To many the compound science theater is a contradiction in terms, or – as science journalist Williams has aptly put it – “[a]rt and science, conventional wisdom goes, are two mutually exclusive disciplines that rarely exist in the same sentence, much less converge on a theater stage”1. But even if theater and science have been living separate lives (at least since the European Enlightenment) it seems that they may have found not only a place to meet but indeed also a place to interact.

Science theater performances may take on many forms. They may be performed by professional and drama-educated theater groups like the Danish “The Science Theater”. Here fully scripted plays about, say, the health issues of stress are performed at traditional theater stages. Or it may be university students demonstrating science experiments at local high schools like the “Science Theater at Michigan State University”. Here senior natural science students reenact the gist of famous scientific experiments, e.g. the dynamic perception of sound according to the Doppler Effect, the cohesive force of the vacuum generated in the Brandenburg Spheres. Or it may take on the form of a collaborative learning project as in the Danish “MathTheater”. Here a group of teachers and pedagogical consultants helped a class of 5th graders to – quite literally – perform math. Different though they may be, the various kinds of science theater all converge on a common idea, i.e. that science theater is a forum well-suited for the mediation of science, a forum where dramaturgical means are employed to communicate science for and with lay audiences.

This presentation introduces the phenomenon of science theater as a science communication activity as well as a science communication research object. It points to some of the core science mediational qualities of the science theater format and presents a typology of science theater performances. Each type of science theater performance is described, discussed and evaluated on the basis of core science communication qualities. The presentation ends by reflecting on theoretical impetuses for science communication research – both with regards to the science theater as such but also more generally with regards to theoretical issues of science communication research.

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Communicating science through drama
A typology of science theater performances

Peter Kastberg   Associate Professor, Ph.D., Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences, Department of Business Communication

To many the compound science theater is a contradiction in terms, or – as science journalist Williams has aptly put it – “[a]rt and science, conventional wisdom goes, are two mutually exclusive disciplines that rarely exist in the same sentence, much less converge on a theater stage”1. But even if theater and science have been living separate lives (at least since the European Enlightenment) it seems that they may have found not only a place to meet but indeed also a place to interact.

Science theater performances may take on many forms. They may be performed by professional and drama-educated theater groups like the Danish “The Science Theater”. Here fully scripted plays about, say, the health issues of stress are performed at traditional theater stages. Or it may be university students demonstrating science experiments at local high schools like the “Science Theater at Michigan State University”. Here senior natural science students reenact the gist of famous scientific experiments, e.g. the dynamic perception of sound according to the Doppler Effect, the cohesive force of the vacuum generated in the Brandenburg Spheres. Or it may take on the form of a collaborative learning project as in the Danish “MathTheater”. Here a group of teachers and pedagogical consultants helped a class of 5th graders to – quite literally – perform math. Different though they may be, the various kinds of science theater all converge on a common idea, i.e. that science theater is a forum well-suited for the mediation of science, a forum where dramaturgical means are employed to communicate science for and with lay audiences.

This presentation introduces the phenomenon of science theater as a science communication activity as well as a science communication research object. It points to some of the core science mediational qualities of the science theater format and presents a typology of science theater performances. Each type of science theater performance is described, discussed and evaluated on the basis of core science communication qualities. The presentation ends by reflecting on theoretical impetuses for science communication research – both with regards to the science theater as such but also more generally with regards to theoretical issues of science communication research.

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