Carnegie Mellon University

Grand Challenge Freshman Seminar: Science On Stage

Course Number: 66-123

Art and Science -- two fields of study that are most often considered diametrically opposed. Art is frivolous entertainment. Science is hard rational fact. In this Grand Challenge course, we hope to break that supposition or at least examine it in great detail. Specifically, we will use theater to argue that drama can produce challenging, demanding and intelligent work that showcases the impact of science on current discourse.

We want to link the two cultures. The word ‘theater’ has the same etymological root as ‘theory’ – both words come from the Greek thea meaning view. This shared origin demonstrates ways we can work to analyze and interpret both fields and show the common ground between these two cultures.

As we attend to plays and writing ranging from Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen to Caryl Churchill’s A Number and Oliver Sacks’ Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, our class discussions will consider questions that include: Why is science a trend in contemporary theater? Does it reflect on our dependence on technology? What kinds of questions are being asked when science or scientific theory is presented on the stage? Are people attracted to plays about science because of their difficult subject matter or does it lack the engagement of popular culture?

In addition to integrating humanities and scientific approaches within Dietrich College, this course will utilize the expertise of both individuals in the School of Drama and the producers in the local theater community, and local science writers. Finally, in addition to weekly writing assignments, the course will ask students to produce original dramatic scenes that incorporate scientific exploration which will, ultimately, lead to staged readings of their work.

Academic Year: 2019-2020
Semester(s): Spring