Blue Butterfly – The Catalyst Theater Company and Frontiers

Scene from Blue Butterfly. Photo courtesy of Catalyst Theatre Company

By Kate Gardner, Frontiers Editorial Project Specialist

At Frontiers, we are dedicated to open science. We share a common belief that peer-reviewed scientific literature should be freely accessible worldwide and researchers should be appreciated for their contributions to science as authors, editors and reviewers. Research should be collaborative and empowered to catalyze change for the greater good. In tandem with open science, researchers now share a greater responsibility to communicate their results in a comprehensible manner – particularly when sharing information beyond the usual experts in the field.

The Catalyst Theater Company, founded in 2012 at nearby University of Lausanne, is another manifestation of the open science movement. This group of scientists at UNIL and EPFL began practicing improv with the premise that brilliant ideas should be coupled with the ability to communicate them effectively. They have performed original and adapted plays including An Enemy of the People.

In 2014, The Catalyst received an Agora grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation. Agora funding is awarded to projects that communicate current Swiss-based research to the public. This generous support allowed the Catalyst to collaborate with international theater professionals who helped create a new piece of theater called Blue Butterfly.

During several experimental devising sessions, Richard Crane of Brighton Theater penned the script with members of The Catalyst. Ailin Conant of Théâtre Témoin in London directed the original production starring Dr. Adria Le Boeuf and Dr. Samuel Lagier. Professional set designers, lighting and projection technicians, illustrators and translators were coordinated from Los Angeles to Madrid to Geneva. The cast of fourteen consisted primarily of working young scientists who rehearsed for several months in the evenings and weekends after lab work.

A number of people working in the Frontiers Editorial office became deeply involved with Blue Butterfly by acting, French surtitling, building the set and greeting the audience. These “Blue Butterfly Enthusiasts” are fluttering around our offices. The program for the play even cites a paper published in Frontiers in Immunology: Tolerance in organ transplantation: from conventional immunosuppression to extracellular vesicles. 

The story is layered with scientific concepts including parasitism, cancer, and maternal-fetal immune tolerance. These concepts are beautifully intertwined with the story of parents who are under the enormous pressure of sustaining scientific careers and raising a child with emotional disturbances. For me, it raises many questions. Can science ever be entirely subjective? Are our findings simply what we want to believe? Viewing the play solidified my dedication to collaborative science, rational thought and reproducibility.

After performing for over 500 people last spring in Geneva and Lausanne, Blue Butterfly will return to La Grange de Dorigny October 1-3 at 8 pm each evening. For those who caught tickets for the first run, be ready for some surprises! In any case, it’s a play you probably need to see twice.

Tickets are available on the Blue Butterfly website, along with more information about the play and The Catalyst.