STAGE — Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration — is a collective laboratory, or a “Collaboratory,” for creating and developing multi-media theatre pieces inspired by science and technology. It is part of the Institute for Molecular Engineering (IME) at the University of Chicago.
An international array of professional artists, distinguished scientists, and talented students from all disciplines will come together in numerous residencies throughout the year to dedicate themselves to the inception and evolution of original theatre work. The STAGE Collaboratory’s first theatrical creation, The Art of Questionable Provenance (previously entitled The Brain Project), is well underway.
STAGE was launched at, and continues to collaborate with, the California Nanosystems Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). It began as the STAGE International Script Competition for the best new play about science and technology. In less than five years, the successful partnership among artists and scientists expanded to include activities well beyond the scope of the Competition. Such growth gave rise to two questions: how can we give a louder voice to stories about science and technology, and how can we implement a more collaborative work process through which to accomplish this? The answer to both queries was to build a laboratory, or Collaboratory, for creating new theatre work. Science and technology play prominent roles in the stories we tell, as well as in how we tell those stories on stage. Read more about our work process and the history of STAGE.
With its move to the University of Chicago, and continuing collaborations with UCSB, STAGE will greatly expand the breadth and impact of its science-based theatre-making activities and foster additional artistic and scientific collaborations.
STAGE’s mission is to:
- Cultivate appreciation and collaboration between the two cultures of science and art;
- Catalyze the development of art that depicts the technological age in which we live;
- Promote understanding of the sciences in the public arena;
- Foster new and imaginative voices and methods of storytelling;
- Accomplish all of the above within an international community.
How We Work
Some key ideas behind the process of creating new work in the STAGE lab are:
- New Methods of Investigation, Inspired by the Scientific Process: The development process is collaborative and improvisational, based, in many ways, upon the exploratory nature of experimental science. New ideas are generated and investigated, with continuous feedback. The most powerful material that emerges is explored in greater detail and eventually makes its way into the final script.
- Scientists and Artists Share a Laboratory: Scientists and artists are together in the same room, at the same time, collectively engaged in the creation of these theatrical works.
- Technology as Storyteller: Technology is used in performance to help tell the story.
- A Cinematic Approach: How does the language of filmmaking translate to the stage as a means of storytelling?
STAGE began out of a conversation with a prominent scientist, who pointed out that many Nobel Prizes in science have been awarded for accidents – that is, serendipitous discoveries. For example, scientists often set out to explore a hypothesis, but find it’s not supported by experimental data. Something unexpected in the data may pique their interest, however, and further probing leads to a new discovery.
This same conversation revealed that certain funding agencies will terminate funding if the “success” rate of experiments in a new area is greater than twenty percent, because a higher success rate indicates the work isn’t adventurous enough! The funding paradigm in the arts is quite different.
Was it possible to apply aspects of the science model to the arts? Could one establish an artistic arena in which the freedom to improvise and follow the emerging “unexpected data” governs the creation of new theatre work?
At about this same time, a production of the far side of the moon, by Canadian artist Robert Lepage, had an equally profound effect on shaping the direction of STAGE. In this work, multi-media was absolutely integral to the play and the storytelling. Witnessing such synergy between technology and story, reflected meaningfully in a work of art, was thrilling.
Out of this, the vision of STAGE came into focus: a laboratory in which artists create work relevant to the lives we lead — lives influenced by sophisticated technological and scientific advances — and one in which the happy accident is always a welcome, engaged participant.
The STAGE International Script Competition
Beginning as an international script competition, STAGE awarded a $10,000 USD prize for the best new play about science and technology. To keep up with its rapid growth, the competition switched from annual to biennial cycles. A majority of the winning plays went on to have multiple productions; one has been optioned for the screen by award-winning director/writer/producer Darren Aronofsky and Oscar-winning actor Rachel Weisz. A complete history of the Competition may be found here.