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Lopez, a celebrated Boston playwright whose recent work includes “Mr. Parent” and “Mala,” has also written science-focused plays such as “From Orchids to Octopi: An Evolutionary Love Story,” a Catalyst Collaborative project commissioned by the National Institutes of Health, and “Girl Meets Boy: A Comedy About the Universe.”
To develop the script for “Young Nerds of Color,” Lopez culled material from more than 60 interviews with newer and established scientists as well as students to weave a narrative that focuses on their lived experiences, both the difficult and the triumphant. Currently, the play features 10 of those stories.
Dawn M. Simmons, cofounder and artistic director of The Front Porch Arts Collective, is directing the upcoming performance. She places the scientists at a Zoom cocktail party where two older professionals, Claude Steele, a Stanford University psychology professor, and Sylvester James “Jim” Gates Jr., director of the Brown Theoretical Physics Center at Brown University, talk to a mix of younger people including chemical engineer Pauline Serrano, computational biologist Demarcus Briers, and epidemiologist Adrianne Gladden-Young.
Together, “they’re all reflecting on their journeys,” Simmons offered.
Presenting in Zoom comes with numerous constraints, but Simmons plans to focus on how the actors embodying real people will occupy space onscreen. The real-life challenges of Zoom gatherings — think people trying to talk while muted, eating onscreen, and more — will be reflected in the production.
Since its inception, the play has morphed from a story made up of composite characters, which Lopez felt was less successful, to the latest iteration. Along the way, C. Brandon Ogbunu, assistant professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, has read drafts of the scripts, made comments, and attended some of the readings, Lopez said. Ogbunu, an avid writer himself, was at that fateful lunch years ago.
So far, whittling down the material that Lopez gathered has proved challenging.
Ultimately, “you want a mix of pathos and comedy,” Wise shared, and “flights of fancy and down-to-earth stories.”
People who think like scientists Don’t accept everything without question poster
Many moving narratives gleaned from the interviews, some of which explored depression and extremely tough upbringings, didn’t make the play. Instead, Lopez leaned toward the uplifting and inspiring. She and dramaturg Des Bennett looked for common themes and what resonated most. Some recurring themes included micro-aggressions and feeling hypervisible, and yet invisible as a person of color in science.