What is MAIZE?
MAIZE is a new play inspired by the real-life Barbara McClintock, whose Nobel-Prize-winning genetics research is still considered groundbreaking. She studied at Cornell University, here in Ithaca. She’s an inspiration for everyone who loves their work; for everyone who has struggled with their past selves; for women in science--and for every woman who is just a little too eccentric for her own good.
Our team plans to produce MAIZE here in Ithaca, in February/March of 2018, to tell her story to a wider audience.
Yes, McClintock is the subject of two biographies and several books for children. She’s on a stamp issued in 2005, and has been proposed for the US $10 bill. A lab at Cold Spring Harbor and a tool shed at Cornell University are named for her, as well as a street in Berlin. But she’s not a household word—yet. MAIZE will help that happen!
Here’s the story of the play:
- What turns a brilliant young scientist into an eccentric recluse? Faced with a threat to her work and her future, Barbara struggles against her past. A drama about how we can sabotage ourselves, and about the difficulty of being a feminist icon.
I have received a grant, from the Community Arts Partnership in Ithaca, to bring in a group of literary managers to discuss the process of developing a new play. Aoise Stratford, a playwright and visiting professor in Performing and Media Arts, will chair that discussion. She will also will host a discussion about women in science with a group of Cornell professors.
Any show is only as good as its people. Ithaca has a thriving theatre community, and the best actors, directors, designers and stage managers get snapped up quickly.
MAIZE requires five actors, as well as a director, set designer, costumer, stage manager, carpenter, and lighting designer. To make sure that this production has the best people, each member of the production team will be paid between $300 and $500 dollars. (which will come down to about 99 cents an hour, if you’re counting!)
We’ll borrow where we can. Here’s the vintage microscope from Georg Jander at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell, where they still study maize.
Other costs include rental of rehearsal and performance space, materials for construction and costumes, and publicity.
From Ithaca College, Ithaca Shakespeare Company, Running to Places, Hangar Theatre, Homecoming Players, Wolf’s Mouth Theatre Collective, The Cherry Artspace, and more!
- Judith Pratt, Playwright and Producer
- Amina Omari, Director
- Norm Johnson, Set Designer
- Liz Kitney, Costumer
- Lea Davis, Lighting Designer
- Ivy Lee Stevens, Stage Manager
- Dave Dietrich, Production Carpenter
- Carolyn Cadigan, Barbara
- A.J. Sage, Jim
- David Romm, Marcus
- Kate Klein, Young Barbara
- Sherron Brown, Nina
The story of the play
Barbara, a plant geneticist, is in love with her work, and with the maize she has studied for 60 years. Hating rules and authorities, she has spent most of that time at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. Jim Watson, the new lab director, tries to get Barbara to change—do cancer research with him, or just retire.
In 1951, Barbara gave a speech about the research that eventually led to her Nobel Prize. In her memories, as Young Barbara, she keeps revisiting this speech, struggling to be understood.
Barbara makes friends with Nina, who is studying the genetics of frogs. Enthralled with Barbara’s research, Nina changes to plant genetics, hoping that Barbara will work with her. But Barbara, grumpy about her feeling that no one ever listened to her discoveries, refuses.
When Barbara’s longtime, long-suffering friend Marcus confronts her about her refusal to work with Nina and the fact that she has stopped publishing, they fight, and the genial Marcus actually walks out.
Stunned by this desertion, Barbara connects with her younger self, realizes that she’s been letting her memories stop her from living, and agrees to work with Nina. Later, Nina helps Barbara prepare to receive her Nobel Prize. And Barbara talks about the pure joy of her research.
Risks and challenges
Producing a new script is much harder than producing a play that has been done often.
Will the script work? How much rewriting can the playwright do before the actors have to learn their lines?
Working with actors and a director is every playwright’s dream. They tell us where the words need work. An early read-through of the script (see the picture!) will allow time for rewrites.
Meanwhile, the director, producer, stage manager and designer are making detailed rehearsal plans, and are ready to be flexible when the script demands it.
Getting audiences for a new script is also difficult. They never heard of it. Is it worth their time and money?
We’ll market this on social media, and with the help of two Cornell groups: the Boyce Thompson Institute, which does research on maize, and the Cornell Botanic Gardens, where McClintock used to plant her maize. They’ll get the word out to Cornell scientists. So will our panel on women in science.
Finally, we plan to run on two weekends. Ithaca is a word-of-mouth town, full of busy people who will suddenly realize, after the first weekend, that they want to see MAIZE!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (31 days)