“The Sciences Need the Theatre!” Award-winning Scholar Delivers Excellence Lecture
Can theatre and science interact? For Dr. Martin Revermann, the answer is simple: They can. They do. For a long time, they have. And most importantly, argues Revermann, they should—particularly on the UTM campus.
Dr. Revermann was recently recognized with the 2021 Desmond Morton Research Excellence Award. Last Wednesday, he delivered his lecture, “The Theatre of Science,” which brought attendees from across disciplines zooming onto screens to hear his talk on the relationship between theatre and the sciences.
Vice-Principal Research, Kent Moore started the event with a land acknowledgement and a nod to the important work of Desmond Morton—the historian, author, and public intellectual in whose honour the award was established. Introduced by Chair of the Department of Historical Studies, Dr. Andreas Bendlin, Revermann’s contributions to his field were reported succinctly.
“The range and depth of Martin’s scholarship, his achievements, range very widely,” said Bendlin of his colleague. “He successfully bridges the fields of ancient Greek drama, Brecht studies, the theory of drama, and the sociology, psychology, and history of playgoing.”
“Very few scholars worldwide are equally at home in the ancient dramatic tradition and their modern reception, the social life of Greek Theatre and modern semiotics. Martin is.”
His most recent monograph, Brecht and Tragedy: Radicalism, Traditionalism, Eristics, establishes Revermann at the very centre of contemporary studies of 20th century drama, says Bendlin, and, more widely, 20th century European literature as a whole. The meticulously researched book uncovers a large amount of material that was unknown before—“a cornucopia of riches” predicted to have enormous impact in the field.
That ‘big picture’ thinking quickly became apparent as Revermann began his thought-provoking talk. If you attended the lecture and hadn’t yet considered the long-standing (and productive) relationship between theatre and the sciences, it’s unlikely you’ll extricate the two again.
After two years during which science messaging took centre stage, peered at by an audience of pundits and public alike, we’re perhaps getting used to seeing scientists take the floor—for better or worse. Take Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example, an arguably strong strategic actor in the ‘social drama.’ There is no mistaking him for a legislator or a political figure, Revermann pointed out. Fauci’s performance, his mask-as-billboard, his rhetoric all sharply warn, “I am a scientist, first and foremost.” Recent examples of unsuccessful messaging abound as well, prompting gentle pushes toward media training and calls for more approachable, persuasive language.
But if science has found ways of co-opting theatre, so too has the theatre historically responded to the sciences. Revermann’s analysis of three selected plays, The Clouds, Aristophanes (423 BCE); The Life of Galileo, Bertolt Brecht (1955); and W;t, Margaret Edson (1995), showcased the fraught relationship between science and religion, science and power, and science and language respectively.
And as embodied sciences—those that effect the body, the planet, the interface between humans and machines—come to the forefront, each will continue to need the other. In fact, the 21st century will need the theatre more than ever, Revermann argued neatly, in order to educate, to convince, and to effect behavioural change. These sciences will have profound impacts on our day-to-day lives. Scientific advancements will require some form of consent, both by the individual and the collective. Scientific insights will require behaviours to change and be internalized.
“It’s one thing to develop a vaccine; it’s another thing entirely to convince people to put it into their bodies,” Revermann remarked wryly. “The scientific quest is incomplete if it is unable to get buy-in … Scientists will need to understand their own science in many intuitive and complex ways.”
So, in an academic environment, how do we ensure students are informed recipients and users of science? How can our scientists become stronger messengers? How can we provide a scientific education that allows for a more integrative picture of how we study the discipline?
For Revermann, the solution lies in creating a nexus between science, theatre, and humanities at large. From emotional engagement and collaboration to high cultural capital and more, as a medium, theatre leverages its various aspects for impact, for a need for consent, and for a need for behavioural change—the very same ends that science seeks.
Looking at the various spaces across the UTM campus—spaces for role play and adaptations, for enacting experiments, and for scene studies—Revermann sees in them rich opportunities for integrated thinking, research, and pedagogical initiatives to take place.
“There’s a bigger picture,” he says simply, “and I think we have an ethical mandate to invest our energy and our creative impulses, and to utilize our privileged position to integrate these synergies. Trying to come up with integrated pedagogies is one small step.”
As Revermann concluded his talk, Associate Vice-Principal Research, Elspeth Brown took the floor to thank him and address audience questions. “It’s really inspiring to think about how to pull these threads together in our local environment, to create a co-presence between scientists and humanists here at UTM,” she responded, as virtual hands from interested scientists and humanists quickly popped up.
Revermann looks forward to continuing the conversation, and it’s clear that many of his colleagues do as well. After all, these are the sorts of contributions that move UTM forward—innovative ideas that lead to positive, impactful change—and that make Dr. Revermann a very worthy recipient of this year’s award.
You’re Invited: Please note that Professor Revermann looks forward to carrying on this important discussion. If you wish to ask questions or comment on the ideas raised in his lecture, or here, contact him via email at email@example.com.
Each year, the Desmond Morton Research Excellence Award recognizes outstanding career achievement in research and scholarly activity by faculty members of the University of Toronto Mississauga.
If you would like to nominate an exceptional researcher in the sciences for this award, the call is now open for submissions. See the Office of Vice-Principal Research site for more information.