STELLA, a story of women, their men and astronomy

http://www.takethespace.co.uk

Project aims:

To rehearse, produce and tour a play about women and astronomy; to entice astronomers into our theatres and to inspire and encourage an appreciation of astronomy amongst established theatre goers; by entertaining both communities, to create a "marriage" between Astronomy and Theatre. To extend our geographical touring footprint and to expand our audience base.

Objectives:

This project was supported by an IOP public engagement grant which enabled us to finance equipment for the projection of astronomical footage. To display these images so that they could dovetail with the story onstage and enhance the action in order for the concepts of astronomy and cosmology to be visually embedded in the narrative of the piece and become accessible to theatre audiences. To show that the search for understanding and truth is the meeting point for all men, women, artists and scientists and that the experience of women astronomers is relevant to all women. For the twinned stories of Caroline Herschel and Jessica Bell, our fictional modern astronomer to politicize young women and encourage them to consider careers in science and the arts - untrammeled by a celebrity agenda.

Summary of activity:

We brought together an artistic team who worked collaboratively in preproduction and throughout rehearsals to create STELLA. We then opened in the Brighton Fringe Festival and toured to fifteen venues and played twenty seven performances. On tour STELLA played small studios, midscale arts centres as well as three large classic proscenium theatres so we covered a vast range of spaces and communities whilst our geographical span encompassed Eastbourne, Scarborough, Edinburgh and Dublin.
Alongside performances, we hosted numerous post show discussions, we took part in a number of radio interviews and also led workshops. Throughout we maintained contact with astronomical groups and women in science groups as well as engaging with theatre lovers.

Evaluation approach:

We held numerous post show discussions both formal and informal and where possible, invited women astronomers to participate in those discussions. We encouraged and received email feedback through our website and social media comments via twitter {https://twitter.com/TaketheSpace} and our Take the Space facebook page {https://www.facebook.com/TaketheSpace}. We invited local and national journalists to review our performances.

What went well:

1. We made astronomy more accessible to theatre audiences and have been told that the play inspired further interest.

2. Our engagement with astronomical groups went well; some astronomers who came to STELLA had not attended a theatre performance before.

3. We extended our touring footprint and also expanded our audience base.

What was learned:

1.Theatre remains an extraordinary tool for the communication of complex scientific theories and concepts.

2. We learnt the importance of inclusivity: even though STELLA could be perceived as a feminist piece, the message is that any social and economic change for women in society can only take place if men are on board; early on in the tour we changed the title to reflect this and inserted the words “their men” to ensure that the publicity would not appeal exclusively to women.

3. That theatre makers and scientists are united by their curiosity and that it's never too late to learn about astronomy and it's never too late to go to the theatre for the first time in one's life.

Top tips and advice for others

1. To maintain close contact with the relevant science communities and organisations.

2. To request a mentor from one of these organisations who would be willing to see a performance and give advice on potential bookings and marketing ideas.

About the contributor

Siobhan Nicholas
Take the Space {theatre company}

Siobhán Nicholas has been a theatre maker for over twenty years; a performer, playwright and now co director of Take the Space. In 2007, her solo play Hanging Hooke, about the great C17th polymath Ro…

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