Hormone Harmony (Funded by the Physiological Society)

Project aims:

Engage 2000 people at the Green Man Festival 2013 with the endocrine system and how hormones effect our physiological functions

Generate interest, curiosity and improved understanding of how hormones work in the body

Present physiology in a fun, playful, creative and interactive way to a nonspecialist audience

Develop the communication skills and creative public engagement with science experience of collaborating scientists


Build on the learning and collaborative experience (developed over the past three years) of Angel Exit and Einstein’s Garden in creating playful and interactive approaches to public engagement with science

Recruit scientists (PhD students or postdoctoral researchers working in relevant endocrinology areas) to collaborate on the project and co-deliver the activities at the festival

Draw on fun and playful engagement approaches that are proven to effectively engage audiences at outdoor arts festivals to create an interactive performance exploring hormones and how they affect physiological functions

Develop the performance through a collaboration between Angel Exit theatre company, the three participating researchers and the manager and curator of Einstein’s Garden

Perform Hormone Harmony in Einstein’s Garden and around the Green Man Festival site over the four days of the 2013 festival

Create opportunities for festival goers to engage in direct two-way interaction, dialogue and discussion with the participating scientists

Summary of activity:

Hormone Harmony was delivered by three performers playing ‘Greek hero’, characters who were striving for perfect physiological balance, or homeostasis. The heroes were accompanied by their ‘oracles’ (the two scientists). Multiple performances, activities and engagements were performed whilst roaming, or stationary at a suitable space anywhere on the Green Man Festival site. Hormone Harmony engaged the audience in the following ways:

“We are Heroes/Hormone Harmony” song – watching roaming or stationary performances and joining in the chorus

“Chemical Messengers” song – watching roaming or stationary performances

Adrenaline challenge – physically taking part as a participant in the ‘Greek Hero Trials’ i.e. running around being chased by Greek monsters (exhibiting flight/fight responses), posing as Greek statues (to test balance/exhibit homoeostasis), having an arm wrestle with the performer (testing testosterone)

Consulting the Oracles – asking questions directly of the scientists

“Pin the hormone on a human” – interactive activity placing hormone cards on glands on the outline of a human which was attached to the body of a performer or audience member

Eating “hero snack foods” (almonds, olives, honey) – engaging in conversations about insulin, leptin and glucagon

Physicalisation of glands and hormones – miming/physicalising the pancreas and hormones that are secreted from it, pretending to be a sugar molecule, or blood – scientists explaining the processes whilst being acted out by performers and audience

Cortisol production trial – audience members placing hand in an ice box (“The stress box of doom”) – being tested on memory recall before the hand is in box and afterwards – allowing for explanation of how cortisol increases and inhibits memory recall – leading into discussion of other functions etc.

Enacting ways to reduce cortisol i.e.– hugs, massage, laughing, dancing

Oxytocin love making scene – audience member became Libidia’s lover behind a sheet

Chemical messengers sticker spreading – everyone given a sticker and a message to pass on to other people – advertising the “hug me” flash mob

Hug Me Flash mob – people gathered to have an oxytocin generating hugging flash mob

Chatting with the scientists/informal questions in the crowd after performance elements

Listening to Green Man radio interview – hearing about the project and listening to the “Chemical Messengers” song

Evaluation approach:

The following methods were used to generate and gather data:

Audience Vox Pops

We conducted vox pop video interviews, immediately after festival-goers had engaged with Hormone Harmony. 15 interviews were conducted with individuals, family groups and friendship groups (a total of 28 individuals). Key themes and quotes from the interviews were transcribed and used as qualitative data. See appendix A for audience vox pop interview guide.

Collaborators’ Questions

All collaborators were emailed a set of qualitative questions after the festival. Responses to questions were used as qualitative data. See appendix B for questions.

What went well:

1. The wide variety of different ways the audience could participate was important, enabling people to make a choice about how they were involved. People enjoyed the active participation

2. The audience appreciated the presentation of a complex scientific subject in a fun and playful way using story and character to make the content accessible, memorable and entertaining

3. Audience members took the opportunity to ask questions of the scientists and enter into discussions of a high level that impressed collaborators

What was learned:

1.Due to it’s complexity and breadth, the endocrine system was a challenging scientific subject for the project, resulting in a slight excess of material for the performances and activities. Future projects with similarly complex topics would benefit from a clearer, more streamlined focus and the involvement of scientists in a greater part of the devising and rehearsal process

2. The collaboration between performers and scientists was very successful, with learning and skills development acknowledged from both perspectives. The integrated role of the scientists was essential for ensuring consistent accuracy of scientific content and the comfortable relationship developed between the performers and scientists enabled easy checking and corrections

Top tips and advice for others




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About the contributor

Ellen Dowell
Green Man Festival

I am the manager and curator of Einstein's Garden, the science, nature and environment area of the Green Man Festival.…

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