Skip navigation

Actors with agency: immersive science theatre and science identity

Actors with agency: immersive science theatre and science identity

Griffiths, Wyn and Keith, Lindsay ORCID: 0000-0002-5324-1719 (2022) Actors with agency: immersive science theatre and science identity. In: Weitkamp, Emma and Almeida, Carla, (eds.) Science and Theatre: Communicating Science and Technology with Performing Arts. Emerald Publishing Ltd., Bingley, UK, pp. 103-112. ISBN 978-1800436411; 978-1800436404; 978-1800436428 (doi:

PDF (Author's accepted chapter)
36333_KEITH_Actors_with_agency.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (252kB) | Preview


As a response to this research, the authors founded a novel annual science and arts festival (SMASHfestUK 2015 – present) as a platform for community action research exploring narrative-led approaches to enhancing science identity through ISL. SMASHfestUK was developed using co-design and co-production methodologies, with designers and producers working iteratively with audiences and stakeholders to increase the engagement of under-served audiences. Through a combination of the co-design process, and a literature search of the available evidence about developing science identity and building science capital, a set of principles was derived upon which the festival was designed (Keith & Griffiths, 2021). Although each festival comprises multiple events, including both drop-in and ticketed activities (such as plays, arts, crafts, comedy, interactive installations, games and exhibits), they are all linked by an overarching storyline of a fictional natural disaster set in the locale. Audiences are invited to help ‘save the world’ from these existential threats, putting them at the centre of the experience as people who have (or who can develop) agency to change the outcome of the disaster, and therefore change the future through science and arts-based interventions. A wide range of theatrical genres has been explored over iterative festivals, demonstrating deep engagements and providing opportunities to explore aspects of representation, community-context and complex interactions with STEM and society in meaningful frameworks. Theatre, narratives and, increasingly, immersive interactive experiences emerged as key drivers for inclusive engagement with evaluation results suggesting that the deeper the immersion in the storyline the greater the engagement of the audience. As the level of interaction and the personal agency within the production increased, the science identity of the audience was built or reinforced. As a direct result of the evidence, the event format was changed in 2019 (after four years) from a semi-immersive ‘festival’ into a fully immersive ‘experience’, Space Plague. The express intention of Space Plague is to immerse audiences within the storyline in a quest for narrative transportation, such that audiences would become so present within the immersive world as actors with the agency that even once the performance had ended, positive attitudinal and behavioural changes towards STEM subjects might be achieved (Green & Brock, 2002; Keith & Griffiths, 2020). In this chapter, we review barriers to ISL opportunities experienced by marginalised and underserved communities, and how the SMASHfestUK co-design-led approach successfully overcame them. We also explore the role of immersive experiences as a highly effective way of transforming attitudes and behaviours in real life and how the re-imagination of audiences as actors with the agency in an experience or performance can contextualise abstract STEM knowledge and processes, and may lead to narrative transportation (Griffiths & Keith, 2021; Keith & Griffiths, 2020, 2021).

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: .‘This AAM is provided for your own personal use only. It may not be used for resale, reprinting, systematic distribution, emailing, or for any other commercial purpose without the permission of the publisher’
Uncontrolled Keywords: immersive science theatre; science identity; SMASHfestUK
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Design (DES)
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2023 10:49

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics