I began a career as a playwright immediately upon leaving school in 2001. As a member of Canberra’s small but active independent theatre community, I learned the craft of theatre-making from a number of different angles: as writer, performer, director, producer and (poorly) designer. One way to view the art of theatre is to say that it creates experiences – working together, a group of artists constructs a journey for an audience, taking them on a trajectory through different feelings, images, stories and ideas. After more than a decade in this industry, I have developed a keen appreciation for the power of the best theatre to create innovative and affective experiences that can provoke all kinds of feelings and shifts in behaviour in audiences.
Boho in 2008. From left to right: me, Michael Bailey, David Shaw and Jack Lloyd. Image by ‘pling.
Although my key focus was theatre, I have always been interested in contemporary science. In 2005, with three close collaborators I formed a company called Boho, with the intention of creating theatre drawing on concepts from science. This proved to be a major turning point for my practice, as we began to research science topics and to work directly with research scientists. My initial curiosity about science gradually evolved into a major career focus, as the audience and critical response to Boho’s work made two things clear: firstly, that working with scientists pushed our theatre into new and exciting places, and secondly, that there is a real and compelling need for more people across society to have access to the tools and ideas of contemporary science.
In recent years, these two strands of practice have prompted me to reflect that there might be a real and significant social value in the combination of arts and science practice: that the sciences could offer artists new and important stories about the world today, and that the arts could offer scientists innovative and vital means through which to talk to the world.
As the debate around climate change in Australia has devolved into partisan politics and broader issues such as population growth, wealth inequality, resource scarcity and technological and social shifts have been largely absent from our public discourse, I have grown concerned about our country’s capacity to engage constructively with the big questions about our future. I wondered whether science-arts practice may be able to help fill that gap.
In undertaking a Churchill Fellowship, I hoped to explore the potential for science-arts collaboration to help facilitate a broader engagement with the complex problems that face our society, and identify what frameworks might exist to support this engagement.
A 2009 Boho performance – me on the left, David Shaw on the right. Image by ‘pling.