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Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler*

Ensemble Studio Theatre and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation presents

Photograph 51
by Anna Ziegler*

Directed by Linsay Firman*

October 27 - November 21, 2010

London, 1953. Scientists are on the verge of discovering what they call the secret of life: the DNA double helix. Providing the key is driven young physicist Rosalind Franklin. But if the double helix was the breakthrough of the 20th century, then what kept Franklin out of the history books?

A play about ambition, isolation, and the race for greatness.

Photograph 51 is the winner of the 2008 STAGE International Script Competition and was developed, in part, through the University of California, Santa Barbara's STAGE Project by the Professional Artists Lab (Nancy Kawalek, Director) and the California NanoSystems Institute.

Featuring Kristen Bush*, Kevin Collins, David Gelles*, Haskell King*, Benjamin Pelteson and Jeremy Webb.

Scenic Design - Nick Francone
Sound Design - Shane Rettig
Costume Design - Suzanne Chesney
Lighting Design - Les Dickert
Properties Design - Caitlin Fergus
Dialect Design - Erik Singer
Casting Director - Kelly Gillespie
Production Stage Manager - Danielle Buccino
Assistant Stage Manager - Olga Kreimer

* denotes EST Member


"Critic's Pick! A play that glows with intelligence and humanity. Compelling theatre." - Backstage

"Provides an emotional journey into the complex realities of laboratory science." - Science Magazine

"Who knew science could make for such terrific theatre?" - New Scientist

"Palpable, persuasive drama." - TheaterMania

"I highly recommend it!" - Discover Magazine

"There's something irresistible about plays that deal with iconic scientific discoveries" - The Scientist


Podcast of Science Friday interview with playwright Anna Ziegler and actress Kristen Bush. Listen here.

Scientific American podcast of panel discussion on the issues and controversy surrounding the play. Part 1 / Part 2

Also read Scientific American's write-up about the panel discussion here.

The Story Behind the Play

The Story Behind the Play

In the early 1950s, scientist Rosalind Franklin used x-ray diffraction photography to examine what people were calling the "secret of life": the structure of DNA.

One particular image, nicknamed "Photograph 51", was the key that revealed the secret of DNA's double helix.

Fellow scientists James Watson and Francis Crick used "Photograph 51" as the inspiration for their 1953 paper in Nature Magazine detailing DNA's helical structure. This breakthrough won them the 1962 Nobel Prize.

To the layperson, this landmark photograph may not reveal much at all. To get a closer look, take a look at PBS/NOVA's animated explanation of "Photograph 51" and its significance.

To learn more about the fascinating history and science behind the play, check out the New Yorker article "Photo Finish" or the PBS documentary "Secret of Photo 51".

A newly discovered trove of letters from this era has revealed deeper insight into the people behind the race to discover the "secret of life". To learn more, read the New York Times article about this recent find.

Earlier Event: September 20
Octoberfest 2010
Later Event: January 13