This November, the Science in Theatre Festival is bringing new interactive performances to NYC, created through the collaborative efforts of women scientists and playwrights. The event aims to inspire deep conversations about the future of technology and the meaning of human existence. Tjasa Ferme, artistic director of Transforma Theatre and the festival’s organizer, shares her vision.
How did you arrive at the idea of a woman-focused festival?
Tjasa Ferme: The initial seeds were planted awhile ago and had definitely been growing inside me for some time before I came up with the idea for the festival. Being an actor in New York, I’d seen the same old roles women were allowed to play: the princess, the witch, and maybe the cold mother.
Every time I had to minimize myself to the level of a stereotype, I was really frustrated, which was most of the time. We are so different, complex as people. Why was nobody cherishing that diversity, why was nobody bothering to nurture it? Transforma Theatre was born from my active agenda as an actor, to create new roles for women, blended with my passion for science.
Our cutting edge consists of interactive scientific experiences, where both actors and audience can learn together. Transforma’s last pre-COVID show, The Female Role Model Project, brought women pioneers into the spotlight. In a way, Science in Theatre is a continuation of this project.
How did you choose playwrights and scientists for the festival? And why are they all women?
TJF: I wanted to feature unique women with extraordinary ideas, so all sorts of people could find inspiration in what we are doing. Not just in these women’s work, but in the way they move through the world, in who they are: different, original, brilliant.
We brought together scientists and playwrights somewhat based on their interests. Some of them met in person, others collaborated on Zoom. And all of them said they found resonance and connection with their partners. The plays they created are an extension of themselves and their missions, although the stories developed their own independent existence and embodiment.
What’s the festival concept? What can attendees expect?
TJF: We split the program into two parts. During the day, tech startups will be showcasing new technologies which can be used in theatre. Every night, the audience will see a different play followed by the presentation of scientific research. Then a panel discussion will take place, where participants will discuss the play’s central ideas, debating opposing viewpoints and substantiating their claims with individual expertise.
For example, Zebra 2.0, created by Romanian-born playwright Saviana Stanescu and data scientist Niki Athanasiadou, Phd. focuses on the unlikely friendship between an AI system and an immigrant woman working as a nighttime janitor.
A discussion panel following the performance features Massimo Pigliucci, a critic of pseudoscience, and neuroscientist Susanne Dicker. So we’ll delve into the story of human/AI friendship from different angles. The festival is not about neat and tidy conclusions. We’ll hear unique and often polarizing views from people of different backgrounds—we want to go deeper, dig into the heart of these issues, so we can open the floor to even bigger questions.
Ultimately, our existence and our origins are utterly mysterious. For all that science has advanced in recent years, we are literally just scratching the surface. What’s really important is that we are bringing innovation, the scientific process, and imagination into the same space. We have to ask crazy, impossible questions to push the boundaries of the unknown.