TAPS launches ‘Performance as Research’

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Margaret Wertheim’s Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef The art of a science writer and sculptor with an interest in moving STEM to STEAM in K-12 classrooms Credit: Courtesy of the artist

A variety of visiting artists — dancers, set designers, choreographers, sculptors — will visit Brown this semester for the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies’ inaugural “Performance as Research” project. The project will explore the construction and communication of meaning across the arts, humanities, and scientific disciplines.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies has launched a new initiative this semester that will bring together a range of disciplines to explore how they intersect with art and performance. Performance as Research is a semester-long series of conversations, exhibitions, performances, and workshops, including several public events, that will bring visiting artists and performers to Brown to work with students and faculty to examine the inaugural theme “Design for Performance.”

Artists taking part in the series include Margaret Wertheim, science writer and founder of the Institute for Figuring, and Mark Morris, choreographer and founder of the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Erik Ehn, professor and chair of theatre arts, said that the initiative is a way to find a common vocabulary across multiple disciplines.

I want to see the arts more fully enfranchised in the humanities and I want to see the arts and humanities in full peer relationship with the sciences,” Ehn said. “There’s increasing pressure on the arts to provide data and to justify themselves in terms of outcome. Artistic data and outcome are real but they are different in shape from other forms of data. So the title is a prompt to reinvestigate vocabulary around how we measure and assess our work.”

The Design for Performance theme grew out of Ehn’s desire to see a broader playwright pedagogy brought to Brown that not only includes practical skills like set and costume design but also an examination of ideas like shared space and civic responsiblity.

Ehn said that the arts, humanities, and sciences all intersect when considering these ideas. “Ethics, math, biology — all come into play when we set up stages built to quicken empathy and fuel the social construction of nuanced meaning.”

The artists and performers who will take part in the series were chosen because their work touches on these concepts.

“They’re cross-disciplinary, working in recognizable performance modes but also reaching into community-based activism with an appreciation for what we might call the hard sciences — medicine and math in particular,” Ehn said.

Several of the events taking place throughout the series will be held in partnership with “Widening the Circle: Intersections of Art, Science, and Community,” a series of master classes, lecture demonstrations, performances, and seminars presented by FirstWorks and American Dance Legacy Initiative, in collaboration with Artists and Scientists as Partners, Brown, and Mark Morris Dance Group. This series includes a public event, “Artist-Up-Close: A Conversation with Mark Morris,” moderated by Debra Cash, a critic and scholar-in-residence at the Bates Dance Festival, on Feb. 26, 2014. Julie Strandberg, senior lecturer in theatre arts and performance studies, was the faculty coordinator for this series.

Other events include a series of workshops followed by a talk on April 14 by science writer and sculptor Margaret Wertheim, who will discuss both her “Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef” project and her current interest in the pedagogical impacts of STEM to STEAM initiatives in K-12 education.

Throughout the semester, artists from companies PearlDamour and Everett will present and discuss ongoing projects that tackle specific contemporary issues. Both companies are using a “Research to Performance” method in the creation of the pieces. Their aim is also pedagogical: Making the evolution and process live and visible is intrinsic to the dialogue around the performances. PearlDamour will present its work at an event on April 15, while Everett will present on April 19.

Finally, Shannon Scrofano, a scenic designer at CalArts will come to Brown for four days in March to work with students and faculty. Scrofano is known for theatrical designs that demonstrate how live performance can reshape the ways audiences and performers perceive the civic space, by creating work in the community itself.

This series is sponsored by the Brown University Humanities Initiative, the President’s Office, Dean of the Faculty, Creative Arts Council, the Sheridan Center, the Center for Public Humanities, the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, and the following academic departments and programs: Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, Environmental Studies, the Multimedia and Electronic Music Experiments program, Visual Art, Mathematics, Engineering, Applied Mathematics, and Science and Technology Studies.

More information about these events is available online at www.brown.edu/go/tapsdesigns2014.

Feb. 21-March 8
Widening the Circle: Intersections of Art, Science and Community

A series of master classes, lecture demonstrations, performances, and seminars, including "Artist-Up-Close: A Conversation with Mark Morris," moderated by Debra Cash, critic and scholar-in-residence, Bates Dance Festival. 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Martinos Auditorium, 154 Angell St. More information at wideningthecircle.weebly.com.

March 10-14
Shannon Scrofano

A scenic designer at CalArts, Scrofano will work with students and faculty during a four-day residency to demonstrate, using theatrical design, how live performance can reshape the ways audiences and performers perceive the civic space, by creating work in the community itself.

April 14-18
Margaret Wertheim

The science writer and sculptor will discuss “Reefs, Rubbish and Reason: Bringing art and science together in the age of global warming,” describing how her “Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef” project is an example of STEAM in action. 5 p.m. Monday, April 14, 2014, in the Granoff Center for Creative Arts. Wertheim will also lead a series of workshops for faculty and students on her project and her current interest in the pedagogical impacts of STEM to STEAM initiatives in K-12 education.

April 15

An exhibition and reception on the interdisciplinary design projects taking place in TAPS this spring. Featured work includes models, film and documentation of the independent study with PearlDamour. 6 p.m. in John Street Studio, corner of John and Brook streets.

April 19

Everett Company will present “The Freedom Project,” a work in progress exploring social justice and the criminal justice system in Rhode Island. 4 p.m. in Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Studio 1.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.

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