When Wally Napier was in high school, he enjoyed performing in theater and participating in science fairs. His rehearsals and the fairs often conflicted, and his school wanted him to pick one or the other, but Napier refused. He saw that each influenced the other – psychology formed the basis of acting exercises, and all the tips about presenting his science fair research into phylogenetics was based in theater. When he came to Tufts, Napier finally had the opportunity to truly combine his two passions by creating an interdisciplinary major he calls “BioDramatics.” His years of work culminate next week in his thesis production, Luminesce.
Featuring 6 actors, some familiar faces to the Tufts theater community and some who are more likely to be found in a lab, Luminesce explores the world of genetically modified organisms. The play follows genetic engineer Tom Hariford (played by Ben Fuligni) as he works to defend his scientific conclusions against media concerns about the safety of his GMOs. The biodramatic fiction considers food as an environmental, scientific, and emotional issue all at once, including discussions of the presence of women in science and the role corporations should and do play in scientific research. “There is legitimate concern about some things,” Napier said. “How are those things concerning, but also how are they not? [That] is what we’re trying to tease out.” In the end, the show encourages the audience to think about the problem and come to their own conclusions.
“Like in biology, a play is a living organism.”
Throughout the process of researching, writing, and directing the work, Napier was always “looking for that kind of intersection where the biological fact drives the narrative of the story.” He aimed to create a scientifically accurate piece that is different from a lecture or a documentary. Instead, Luminesce aims to use juxtaposition to fuel an engaging narrative. It’s about bringing both the facts and sentiment to the table so that the audience “will leave with emotions, but also information about genetically modified organisms.” It offers a new type of show that just might bring the two usually separate communities of science and theater together for an unusual evening and interesting conversation.
By using new research to inform his rehearsal process, Napier has also changed the experience for the actors themselves. He incorporated anatomy, biology, and neuropsychology to encourage the actors to respond physically to information and let that physical response inform their emotions and their acting, instead of the more typical acting technique to have emotion inform the physical movement onstage.
Luminesce will have two performances that promise to be an interesting exploration of the intersections between theater, biology, and society. They will be followed by panel discussions with Tufts professors Sheldon Krimsky from the Urban & Environmental Planning department, Jonathan Garlick, who teaches at the Medford campus as well as the Medical and Dental schools, and Ninian Stein of the Environmental Studies department. The shows are next Monday and Tuesday at 8 pm in Balch Arena. No tickets are necessary.