Playwright William Kovacsik didn’t want to create a dry lecture for graduate-level astronomy students.
In writing the original play “Vera Rubin: Bringing Darkness to Light” for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Kovacsik was tasked with presenting some pretty lofty scientific concepts to a casual audience. The show, commissioned two years ago as part of BETC’s “Star Power Series” collaboration with the Fiske Planetarium, was to explore the life and work of Vera Rubin, one of the 20th century’s most accomplished and influential astronomers.
Exploring the life of Rubin — who overcame overt sexism in her field to pioneer new ideas about gravity, dark matter and the very structure of the known universe — meant exploring some fairly complex scientific concepts. That the play was to be geared toward middle school students made the prospect of simplifying ideas of gravitational drag and visible matter a bit daunting.
Luckily, Kovacsik had a valuable tool at disposal in crafting a narrative that could appeal to scientific novices. The Fiske Planetarium’s state-of-the-art system would help him tell the story of Rubin’s insights into spiral galaxies, dark matter and gravity. These resources include a projector that can beam graphics at dimensions of 8,000 pixels by 8,000 pixels; the planetarium dome’s “star ball” can show up to 20 million stars on its 360-degree circular screen.
“Writing for this piece was a lot like writing for musical theater. With the live actors, you also have to incorporate room for the songs. Here, the animated sequences that we have on the dome are so essential to bringing these ideas to life,” said Kovacsik, an accomplished playwright and teacher who has written commissioned plays for BETC in the past. “Without visual aids, some of these concepts would be terribly dull for the audience.”
Two years after BETC and Fiske received a grant of $25,000 from the Boulder Arts Commission and other seed money for the project, Kovacsik and the rest of the crew involved in “Vera Rubin: Bringing Darkness to Light” is confident the show’s combination of dazzling technical effects and old-fashioned storytelling will make complicated scientific ideas approachable for audiences of all ages.