Double Life: Art and Science

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This should have been ready for posting yesterday, but last night, after a day in the New Jersey Pinelands, learning how to prepare wood frog tadpoles to be tested for Ranavirus for a government study, all the while dodging the voracious ticks that seemed to be falling from the sky, I was too exhausted to compose a blog post for my theatre company’s website…. which brings me to this week’s topic: my “double” life in both science and theatre.

plantSOThroughout my childhood, and up until the end of high school, I unabashedly declared my hate of bugs and nature and anything outdoors, and my lack of interest in anything science. I was a weird, artsy kid, always writing and singing and performing whenever possible, and especially whenever impossible.

plantYwhatThen, the summer after my freshman year of undergrad, I realized I was wonderfully intrigued by nature and wanted to be an ecologist. It has been a slow and scary process to shift my perspective of the natural world from one of fear to one of fascination; everything looks so different under another lens. I decided I wanted to continue my major in Theatre, and just add in a Biology major to keep the Theatre major company. The deans and advisers at school thought this a ridiculous venture, so I made sure to pull it off in style. For my senior thesis, I wrote a play inspired by my semester in Kenya, exploring the tragic human-wildlife conflicts I had learned so much about. Years later, I am simultaneously pursuing a PhD in Ecology and Evolution, and creating and performing with Kaleid Theatre.

Although science and theatre seem completely dichotomous at first, they really have so much in common, and maybe it’s not so strange that I went from nerdy theatre kid to nerdy theatre kid ecologist. In both disciplines: creativity and collaboration are paramount; sometimes you just have to try something and then see how it went; money is scarce; grants and jobs and everything is competitive; you’re constantly being critiqued and judged; to really do well, you have to think innovatively; and I could go on.

plantCactplantSbounceI am never just an ecologist, or just a theatre maker. For me, the two disciplines are intertwined; I am drawn to the theatre of biology (and the biology of theatre? what does that mean? comment below!). My experiences as an actor and playwright and theatre creator have trained me to seek to understand every angle of a story/phenomenon/question, so I find that I ask questions in ecology that others may not have considered, or put ideas together in a new way. My work in science causes me to try to keep my theatre work grounded (even if I’m up in the air!). Sometimes (usually…?) my science-y anecdotes during Kaleid rehearsals are artistically useless, but sometimes they are just the thing that a piece needs to give it universality.For instance, the wetlands/Hurricane Katrina rant by my character in Bounce started as an example that I gave in early rehearsals of when something did not bounce, and became a synopsis of my character’s life story, symbolizing her struggles to be recognized, and her fragility in the face of disaster (or perturbation, as ecologists say), using an analogy that plucks everyone’s heartstrings.

This is not to say that I am already an amazing ecologist or theatre maker. I show up to most Kaleid rehearsals and meetings completely drained of my confidence in myself and in humanity, but I always leave rejuvenated by the possibilities of collaborative creation.

So, to spoof on the title of that old Facebook group: I can’t, I’m in the field, and then I have rehearsal.

-Samantha

Performance photos by Valerie Giacobbe. Nature photos by Ashley W. Mills and Sarah Mitteldorf.
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