The future for Planet Earth may just look a little brighter thanks to an initiative hosted by English Theatre Leipzig (ETL) that seeks to creatively connect theatre and science. Drawing on the idea that each discipline can inform the other, ETL’s first 48-hour science and theatre challenge, AnthropScene, took place over the weekend of 20 and 21 May 2023. It sought to explore biodiversity and sustainability and facilitate the exchange of ideas through performance, theatre games and a final show. Feedback from the participants was positive and there are plans for more such events later in the year (keep an eye on ETL’s website).
The desire to communicate science ever better by literally acting on sustainability is the brainchild of PhD researcher in theatre studies at Leipzig University, Letizia Rivera (originally from Italy), and former PhD in Ecology at Integrative Biodiversity Research Halle-Jena-Leipzig (iDiv) and now theatre practitioner, Josiane Segar (originally from England). “There’s a real need to create change” says Segar, “to translate topical, local issues over which we have control.” Rivera adds, “The value of staged open discussion that is engaging is part of a whole.” The women’s enthusiasm is catching, and together they epitomise the interdisciplinary nature of what may seem to be an unlikely—but may just well be a winning—combination.
While recognising that “scientists often don’t get involved in theatre,” Segar says the workshop attracted 15 participants with varied backgrounds.
The group included scientists, artists, climate activists, a comedian, and people from the world of theatre, ranging in age from 19 to mid-40s. As an aside, Segar will herself direct her first play at ETL’s upcoming evening of theatre in September (see below for details). Rivera and Segar point out the event’s organising team included Dr Anran Luo, Social-environmental policy post-doc researcher at Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and Dr Christine Richter, Social geographer at the Fraunhofer Center for International Management and Knowledge Economy (IMW). Support was provided by iDiv and Leipzig Stiftung.
So how did the AnthropScene workshop unfold?
On day one of the workshop the eager and brave participants tackled the not-trivial question, “What is sustainability?” through theatre games and improvisation. For example, games focussed on topics including biodiversity in Leipzig, plastic and waste. It was about “juggling skills and information” Rivera acknowledges, “getting everyone up to speed on working in theatre and the various roles involved, while discussing sustainability issues at the same time.” Communication took place through music, movement and discussion. Issues considered included the challenge of achieving an equilibrium, in terms of habitat, where new species appear and then disturb and disrupt the status quo. Rivera and Segar admit that, not surprisingly, achieving consensus was not always easy and the participants sometimes had to step out of their comfort zone. The workshop organisers helped provide guidance with the transfer of knowledge, particularly where there were language or cultural challenges.
Day two saw the participants embrace the ultimate theatre challenge: create and perform a play in one day!
Of course, the previous day had served to provide some preparation for the task ahead. Themes that had been identified the day before were picked up and the participants took up stations reflecting their strengths and interests, whether they be script writing, directing, stage set-up or acting.
On Sunday evening the group successfully pulled off the performance of a short play about biodiversity that Segar described as “abstract, futuristic and brilliant.”
In the end, language proved less of a barrier as the performance involved surprisingly little talking and mainly music and dance. An example of learning by doing, Rivera says “the realisation that they could do it was rewarding” for all concerned. As one participant observed in a survey, “Connecting biodiversity and theatre is a challenging task, but it was amazing to see what came out of it!”
Enjoy an evening of theatre in September
Following auditions on 2 July, ETL is working hard over the summer to produce its “New Voices” evening of theatre in September that involves three 30-minute plays. Performances take place at 8 pm on 7, 8, 9, 15 and 16 September at Neues Schauspiel Leipzig, 29 Lützner Strasse. Tickets can be purchased there and cost €16 each or €12 (reduced).
Each of the three plays has a unique storyline. “Morningstar” is a one-person production about a mythological/biblical devil, Scratch, who teeters on the brink of madness caused by the pressures of their position and—above all else—their apparently unrequited love for humanity. “Echolalia” explores the inner world of relationships and the conflicts and joy that can arise through the biases, trauma and expectations that we bring to them. “What I learned from my time in the fridge …” provides insights on performer Alex Wilde’s period of time spent in a fridge with the door closed. Change, fear of the unknown and “out of the fridge” thinking is the fascinating result.
Get involved with ETL
Even if the stage isn’t for you, ETL is always looking for stagehands, set and costume designers, social media support and more. Send an email to: email@example.com. ETL is located at Neues Schauspiel Leipzig, 29 Lützner Strasse.