Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two Cultures Meet: Physics and the Arts in Emergence - ithaca.com

This weekend, Cornell will present an intriguing experiment with the production of Emergence, an interdisciplinary theatre piece exploring the boundaries and interactions between art and science. 

The work is the result of a collaboration among Cornell professor of physics Itai Cohen, director and professor of performing and media arts Melanie Dreyer-Lude, playwright and Ph.D. student Aoise Stratford, with additional contributions from Ph.D. candidate in science communication Megan K. Halpern and Max Evjen, artistic and executive director of Redshift Productions.

The work centers on the character of Amanda, a physicist who is involved in a turbulent relationship while also suffering from agoraphobia. In exploring the struggles in Amanda’s life, the nexus of two seemingly opposed methodologies â€" scientific calculation and artistic expression â€" is revealed. As a work of pure theatre, Emergence would be the relatively straightforward tale of one woman’s tribulations with the challenges of life â€" but Emergence functions on many levels.

As one could surmise from the diverse collaboration team that envisioned the project, the play will be more than just a play. According to director Melanie Dreyer-Lude, “Emergence represents an unusual and significant collaboration between two experts in very different fields. Physicists work from certainty. They like outcomes and measurable [things]. Theater artists are interested in process and subjectivity.” The very concept of the work then is inspired by this interaction between the certitude and dispassion of scientific analysis and the murky, irrational realities of the world in which we all (including scientists) must live, work, and love.

Beyond the themes, the construction of the character of Amanda reflects this objective-subjective dichotomy, through the catalyst of her social difficulties. Living with a foot in both worlds and struggling to find balance, Amanda embodies the perpetual dance we execute to navigate through life. The selection of agoraphobia as Amanda’s ailment is significant â€" it is a chimerical anxiety arising from the perception that one is in an environment one cannot control. While control is central to all scientific experimentation, it is in many ways only an illusion in reality; while Amanda may long for her lover in the solitude of the lab, she may also seek to escape the complex irrationalities of the relationship when forced to participate in it.

The connections and interactions between the arts and sciences abound in Emergence, whose title itself is a reference to the physical field of study called “emergent phenomena.” Emergent phenomena exist only as a function of simple interactions among members of a population of phenomena; they are not present in members of the population. The parallels to life are as obvious as those to science â€" from the people who cross our paths, to the decisions we make about work, romance, or life, we unwittingly construct complex, often unpredictable situations from our many, seemingly insignificant decisions, situations that do not exist without the interactions.

Emergence also includes, in its own complexity, a series of moments of audience participation. Part physics experiment, part theatre, the idea of including the viewers of Emergence makes them more than merely observers, while simultaneously adding to the complexity and the unpredictability of the performance’s realization. This serves of an illustration of Eisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which holds that you can not observe something without affecting it.

Everyone on the production team agrees, Emergence is a surprising and effective illustration of the confluence and synthesis of art and science. Cohen was pleased to find a vehicle for presenting physics in an uncompromising way in a fashion that would make a standard theatre audience receptive and engaged. Director Melanie Dreyer-Lude found surprising parallels between artists and scientists in her collaboration with Cohen. Playwright Aoise Stratford faced the challenge of writing the story for the stage when she reconciled the scientific sides of artists to the creative sides of physicists.

Tickets for Emergence are $4 (+$1 processing fee). For more information or to buy tickets, go to www.schwartztickets.com, call 607-254-ARTS or visit the box office in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, 430 College Ave., between 12:30-4 p.m. weekdays. Performances are on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, September  20-22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.

No comments:

Post a Comment