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Mon July 2, 2012
Breaking Through the "Impenetrable Veil of Science"
As we were walking out of the studio after this morning’s show, artist and playwright Kahren Dowcett turned to me and said:
“The word “environment” is like “peace.” Unfortunately, they’ve become divisive. But theatre isn’t like that. We’re just telling a personal story that everyone can connect to because we’ve all been there ourselves.”
Kahren’s newest play, Cirque de Sea is a science-based musical comedy about oysters (well, really, one oyster – Sammy Spat), acted out by people wearing full-body plush or paper-mache costumes. She calls it “adult puppet theatre.” And when Kahren says “adult,” she means it. There are actually two versions of the play – a family-friendly version, and a burlesque! The “seduction scene” involves a sea star (Stella Starfish) trying to lure Sammy Spat into her arms (to eat him, not you-know-what) while a chorus of scallops warns Sammy of impending doom. We’ve all been there, right? I’m thinking of one college boyfriend, in particular.
Then there are those mean, nasty old blue crabs who poke and jab at Sammy. From an ecologist’s point of view, that’s just nature. But to Kahren, it looked an awful lot like bullying. And most of us have been there, too. The website bullyingstatistics.com says more than 75% - three quarters – of surveyed American students report having been bullied in some fashion. I wasn’t beat up, but I clearly remember some snide comments made about my less-than-designer socks in sixth grade.
Sound like we’ve strayed from the realm of ocean science? Maybe, maybe not.
Kahren says that her anti-bullying and environmental stewardship messages are connected. There’s the obvious “stop bullying nature” thing. But it’s more than that; Kahren says the key in both cases is self-empowerment. Also, drawing people into a human (okay, anthropomorphized) story they can relate to opens them up to science in a new way — they want to understand what’s happening to their protagonist. And what’s happening to Sammy Spat is a lot of ecology. Kahren says art “breaks through the impenetrable veil of science.”
But Kahren doesn't stop with the soft sell. The science-disguised-as-art portion of the evening is followed by a talk-back session in which the audience gets to have their say and get their questions answered by real live scientists sans costumes. One of those scientists is Dr. Anamarija Frankic, a coastal ecologist at U Mass Boston and founder of the Green Boston Harbor Project and the Mass Oyster Project. She also joined us on the show for a few minutes this morning. She’s incredibly enthusiastic about Cirque de Sea as a way to raise awareness about how human activity has changed our coastal environment.
After some initial skepticism, I'm now hoping I'll get a chance to take in Cirque de Sea. I really enjoyed my conversation with Kahren and Anamarija. I hope you do, too.
You can find out more about Cirque de Sea — including show and ticket info — on their website: cirquedesea.org