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An audience follows a park ranger into the woods looking for wolves … A young Danish prince contemplates a skull in a dug-up grave … A wheelchair-bound blind man spars verbally with the carer who is about to leave him … A woman with a deformed spine is murdered by a fanatical doctor who wants to dissect her corpse … A bald, cancer-ridden woman recites the poetry of Donne as she lies dying … Two pairs of couples in Regency dress dance a waltz as the lights gradually fade …
Theatre has engaged with science since its beginnings in Ancient Greece. The intersection of the two disciplines has been the focus of increasing interest to scholars and students. The Cambridge Companion to Theatre and Science gives readers a sense of this dynamic field, using detailed analyses of plays and performances covering a wide range of areas including climate change and the environment, technology, animal studies, disease and contagion, mental health, and performance and cognition. Identifying historical tendencies that have dominated theatre's relationship with science, the volume traces many periods of theatre history across a wide geographical range. It follows a simple and clear structure of pairs and triads of chapters that cluster around a given theme so that readers get a clear sense of the current debates and perspectives.
Chapter 14: This chapter explores advances in stage technology from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that profoundly shaped and influenced both theatrical performance and playwriting, particularly in the domain of stage lighting. Opening with the mid-twentieth-century example of Josef Svoboda, the chapter then goes back to the invention of limelight and its behind-the-scenes manipulation, which leads into a consideration of other kinds of technologically oriented off-stage labor. The discussion then turns to theatrical patents of the late nineteenth century, building on recent scholarship on backstage labor with a view to considering how scientific, technological, and theatrical work merge and often share this status of invisibility. The conclusion proposes a model for approaching and teaching theatre history based on a greater recognition of the role of technology, especially in our understanding of ‘science on stage’.