Screenshot by Dawn M. Simmons.
Art and science combine at the Brit d’Arbeloff Women & Science Theater Festival to uplift and give a voice to those underrepresented in both fields. The month-long festival, which began April 7, features two full-length plays and seven 10-minute plays written by women and people of color, as well as several panels with the playwrights and scientists from underrepresented groups.
“The work of the festival goes into how the arts and sciences have been seen as so separate and so disparate and having nothing to do with each other,” said Des Bennett, a recent Northeastern graduate and a member of the creative team for the play “Young Nerds of Color.”
In fact, Central Square Theater, the host of the festival, has been collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for almost two decades through the Catalyst Collaborative.
“We haven’t had a festival before, but we’ve had productions that were chosen to center on stories related to women in science,” said Debra Wise, the co-director of Catalyst Collaborative. “It’s pretty unusual to have an informal ongoing partnership like this between a theater and a major research institution, and it’s produced a lot of good thinking.”
Another goal of the festival is to provide representation to marginalized groups in science, including people of color, women, LGBTQ+ individuals and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
“There are many stereotypes that exist about who contributes to science and engineering and who doesn’t, who is naturally gifted and talented and who’s naturally smart in certain areas,” said panelist Ebony Hearn.
All the plays will be streamed virtually, and the live panels will be recorded. Although Zoom is not always conducive to theatre, it allows people from all over the country to participate and watch the plays whenever they want.
“We tried to make lemonade out of lemons and figure out how we could have added value because of the virtual format,” Wise said.
The first full play, “Young Nerds of Color,” will be streaming from April 8 to 11. Written by Northeastern professor Melinda Lopez and directed by Dawn Simmons, the play incorporates interviews with scientists from all underrepresented backgrounds.
“The deepest theme within the play is how diversity impacts the creative solutions that we find within science,” Bennett said. “When you’re able to get in a room with a diverse group of scientists who all come from different lived experiences, you have many different factors about what these people are looking for based on their identity.”
Each of the characters in the play is based on a single interviewee. Hearn, one of the interviewees, said the interviews allowed scientists to talk about both their motivations and their struggles in the field.
“Young Nerds of Color” is accompanied by panels from its creators, as well as from several of the scientists who were interviewed in the process. These panels will touch on topics of encouraging young people of color in science and promoting equality and inclusion in STEM.
“I think it’s important for young people to have folks that they can look up to and see that have accomplished in spite of barriers and stereotypes, who have gone on to do great things,” Hearn said.
The 10-minute plays are written by a variety of individuals from across the country. Each play tells the story of women engaging with many different elements of science. Among these plays are the stories of an interview between an older and younger woman, a bot infiltrating a dating website and a woman who made strides in understanding lead poisoning.
Alex Lin’s 10-minute play “Final Contact” is about a Chinese American astronaut on the International Space Station.
“I hope that young East Asian girls who might be dreaming of pursuing careers in space can see that not only is there a place for you, but there’s also a place for you to be a leader,” Lin said.
The second full-length play, “Splash Hatch on the E Going Down,” will be streaming from April 19 to 25. Written by Kia Corthron and directed by Lyndsay Allyn Cox, it tackles issues of environmental racism and justice through the lens of young characters.
Environmental racism refers to the way that laws are often lax in poorer communities and communities of color, causing these individuals to be disproportionately affected by pollution. This issue is only further exacerbated by global warming.
“Splash Hatch on the E Going Down” is also accompanied by a related panel on environmental racism, in Boston and in Harlem, where the play is set.
The prevailing theme of the festival is the importance of underrepresented individuals seeing themselves represented in science.
“If you actually break [STEM fields] down in terms of leadership and managerial positions, the fields are still overwhelmingly white,” Lin said.
This lack of representation can make it difficult for students to break into the field.
“What we try to do is make sure our students have a community, a good sense of what’s to come and know some of the barriers that they might experience,” Hearn said.
Whether you are interested in science, theatre or both, the festival will have events running from April 7 to 27. Tickets are based on a pay-it-forward system and are available here.