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Darwin Days 2010 Annual Celebration Held At Vassar 2/12


Darwin Days 2010 at Vassar College will focus on women in science, during the annual celebration that highlights the connection between science and the humanities. This spring there will be three solo dramatic readings about women scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries, whose inspired work changed the way the world viewed women and science. These three exemplars of their fields-Mary Anning, Maria Mitchell, and Rachel Carson-explored the earth, sky, and sea-the natural world around us and their discoveries continue to inspire and resonate today.

The dramatic readings will include Blue Lias: or the Fish Lizard's Whore, written and performed by alumna Claudia Stevens '69, about Mary Anning, a fossil hunter from the early 19th-century (February 12); Maria Mitchell: Self Portrait, celebrating the life and achievements of the astronomer and Vassar's first professor, written by Barbara Gibbins Duffy '51 and performed by Broadway, screen, and television star, alumna Frances Sternhagen '51 (3/1); and, on Earth Day (4/22), A Sense of Wonder, about the life and works of writer and passionate environmentalist Rachel Carson, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee.

The dramatic readings will be in addition to a series of events on Darwin's 201st birthday, February 12, 2010, that will feature presentations by Vassar faculty and students.
Last year was the first celebration of Darwin Days at the college and this year's events will continue to broaden communication between the science and non-science communities at Vassar.

All the programs are free and open to the public. The dramatic readings will begin at 7:00pm in the Martel Theater in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film. The Darwin birthday events will be held in the Aula (Ely Hall) from noon to 5:00pm on February 12. All events are general seating, first-come, first-served. No reservations are necessary.

About the Darwin Days Events at Vassar College
In celebration of Charles Darwin's 201st Birthday Year

Afternoon of Presentations
February 12 from 12:00 - 5:00pm
Ely Hall, Aula
The annual celebration will open with an afternoon of talks and presentations by Vassar College faculty and students, which will celebrate the arts and sciences. A tea will be hosted by students from Victorian Studies, who will use recipes from Mrs. Darwin's cookbook.

Dramatic Reading: Blue Lias: or the Fish Lizard's Whore
Written and performed by Claudia Stevens '69, with music composed by Allen Shearer
February 12 at 7:00pm
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Martel Theater
Written and performed by actress, playwright, and librettist Claudia Stevens '69, the dramatic work Blue Lias: or the Fish Lizard's Whore will tell the story of Mary Anning, a 19th-century British fossil hunter and paleontologist on Friday, February 12. According to Stevens, the inspiration for her play was the John Fowles novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, set in Fowles' and Anning's hometown of Lyme Regis. Fowles' unpublished monograph about Anning suggests she was the model for his heroine Sarah Woodruff.

Anning, sometimes credited with discovery of the first fossils of Ichthyosaurus, received little credit from England's male-dominated scientific community for her research during her lifetime. Through both a musical and dramatic performance, using letters and impressions of Anning by her contemporaries, Stevens enriches the depiction of complex and significant characters and issues in the history of science. She noted that she has used elements of Woodruff's character from the Fowles' for her depiction of Anning - as well drawing inspiration from the performance of Meryl Streep '71 in the film adaptation of The French Lieutenant's Woman. Vassar faculty member Lydia Murdoch, director of the Women's Studies Program and history professor, will give introductory remarks.

Trained as a pianist, singer, musicologist, and composer, Stevens is a visiting scholar in music at the College of William and Mary and has also taught at Williams College. As a pianist, she championed the music of Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, and Elliott Carter, through performances at Carnegie RecitAl Hall (New York Composers' Forum production) and other leading venues, and was the featured artist in several "Performance Today" broadcasts on National Public Radio. The music for Blue Lias was composed by Allen Shearer, the recipient of the Aaron Copland Award and residency, Prix de Rome, a Charles Ives scholarship, and several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, including one for his first opera, The Goddess.

Blue Lias had its official premiere in March 2007 at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. Subsequent performances have been held at colleges, universities, and museums of natural history, including Notre Dame University and Boston University. Now in its third performance season, Blue Lias continues to promote lively discussion around issues of gender, class, and religion in relation to science.

Dramatic Reading: Maria Mitchell: Self Portrait
Written by Barbara Gibbins Duffy '51 and performed by Frances Sternhagen '51
March 1 at 7:00pm
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Martel Theater

Noted actress and Vassar alumna Frances Sternhagen '51 will return to the stage of the Martel Theater on Monday, March 1, to breathe life into a depiction of Vassar's first professor, astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818-1889). Maria Mitchell: Self Portrait, written by Sternhagen's classmate Barbara Gibbins Duffy '51, has been performed just once before by Sternhagen on Nantucket Island.

During this reading, Sternhagen will celebrate the life and achievement of this groundbreaking scientist whose academic and professional home was found at Vassar College.

"My play is based on text drawn from the book, Maria Mitchell: A Life in Journals and Letters, that was edited by Henry Albers, and used with his permission. For 32 years he was Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College and occupied the Alumnae Maria Mitchell Chair," noted playwright Duffy. "Professor Albers died in March, 2009, and this reading is dedicated to his memory." She noted that additional material for the play was drawn from the Vassar College Archives and Special Collections Department and the Maria Mitchell Association Archives.

Matthew Vassar hired astronomer Mitchell for his new college and constructed an observatory for her, the first building completed on campus that is now a National Historic Landmark. Mitchell was highly regarded for her discovery in 1857 of what would become known worldwide as 'Miss Mitchell's Comet,' the result of systematically sweeping the Nantucket skies with her telescope each evening. For this discovery she received a gold medal from the King of Denmark and was elected into the membership of Boston's Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1847. The telescope she used while at Vassar is now a focal point of the collection of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Sternhagen, a familiar presence on stage, television, and film, may be most most familiar for her television roles as Bunny MacDougal (Trey's mother) in HBO's Sex and the City or Kyra Sedgwick's mother Willie Ray Johnson on The Closer (appearing with fellow Vassar alumnus Jon Tenney '84). She is also a familiar presence on stage, and has received two Tonys (nominated for five), two Obies, and two Drama Desks, and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and honored, in 2007, with the Helen Hayes Tribute. Last year, she was the recipient of the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College 2009 Distinguished Achievement Award.

Playwright Duffy is a 1951 graduate of Vassar and a summer resident of Nantucket Island, Maria Mitchell's birthplace.

Dramatic Reading: A Sense of Wonder
Written and performed by Kaiulani Lee
April 22 at 7:00pm
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Martel Theater

Kaiulani Lee will return to the Vassar campus to reprise her role as Rachel Carson on Earth Day, April 22, in the third performance of the dramatic series presented by Darwin Days and co-sponsored by the Vassar Greens. The program will be introduced by Vassar faculty member Erica Crespi, Biology, the Mary Clark Rockefeller Chair of Environmental Studies.

The story of one woman's love for the natural world and her fight to defend it, A Sense of Wonder is written and performed by Kaiulani Lee. The play provides an intimate glimpse into the life of Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring, alerted the world to the dangers of chemical pesticides. Carson is credited with launching the environmental movement for which she has been called "the patron saint." She was a marine biologist and zoologist as well as one of America's great poets of the natural world. In her earlier works she brought alive the beauty and the mystery of the seas and its creatures to millions of readers.

A Sense of Wonder has been touring the United States as well as Canada, England, and Italy for over ten years. Lee has performed the piece at regional and national conferences and at over 100 universities, dozens of high schools, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the Albert Schweitzer Conference at the United Nations, the Sierra Club Centennial in San Francisco, and the Department of the Interior 150th Anniversary Celebration. In addition, Lee opened the 2005 World Expo in Japan and in May 2007 performed the play on Capitol Hill, bringing Carson's voice once again to the halls of Congress. She created A Sense of Wonder with the help and guidance of Carson's friends and colleagues and with permission from the Rachel Carson Estate. In 2009, a version of the play was released as a film featuring Lee, and was screened at 175 cities across North America.

Kaiulani Lee has over 30 years of experience in theater, film, and television. She has starred in more than a dozen plays on and off-Broadway and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award on Broadway and has received an OBIE Award for outstanding achievement off-Broadway.

The Darwin Days dramatic readings are presented by the Darwin Days Committee, which consists of Vassar faculty and staff from disciplines all over campus and co-sponsored by the Drama Department. Funds for this series are provided by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations at Vassar should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. Directions to the Vassar campus are available at

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

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