By Geoff Hunt, ASBMB Today
On April 24, comedian Mike Abdelsayed will lead a team of improv professionals from One Group Mind to put on “Nothing Academic: A Night of Science-Themed Improv” at The Comedy Clubhouse in Chicago. The improv comedy show, which is sponsored by the Public Outreach Committee of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, will present an example of science communication in action.
The POC constantly is looking for innovative ways to engage ASBMB members in communication and outreach activities, so the idea for doing a science-themed improv event at the 2017 ASBMB Annual Meeting made sense, given the location. “One perk of attending the ASBMB annual meeting is getting the chance to explore a new city!” says POC member Niki Woitowich, a Chicago resident. “Chicago is the birthplace of improvisational comedy, and this event allows ASBMB meeting attendees to get a feel for the Windy City through its rich cultural scene.”
Another POC member, Teaster Baird Jr., adds that “using this medium makes science and scientists more accessible and real to the public.”
To help the ASBMB put on the “Nothing Academic” event and connect with comedian Abdelsayed and his team, the POC reached out to the Chicago Council on Science and Technology, known as C2ST. C2ST is a nonprofit STEM education group for adults with a long track record of running events in the Chicago area. C2ST Director of Programs and Public Relations Andrea Poet was immediately on board with the idea of a science-themed improv show. “We wanted to do something different than a traditional lecture, something that represented a fun way to communicate science,” she says.
Fun is one thing, but how does improv actually relate to science? As Abdelsayed sees it, science has “become a far more collaborative effort, one that requires communication with each other, teamwork.” That, he points out, “is what improvisation is. It’s essentially teamwork on steroids.”
For the POC, this improv event represents a perfect complement to the committee’s more formal science-communication efforts, which include themed training workshops and the online training course “The Art of Science Communication.”
So what can prospective attendees expect from the “Nothing Academic” event? According to Abdelsayed, improv players from The Comedy Clubhouse will use suggestions, based on science, from audience members to build a long-form improvisational piece around that topic. But, says Abdelsayed, given the unpredictable nature of improv, “we’ll probably (also) have some interactive stuff and mix it up a bit.”
The “Nothing Academic” event is part of a series of outreach activities organized by the POC at the ASBMB annual meeting that help bring science to the public. For Woitowich, these events represent an opportunity for scientists to take part in outreach activities. “We can have a significant impact on the cities we visit every year by providing programming both for our attendees as well as the local community,” she says.
Baird takes it a step further. “Given today’s political climate,” he says, “I think it’s even more important for us as scientists to get out in the general public to remind them, and ourselves, that we are citizens of humanity, just like them, who want to make our communities better.”