We wished to 1) encourage physicists to think about storytelling and theatrical techniques when planning and delivering outreach, with particular emphasis on finding the narrative threads in their research and weaving them into an engaging story; 2) engage new audiences with both astrophysical and particle-physics aspects of the dark matter paradigm through the combined media of theatre and interactive performance; and 3) start building a network of physicists who may collaborate in future shows.
This project was supported by an IOP public engagement grant.
We aimed to produce an hour-long theatre show based on the theme of Dark Matter and the conflicts it raises in the fields of particle physics and cosmology. We also wanted to run a series of workshops for scientists interested in using theatre and storytelling techniques to communicate their research.
Summary of activity:
We produced the show “Dark Matters” (40 minutes + 20 minutes questions) and performed it at Newcastle, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Winchester and Aberdeen (British Science Festival 2012). We ran three workshops in Newcastle, Oxford and London.
Science festival feedback forms, blog reviews, Twitter mentions and questionnaires.
What went well:
1. The show itself - very well received, great audience response to the theatrical nature of the performance and the delivery of the science content.
2. The workshops - hugely rewarding to share our experiences with other scientists keen to engage with audiences in new ways.
3. Legacy - many new spin-off projects have emerged from working with new people and the new material and characters we have created.
What was learned:
1. Science festival audiences tend to expect a certain format from scientific talks - something that can be taken advantage of in the right situation, but care must be taken with expectation management.
2. Likewise, not everyone who signs up to a theatre workshop necessarily knows what they are letting themselves in for - again, expectation management is key.
3. That said, when boundaries are being pushed, expect a little resistance!
Top tips and advice for others
1. Finding and keeping in contact with trusted collaborators is essential for creating good work and enjoying the process.
2. The best ideas often come from the least expected places.
3. Get feedback as you go along - resources like Google Forms and Storify (for Tweets) are very useful for this.