator of Natural and Mathematical Sciences and Director of the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva University.

 Stuart Firestein

Stuart Firestein

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).

 Darcy Kelley

Darcy Kelley

Darcy Kelley is the Harold Weintraub and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. Her research interest is the neurobiology of voice—the subtle acoustic cues in vocal signals essential for social communication.  She and her colleagues study this question in Xenopus, a group of frogs that returned to the water from land about 180 million years ago, and invented a new way of creating and shaping the vocal signals that rule their social system. Her laboratory has defined the neural circuits that produce these underwater songs and determined how voice is decoded by auditory neurons. She is a longtime scientific advisor to the EST/Sloan Project and, for her pains, served as the model for the amphibian biologist played by Gina Gershon in Claudia Myers’ movie, Kettle of Fish (2006).

*Denotes EST Member Artist

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