Off Broadway: Science and Theater

A three-day festival features a collaboration between scientists and playwrights

| 30 Nov 2022 | 11:51

“American theater is too realistic,” according to Tjaša Ferme. “I want to create something I would like to see. Something that explores consciousness. That highlights many points of view, looking through the lens of science and seeing the overlap with the occult.” The goal is to design “a space where artists, scientists, and audiences can learn together, through and about the stories of extraordinary women.”

Ferme is the artistic director of Transforma Theater, and her aim is to transform the theatrical experience, making it more interactive. Slovenia born, New York based, her brainchild is the three-day Science in Theater Festival (December 9 - 11), taking the oil and water of science and theater, blending them through collaboration between scientists and playwrights, with science-inspired plays, presentations, and exploratory panels.

“Sans Me,” by Catalina Florescu, comes from a collaboration with neuroscientist Moran Cerf, who said the word “neuroscience” has become a gag punchline, as in: It’s not brain surgery or neuroscience.

Cerf hopes to invite people into his science, which is the study of the brain. “We want to understand people’s behavior and psychology, and we use the brain as a tool to understand and predict those,” he said. Through his research, Cerf wants to learn whether we can gain control of our dreams and whether we can learn to control our behavior through our dreams.

So Cerf is researching lucid dreams, which he defines as “a unique state of consciousness, during which you wake up while you’re dreaming. Basically,” he said, “you gain control over your dream. Instead of being a passive audience, you become director.”

The French Israeli American professor splits his time between New York’s Upper West Side and Chicago, where he is a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and the neuroscience program at Northwestern University (Evanston, Il). For some dozen years, he’s worked in Hollywood as a science consultant, making sure the science in a movie accurately reflects current research.

Theater is different, he said. “I talked to the playwright at length about my work. And then I told her to let her imagination take her where it would. The difference between science fiction and science is timing. Reality is science fiction five years later.”

Potential for Misuse

Sounds exciting, right? Imagine if bad habits could be cured or a language could be taught by tapping into someone’s dreams. Only what about the potential for misuse? It is immense, according to Cerf.

“Once we know what makes people tick, it’s possible to turn them into puppets,” he said. “You could be nudged in directions you might not want. Hostile actors could make you forget things you might not want to forget.”

It’s unlikely some foreign actor will turn us into puppets, Cerf said. More likely, there would be commercial uses. You might wake up and want to buy a particular product and not realize somebody has hacked into your brain. And, he said, we can’t win against these kinds of uses unless the government regulates them or groups are formed to fight them.

How concerned should we be? According to Cerf, this is definitely coming. In the meantime, he said, we can protect ourselves by learning more about this kind of research, funding those who are searching for solutions, and voting for candidates who want to protect us.

Cool Neuroscientists

As for the Festival, Cerf hopes audiences will be entertained and feel good coming out of the experience of the play. He wants us to discover that neuroscience is interesting and accessible, that we will learn something, and want to learn more. His hidden agenda? He admitted that he wants neuroscientists to be thought of as cool.

Home for the Festival is The Tank, a tiny arts presenter and producer on West 36th Street. The nonprofit’s mission is to help artists vault over the usual economic barriers. The Tank offers free rehearsal space and some marketing, general management and publicity, and front of house support, depending on what’s needed. An additional rehearsal space has just opened, free for presenting artists and at discounted prices for others. For audiences, ticket prices are kept affordable.

Want to produce something at The Tank? Some theater, dance, music, or comedy? The only requirement is that you have to have seen something at the venue. Send your ideas to

“Vatican Falls,” a recent production, was about clerical abuse survivors. Grammy nominated songwriter Ace Young traveled from Nashville to work in “Fig Jam,” author Frank J. Avella’s play. Young’s parents made the trip, too, and couldn’t have been prouder.

Johnny Lloyd is The Tank’s director of artistic development. “We do a thousand performances a year,” he said. “You will be surprised if you drop by, because each production is wildly different from the last thing you saw here.”

Science in Theater Festival: December 9 - 11

The Tank

312 West 36th St. NY 10018

“The difference between science fiction and science is timing. Reality is science fiction five years later.” Neuroscientist Moran Cerf