Engaging Theatre, Activating Publics: Theory and Practice of a Performance on Darwin

Saul E. Halfon, Cora Olson, Ann Kilkelly, Jane L. Lehr


The Theatre Workshop in Science, Technology and Society (TWISTS) is a unique public engagement project. Theoretically, TWISTS seeks to activate publics around contemporary science and technology issues by producing agonistic cultural spaces in which participants are confronted with and engaged by multiple perspectives. It thus seeks to enact a model of Public Engagement with Science and Technology (PEST) that is oriented toward neither individualized educational models nor policy deliberation and consensus. Its engaged STS performance model instead merges expanded notions of expertise with challenges and techniques derived from critical performance theory, such as recentering participants, rethinking purpose and evaluation, and reworking narrative structure. Practically, TWISTS’ four existing performance cycles have been sites for both extending and challenging the theory. Using a unique system of expert interviews, writing, and theater games, these performances were collaboratively derived by a range of participants. The “Living Darwin” performance serves as a case study for exploring the tensions of this collaboration. Negotiating a set of different perspectives over the place of Darwin in contemporary life, and the proper way to represent him and his influence, was challenging, but proved productive in developing a performance that raised these issues for the audience within an agonistic space.


performance; public engagement; agonism; expertise; Darwin

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2020.403

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