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Human Cloning Comes to Life in Lecture Hall

See free Caryl Churchill play and join discussion with scientists, students

October 17, 2011 | by Erin Spain

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Human cloning takes center stage in the celebrated Caryl Churchill play, “A Number,” but this time the “stage” is an engineering lecture hall, rather than a theater. 

Featuring professional actors, Churchill’s “A Number” will be performed Oct. 27 to Nov. 13 at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. It is free and open to the public with advance reservations recommended.

The futuristic play is structured around the conflict between a father and the adult son who finds out that he may have been cloned as a child.

It is the fourth play staged by ETOPiA: Engineering Transdisciplinary Outreach Project in the Arts, an outreach initiative whose goal is to inspire a cross-disciplinary dialogue about the role of science and technology in society.

Performed in a lecture hall, the one-act Northwestern production is directed by John Gawlik, artistic director of Fox Valley Repertory. It features James Saito, an Obie award-wining actor with credits on Broadway and on television shows such as “Law and Order” and “Sex and the City,” and Jon Norman Schneider, who has performed in regional theater and on television in “30 Rock” and “The Electric Company.”

Dan Moser, senior lecturer in communication studies and leadership and organizational studies at Northwestern, is the production manager.

“A Number” was written in 2002, six years after Dolly, the cloned sheep, caused an international stir. The play explores the personal and unintended consequences of human cloning and of replicating genetic identity. 

The academic setting will play a key role in provoking discussion of the play, according to Matthew Grayson, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the McCormick School and producer of the play.

“There is theatrical lighting and sound, but the idea is to make sure people don’t forget they’re actually in a lecture hall,” he said. “We want to create an ambiance which is conducive to the interdisciplinary dialogue that we want to initiate with the audience after the performance.”

Each performance will include a post-show discussion led by undergraduate students at the McCormick school, featuring a panel of Northwestern faculty members, graduate students and the professional actors.

Past ETOPiA plays have been scientific biographies. “It was time to try a different genre of play and breach a new subject with the biological sciences, and ‘A Number’ is a nice complement to the other shows we’ve put on,” Grayson said.

Churchill’s play was first performed in 2002 at the Royal Court Theatre in London and received its American premiere two years later at New York Theatre Workshop. Northwestern’s production is a revival of a production staged earlier this year by the National Asian American Theatre Company.

Running from Oct. 27 to Nov. 13, “A Number” will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in lecture hall room L361 of the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, in Evanston. Free parking is directly across the street. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by phone at (847) 324-3294 or online at www.etopia.northwestern.edu.  

Topics: Campus Life