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EST/Sloan Project Presents First Light Festival 2009

First Light Festival 2009 is a presentation of new works commissioned by the EST/Sloan Project, an initiative designed to stimulate artists to create credible and compelling work exploring the worlds of science and technology and to challenge the existing stereotypes of scientists and engineers in the popular imagination. Now in its eleventh season, The Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Project (Graeme Gillis, Program Director) program has received proposals now numbering in the hundreds, and EST/Sloan has commissioned some two hundred projects for development with grants ranging from $500 to $10,000. Each season the EST/Sloan Project commissions and develops new works, and presents the results, at various stages from first readings to fully mounted productions, in the FIRST LIGHT Festival.

Four new plays by Emily Levine, Anna Ziegler, Tommy Smith, and Ann Marie Healy will be featured in workshop productions in this year's festival. In addition, a new play by Jason Grote and a new musical by Matt Schatz will both respectively receive their debut reading.
All events take place at THE ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE 549 West 52nd Street (between 10th & 11th Avenues). Admission to all First Light events is a $10 suggested donation, unless otherwise indicated.

Reservations: 212/247-4982 ext 105 or visit E.S.T. online, at 

Ensemble Studio Theatre is a not-for-profit developmental theatre founded in 1972 with two primary goals: to nurture individual theatre artists, and to develop new American plays. Under the guidance of founder Curt Dempster, the theatre's membership grew from a core of 20 artists to a flourishing community of over 500 theatre artists of the highest caliber. Among them are winners of accolades and higher awards including Pulitzer Prizes, Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, and Obies. E.S.T. is a lifelong artistic home for its member playwrights, directors, actors, designers, technical personnel, and administrators. Each year, the Ensemble produces over 300 projects, including readings, staged readings, and fully produced mainstage full-lengths.

Five Easy Steps to Metaphysical Fitness: They Actually Work
by Emily Levine
Monday and Tuesday evenings at 7pm January 19th through March 3rd.

In "Five Easy Steps to Metaphysical Fitness", brainiac comedienne Levine takes her audience
on a hilarious ride through the paradigm shift: from Isaac Newton's rational, predictable law-and-orderly universe to the wildly improvisational universe of quantum physics, chaos theory and complexity theory. With examples from Obama's election to the National Enquirer, Levine tracks America - and the planet - through the same paradigm shift. Then she adds her own another paradigm shift: a rare and bizarre medical condition, with symptoms that oddly match those afflicting the U.S, forces Levine to put her Five Easy Steps to the test.

Photograph 51
by Anna Ziegler, Directed by Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director of Manhattan Theatre Club
Featuring Elizabeth Marvel
With Liam Craig, Michael Esper, Jeremy Shamos, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, and Alessandro Nivola
January 15th at 7pm only

Photograph 51 recounts the controversial story of how the X-ray diffraction images created by English biophysicist Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) provided the critical breakthrough James Watson and Francis Crick needed to develop their Nobel-prize-winning model of the DNA molecule in 1953. How much credit Franklin deserves for this discovery - and how the work of women scientists was treated - has roiled scientific circles ever since. Photograph 51 introduces the combustible mix of characters: Franklin, Watson, Crick, and their colleagues Maurice Wilkins, Raymond Gosling, and Don Caspar to recreate the events leading up to one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century - and in the process raising provocative questions about sexism, scientific collaboration, and ethical behavior.
Photograph 51 won the 2008 STAGE (Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration) International script competition for the best new play. The play was chosen by a panel of judges including Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner David Auburn; Tony, Olivier, and Obie Award-winner John Guare; Nobel Laureate in physics and KBE Sir Anthony Leggett; Pulitzer Prize-winner playwright David Lindsay-Abaire; and Nobel Laureate in physics Dr. Douglas Osheroff.

Beautiful Night
by Tommy Smith, directed by Evan Cabnet
featuring David Straithairn
January 23 at 7 PM only

Set in depression-era New York City, Beautiful Night follows the state-side exploits of Leon Theremin, Soviet inventor and grandfather of electronic music. When Theremin marries a whipsmart black prima ballerina, their expatriate romance shocks society and attracts the looming shadows of foreign terror.

Leave the Light On
by Ann Marie Healy, directed by Meredith McDonough
January 22 at 7pm

An intellectual adventure story that follows the life and work of renowned evolutionary biologist and scientific maverick Robert Trivers. Why do we ever help one another? Why do we lie, both to others and to ourselves? After Trivers cracks the code on the deepest evolutionary puzzle of our time, he abandons his research to live "off the grid" with Black Panther Huey Newton and a band of underground revolutionaries. Finally, Trivers comes to embrace the mystery of his own deeply contradictory and self-defeating impulses. Leave the Light On is the story of how a genius in the field of evolutionary biology learns how to survive in his own life.

Darwin's Challenge
by Jason Grote, directed by Eric Ting
January 16th at 7PM.

Darwin's Challenge sends up Social Darwinism and Reality TV as the young Charles Darwin finds himself zapped into the 21st-century Galapagos Islands -- the set of "Darwin's Challenge," a half-staged reality show that totally garbles and misuses his ideas.

Book, music and lyrics by Matt Schatz, directed by Jordan Young
January 29th at 7pm.

A blocked musical theater lyricist invents a piece of software to create "new" work from her dearly departed composer-collaborator and pass it off as their long lost masterpiece in this musical comedy about "Artificial Musical Intelligence" and genuine romantic stupidity.

Every year the First Light Festival concludes with Cabaret Scientifique, a variety show featuring performances by entertainers who incorporate science into their acts. Previous performers have included Noah Tarnow and The Big Quiz Thing (a quirky live version of Jeopardy), The Organ Donors and the Percodettes (a rock and hip-hop troupe who sing about the body), Charles Darwin as a lounge singer, a flea circus that reveals the biology of the flea, and more. Friday, January 23, 9 PM.

Suggested donation for each of the workshops and readings is $10. Cabaret Scientifique is FREE, on a first come, first served basis. Reservations strongly recommended.

The Ensemble Studio Theatre is located at 549 West 52nd Street (between 10th & 11th Avenues). For reservations and more information: call 212/247-4982, extension 105 or visit E.S.T. online, at


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