One-woman show centers on life of Marie Curie

Amanda Laabs

Two disciplines that don’t usually mix at college campuses have come together to show a different side of science.

“Manya – A Living History of Marie Curie,” a one-woman show detailing the life of the Nobel Prize-winning chemist, opened last night at Ryan Family Auditorium. The show was brought to Northwestern by the Engineering Transdisciplinary Outreach Project in the Arts, a program that seeks to encourage dialogue about the role of science in real life.

The McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science launched ETOPiA last year as the brainchild of McCormick Prof. Matthew Grayson. The program brings a science-themed theater performance to NU each year, which is free and open to the entire NU and Evanston community, in order to create a new kind of forum for discussing science.

“We want to provide a free evening of theater that will get people of all types to think about issues of science in their world,” Grayson said. “We’d like the audience to realize that science is more than just a chalkboard full of formulas.”

The play attempts to reveal the human character that existed behind the scientific achievements of Marie Curie. Written and performed by Susan Marie Frontczak, a storyteller, writer and actress who studied engineering as an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, “Manya” has been running for almost nine years and has allowed Frontczak to travel all over the country.

“I want to show the human being behind the scientist – that they have kids, get sick and have a very human story,” the Colorado native said. “You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy it – there’s so much about Curie’s life that anyone would find interesting.”

Grayson founded ETOPiA last year after a strong push from both McCormick and the National Science Foundation to create programs that integrate the larger academic community and use both the right and left side of the scientist’s brain. The program is almost entirely run by Grayson, an electrical engineering professor with a background in theater.

“McCormick is trying to promote the idea of a ‘Renaissance Engineer’ – the idea that a creative mind makes an engineer strong,” Grayson said. “We want to make it not unusual for theater to be performed in a scientific building.”

Grayson said he received initial funding last year from McCormick’s Murphy Society for a performance of “Copenhagen,” a play about two Nobel Prize-winning scientists and the “moral quandary” of nuclear weapons. After a successful first year, the program was able to gain full funding for “Manya” from research initiatives within McCormick.

McCormick’s Assistant Director of Marketing Kyle Delaney said he has helped Grayson promote the program for the past two years.

“ETOPiA goes beyond what most people consider to be activities that happen at an engineering school,” he said. “We really want to talk more about how science impacts the larger community through outreach programs like this.”

Frontczak also finds this goal important.

“The survival of our planet depends on the average person realizing that we need science to keep us alive,” she said. “And if the average person is afraid of science, we need to change that.”

“Manya” premiered Thursday night and will run tonight and tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in Ryan Family Auditorium, followed by a question-and-answer session with the actress.

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