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Artistic Fusion: Event Review of Experimental Words


Experimental Words was an event in the Manchester Science Festival 2018

The Science and Industry Museum looks different at night: low lighting, a bar nestled on a back wall, and a low hum quite the opposite of the usual chorus of shrieking children. I like it. We move to our seats and find worksheets laying on them. Homework? I guess so. The sheet asks if we’re poets or scientists or both or neither. It asks us to describe poets and scientists in three words. It asks us to write an acrostic poem using the word S C I E N C E. I quickly scrawl down “poet” and begin writing the poem as seriously as I can before the show begins.


The show, Experimental Words, brings science and poetry together and overtly addresses the misunderstood gap between the two. The creators and hosts of the project, Dr. Sam Illingworth and Dan Simpson, love both and have developed a program to help people on all parts of the poetry/science spectrum love both sides too. A quick explanation of the project: scientists and poets are paired together and given the task of creating a performance that will explain their science in an interesting, graspable by the public, way.

Dr. Sam Illingworth and Mr. Simpson take the stage with only one working microphone (the second to be fixed in a couple minutes). They introduce the premise of the show and give us a little taster of what’s to come. The two of them unfold a Twister mat and use corresponding coloured memories to take the audience along their journey to becoming scientist/poet/both. It feels honest, clever, and a great way to open the show.


The rest of the evening consists of 5 different scientist and poet pairs who have had 4 weeks to wow us with their careful craftings of lyric and data. The tone of the acts varies widely.


The first act takes on genetic mutations and code with casual ease, setting a short anecdote in a farmer’s market and commenting directly on the impenetrable jargon of science.


The second takes a darker turn, with a deep booming soundtrack playing in the background, the sound of black holes is connected to its human counterparts and the many “black holes” we find in our own lives.


The third act was introduced onstage as “10 short skits that only the most intelligent people will be able to make sense of” and truthfully, I’m not one of those intelligent people. I could piece together bits of information: both of the women are mothers, both of them have dealt with hardships, and the scientist is building a tunnel in London.


The fourth act went back to the casual ease of the first one, taking a historical trip through the Industrial Revolutions by moving around the room from Rocket the Steam Engine to the first computer to the robots of today. They did a bit of dancing too; I liked that.


The fifth and final act explored the Anthropocene and the effects of nuclear weapons. The scientist became an artist for the evening and spray-painted corresponding stencils onto a sky backdrop as the poet spoke.


Overall, I enjoyed the night and came away from it feeling refreshed and inspired, the way I come away from most literary events. It is obvious that the poets are talented and inventive in coming up with many ways of communicating science to the public. It was also pleasant to hear some poetry written about something other than the fucked up government and society we live in – those the themes did sneak in there from time to time. And also, Sam and Dan, if you’re looking for a poet to be in your next show, I’m available.


If you’re interested in learning more about the Science and Industry Museum of Manchester or the Manchester Science Festival, click here.

If you’d like to know more about Experimental Words, click here.

Photo taken from the Science and Industry Museum’s website.

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