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Theater as science

MANILA, Philippines — Anton Juan, Philippine theater’s enfant terrible, uses polynomial equations in dance.

Simple enough, a poly (many) nomial (term) equation, like  5x+1, can be expressed using addition, subtraction and multiplication but not division.

Juan’s theater students easily relate to the numbers and letters, each tagged to  a movement, and memorize the equations (and the dance steps) better.

This way, science merges with the arts and humanities, the playwright-director said before the 17th Conference of the Science Council of Asia convened by the National Research Council of the Philippines and the Science Council of Japan.

As a plenary speaker last June, he observed that if research results are not shared with the public, they remain “secrets.” 

Speaking on bridging science, art and the humanities, he explained why shared knowledge matters. That’s because ignorance, he said, “will only hypnotize the brain into thinking the truth is a lie, and a lie is an alternative fact, and that what happened never happened, there were no massacres in the night... then there is no human value to knowledge.”

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He added: “when nothing is done, journalism is sensationalism, pornography.”

Juan said there are so many ways to merge humanities with the sciences: Darwin and realism; migration and performance ethnology as methods of research; eroticism, flamenco and fascism; the bubonic plague, madness and medical research of cures during the medieval ages; three dimensional animation and the concept of isolation in robotics; Frankenstein and imperialism.

Juan said performance is a source of information and human narratives that inspire the scientist into finding more meaning in research towards a humane development. He lamented  “the state of the frightening solitude” of the uncaring, insisting that the objective of research and science is human development.

“When human development is pursued for the good and benefit of the creators of development instead of the good of the community of human beings for whom the research is embarked on, then human development can become inhumane development.”

What becomes terrifying, Juan said, “is the recoiling moment when knowledge becomes a tool of indifference.”

Many times, he said, researches “are kept from the people” because they become commodities that are more profitable for researchers and owners of the research process.

“When scientific research ceases to find kinship in the humanities, then its action is to neglect making man healthy in mind and body... scientists who annihilate communication have lost their own metaphor,” said Juan who has a doctorate in semiotics – the study of signs and symbols in meaningful communication. “They have become literal and lazy of thought.”

Juan is a tenured full professor at the University of Notre Dame du Lac in Indiana and artistic director of its New Playwrights Workshop, Department of Film, Television and Theatre. In recognition of his contributions to the arts, he has been knighted twice by the French government, receiving the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1992 and the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de Merit in 2002.

He has taught at the Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts, University of the Philippines Diliman and Manila. He completed his PhD in Semiotics at the Kapodistrian and Panhellenic University of Athens. Formerly director-general of Dulaang UP, today he is also the artistic director of the Step of Angels Theatre which he co-founded in the East-West Arts Center in Athens.

Balbakwa is the pseudonym of a science reporter who once covered an eruption of Mt. Mayon for over a month.

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