Exploring science and intellectual pursuit in the theatre department

4 – minute read

Theater has long been a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue and exploration. Plays that endure often have a timeless relevance in their themes.


“The Life of Galileo,” by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, follows the life and struggles of the 17th century scientist Galileo Galilei as he challenges the prevailing beliefs of his time with his revolutionary discoveries about the cosmos. Directed by theatre professor Barry Cavin, the play opens April 12 and is the final TheatreLab production at Florida Gulf Coast University this school year.


Galileo’s support of Copernican heliocentrism, which theorized that the Earth moves around the Sun, clashed with religious and scientific orthodoxy of the time. The Catholic Church and other scientists opposed Galileo’s ideas, leading to his trial and conviction for heresy. Despite recanting his beliefs, Galileo spent his remaining years under house arrest, persisting in his pursuit of truth.

Cavin hopes his student cast and crew, as well as audiences, will draw parallels between Galileo’s struggle against oppression and contemporary societal challenges.


“The play still speaks to our current situation,” Cavin says. “Unfortunately, some still seek power and influence through the control of knowledge and the spread of ignorance. The work is a timely reminder of aspects of the human condition that must be constantly examined.”


According to Cavin, Brecht’s play, first produced in 1939, was written as a response to the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany and beyond. Brecht’s Galileo struggles against the powers of his day as he fights for the free dissemination of knowledge and truth. 

FGCU students performing “The Life of Galileo”
FGCU students performing “The Life of Galileo.”
FGCU students performing “The Life of Galileo”
Austin Stanley and Alexandra Adams in "The Life of Galileo."

The play offers Cavin’s cast and crew of FGCU students an opportunity to think critically about the intersections of science, art, religion and politics.


“These are fundamental societal organizing principles that students confront on a daily basis,” says Cavin. “They must be able to distinguish between observable, testable facts and the stories that are told to them by people who wish to manipulate them or sell them something.”


For 21st century university students, the play encourages reflection on contemporary issues of scientific inquiry, conflicts between knowledge and power, and ethical dilemmas faced by intellectuals. “These are life lessons that fall well into the scope of critical thinking,” Cavin says.

By experiencing the play in production, Cavin’s students also gain insight into Brecht’s unique approach to theater. Brecht advocated for a more dialectical approach to acting, in which actors consciously remind the audience that they are watching a play.


“We try to provide our students with opportunities to experience the full range of theater practice by producing every type of play known to the discipline within their time with us at FGCU,” Cavin says.


But why should 21st century students learn 20th century acting techniques?

FGCU students performing “The Life of Galileo”
Tatum Bates

“Students who make a career of theater will be doing plays that require techniques that derive from at least 2,000 years of theater practice,” Cavin says.


Last fall, he taught a course titled “Brechtian and Other Alienating Styles of Acting.” Many 20th century acting techniques offer versatile approaches to performance applicable across genres and styles. By learning these techniques, students develop a diverse skill set that prepares them for a range of acting opportunities.


Two theatre majors from Cavin’s fall class appear in “The Life of Galileo.”


Tatum Bates, a Colorado native who grew up in Fort Myers, plays Virginia, Galileo’s daughter, as well as the role of the planet Europa and a robber. She was seen last year in the titular role of TheatreLab’s “Hamlet” production.

FGCU students performing “The Life of Galileo”
Alexandra Adams
FGCU students performing theatre

She says Cavin’s Brechtian class taught her how to appreciate the distance between herself as a performer and the character she plays. She also engages with the audience in a way she hasn’t before: by looking at them.


“When we’re not the characters onstage, and instead are portraying the actors waiting for our cues offstage, we watch the audience to see how they’re reacting to the story. Usually, as a performer, you might occasionally look at the audience, but not anywhere near as much as we do in this show. I love the level of connection it’s bringing to the performance, and it’s fun to see everyone’s reactions in real time.”


Bradenton native Alexandra Adams plays Fulganzio in “The Life of Galileo,” as well as a robber and Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. From Cavin’s class to the current production, Adams has enjoyed the process of creating unique characters. “As an actor, I’ve always loved the opportunity to use big physicality and distinct voices, and this production has given me countless opportunities to do so,” she says.


“The Life of Galileo” can be seen April 12-21 at TheatreLab in the Arts Complex at FGCU. For showtimes and ticket information, check out the TheatreLab website.

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