A new Science Live Theatre show has hit the Atrium Stage!
In The Paul and Babe Show, Paul Bunyan is a flannel-shirted talk show host who regales the audience with far-fetched facts about Minnesota geology. Babe the Blue Ox is the bandleader whose main objective is to fact check his favorite lumberjack’s questionable claims. (Spoiler alert: Turns out Minnesota’s lakes and rivers were not actually created by Paul’s thunderous footsteps across the landscape.) Babe draws upon the expertise of Dr. Adam Heathcote at the Science Museum's St. Croix Watershed Research Station, whose research is helping us understand how human behavior impacts water quality here in Minnesota and around the world.
The Paul and Babe Show is the latest original production in the Science Museum's Science Live Theatre repertoire that blends science and stories in a way that appeals to visitors of all ages. “First and foremost, we want you to be entertained, to have a place to sit and enjoy a shared experience with others in your group,” says Stephanie Long, director of the Science Live Theatre program. “Of course, we hope that our shows will inspire further learning, that we’ll pique an interest in the topic for you. And we can always guarantee a good laugh, no matter what the topic.”
A pioneer in the museum industry in its use of theatre as an interpretive tool, the Science Live Theatre program is one of the oldest and most respected museum theatre programs in the nation. And with its twelve company members and a collection of nearly two dozen shows being performed on a regular basis, it’s also one of the largest and most public programs.
While the final product will occupy just ten or fifteen minutes during your visit, a lot goes into creating the Science Live shows that you know and love, like Cryogenics, Free Fall, and Fire Triangle.
“What you see on stage is really just a fraction of what goes into creating a season of shows,” says Long. “It starts with planning and making sure as many different science disciplines and theater styles are represented in the line-up to appeal to our diverse audiences. Then comes the research and script development, where we find that delicate balance between sharing good science and providing entertainment for a wide variety of ages and experiences. Then comes imagining and creating props, sets, and costumes, keeping in mind that they have to be visually appealing, but portable and simple enough to store easily and set and strike in a short amount of time. And of course, there’s rehearsing and polishing the show so that it’s ready for museum visitors.”
When asked about the challenges she faces directing a thriving museum theatre program like Science Live, Long says, “It’s natural to want to impart all the knowledge we pick up as we do research on various science topics and when we collaborate with scientists who are active in their fields. There’s so much to tell. We have limited time to tell our stories, though, so we have to find ways to share good science briefly enough that our audiences can take it in and hopefully be compelled to want to learn more.”
When it comes down to it, the company of actors are the real stars of the shows. Many of them have been with the museum for close to a decade, and they balance their Science Live work with performing on stages around the Twin Cities. Because they know our audiences so well, they have become the playwrights as well as the performers, weaving their talents through the shows you see from start to finish. (Fun fact: The Paul and Babe Show was written by longtime Science Live company member E.J. Subkoviak!)
“Our actors are extremely witty and have amazing comedic timing,” Long says. “They really are renaissance performers and have so many skill sets – from improv to playwriting to costume design. They work together so well and play off each other's strengths, and every combination of actors brings something different to the stage."
"You may have seen Splish and Splash during your last visit," Long continues. "When you visit next, check out another showing with different actors playing the roles. You'll find that the look and feel of the show is completely different. Their talents and commitment to excellence serve us well as we dream up and create new shows all year long.”
Pro tip: Science Live will soon be retiring As the Worm Turns, a popular show that explores when science imitates nature. Make plans to see it before it goes away! You can find Science Live showtimes and descriptions at smm.org/sciencelive.