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Science on Stage

May 6, 2016

In addition to managing the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance, teaching graduate courses, and working on his own research, Department Chair Marcus Dilliard has been busy planning Energy & U. Energy & U is a semi-annual, specialized outreach program held by the College of Science & Engineering to excite elementary students about a future education and career in the sciences. The production, which initially began ten years ago, has since partnered with the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance to bring professional staging, lighting, and graphics to this spectacular event, giving Energy & U a new level of performance quality.

“We provide the visual and aural aspects including lighting design, audio, media, and stage technology to bring a professional theatrical level of production to each scientific demonstration that happens on stage,” says Dilliard.

Energy & U boasts explosions, flames, and bright flashes to educate audiences about different forms of energy—with audience participation as a focal point of the performance. The event has grown drastically since its inception, and will show to 13,000 students in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul communities each year. The event specifically aims to reach third to sixth grade students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the sciences—such as females, first-generation students, students of color, and students living in poverty—to show them the opportunities they can pursue in the sciences.

“I was drawn to becoming involved with the event because I’ve always had an interest in the sciences—I actually started out as an engineering and science major when I was an undergrad,” says Dilliard. “However, I was particularly drawn to the cause of the event. As a first generation college student myself, I resonated with the goal of showing underprivileged youth that there are opportunities that exist in the world that they haven’t been exposed to yet.”

Although professors from the sciences are the ones that are actually performing on stage, numerous members from the theatre arts & dance department had a hand in working on the production, including: lighting, audio/media and stage management supervisors, the media design faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students. From the theatrical side, planning for this event took about seven months. One of the more complicated tasks was to transition the show  from being held in Smith Hall, the chemistry building, to being held in Rarig Center, the theatre & dance building. Dilliard had to work closely with safety officers and fire marshals to ensure that the performance would be viable and safe for the public in this new setting.

“Having the show performed in Rarig not only expanded the capacity for the production to reach more students, but allowed for the enhancement of quality for the show with our  resources here in the building. Energy & U is an excellent example of interdisciplinary collaboration within the university to interact with the wider community,” says Dilliard.

For the first time Energy & U presented two free public performances in May at the Rarig Center. Both played to "sold out" crowds of interested families and community members,who responded with enthusiastic applause.   

“In addition to teaching these students about the sciences, we hope that this production shows them that there are so many opportunities to become involved with theatre outside of performance. Our department will definitely continue its partnership with the program to produce more shows and reach more students,” says Dilliard.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.