Live Theater at the Natural History Museum of Utah

Bringing Science to Life

Monday, January 16, 2017

If “all the world’s a stage,” like a character from Shakespeare’s As You Like It states, then using live theater to spice up science education makes perfect sense. “Live theater performances at the Natural History Museum of Utah actually began almost ten years ago,” says Museum Public Programs Coordinator and University of Utah Performing Arts graduate, Paulmichael Maxfield.

Maxfield is the creative director behind the current live theater programs and attributes its recent growth to new grant money requiring a portion of funds go directly to public outreach. Creating a live theater program has also given the Museum the rare opportunity to collaborate with actor training programs at the U. Actors, musical theater students and sometimes dancers are hired to bring stories and characters to life.

Chris Duval, Associate Professor and Head of the Actor Training Program at the university believes, “The University of Utah’s BFA Actor Training Program is deeply benefitted by being in association with the Natural History Museum. The opportunity for our students to practice their craft at the museum offers invaluable learning experiences and growth.”

Student actor Savannah Moffat, claims her live Museum theater opportunity has been amazing. “Live theater is a fun, inviting method of presenting information, especially when facts are surrounded with humor, like these scripts are.” 

Museum theater has the unique distinction of being a hybrid of sorts, ranking somewhere between education and entertainment. Some even jokingly refer to it as “edutainment,” but with a respectful understanding that the overall goal is to provide the best in science education with the energy, emotion and the storytelling power of theater.

Several scientific studies have confirmed what theater participants and attendees already know — people make connections when attending live performances. It’s an enriching activity that stretches and positively affects minds, attitudes and behaviors. 

Beginning in 2007, an IMLS grant helped the Museum launch its first in-house experience with live theater. Partnering with theater students at the U to perform a live production called Hipper and Hopper. It was an entertaining and energetic look at frogs and their story of survival.

·      In 2009-2010 the Dino Show was born - featuring a 10-foot roaring ceratopsian complete with frills and horns.

·      Next, stories about the ecology of Utah’s Great Salt Lake debuted through the funny, endearing stories of a crusty old character named Brine Fly Bill.  

·      In 2013, Modern Dance students at the U joined the Museum for a unique tribute to basket weaving, called Dance Revolution.

·      In 2004, enthusiastic visitors participated in chocolate tastings and learned about different kinds of chocolate from Chocolate artisans in Utah. 

Currently running through April 16, 2017, the Museum features two new live productions that are delighting Museum audiences almost daily.

·      Poison Live! (part of an exciting new special exhibit, The Power of Poison) tells the true story of how a 19th century murder mystery helped bring about the science of toxicology. For tickets and more information, visit: https://nhmu.utah.edu/events/poison-live

·      The Extreme Plants Traveling Sideshow is also a live theater production that introduces audiences to several exotic and mysterious plants that have developed amazing defenses in order to survive life in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Check out the performance schedule on the website to help plan when to visit: https://nhmu.utah.edu/programs/extreme-plants-traveling-side-show

Near the end of in May of 2017, student actors will perform a live character sketch about Vikings, in conjunction with the Museum’s upcoming Vikings special exhibit, highlighting period clothing, traditions, historical influence and several rarely seen Viking artifacts. The exhibit will run for seven months, from May 27, 2017 to January 1, 2018.

 

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About the Natural History Museum of Utah

The Natural History Museum of Utah is one of the leading scientific research and cultural institutions in the country. Established in 1963, the Museum’s collections contain over 1.5 million objects and offer innovative exhibitions and educational programs to thousands of residents and visitors each year, including traveling and permanent exhibits, special events and other programs. With more than 250,000 visitors a year, the Museum also offers a variety of outreach programs to communities and schools throughout Utah, reaching every school district in the state annually. The Museum has an active scientific research program with more than 30 scientists and 10 field expeditions each year.