Arts Show

Singing unique stories of unsung female scientists

Singer-songwriter Naomi Ferguson (left) and writer-director Erin Harrington are bring women’s scientific achievements and song together in the production  Free Radicals . - PHOTO University of Canterbury

Singer-songwriter Naomi Ferguson (left) and writer-director Erin Harrington are bring women’s scientific achievements and song together in the production Free Radicals.
- PHOTO University of Canterbury

A unique new musical work will seamlessly meld STEM subjects with the Arts to focus the microscope on the lives, discoveries, work and achievements of unsung female scientists, in two shows in late August. 

In conjunction with Empress Theatre Collective and WORD Christchurch, UC Arts presents the world premiere of Free Radicals, a musical response to the often unsung achievements of women in science and technology, ranging from stargazers and mystics to mathematicians and inventors.

Free Radicals pays tribute to pioneering women from the Dark Ages to the present day, including Evelyn Boyd Granville, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Hildegard of Bingen, Maria Sybilla Merian, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Hedy Lamarr, Beatrice Tinsley and Rangituatahi Te Kanawa.

This evolving song cycle features the premieres of original works by several New Zealand Aotearoa female composers, songwriters and instrumentalists from a variety of genres. It features new works by Rosa Elliott, Naomi Ferguson, Glenda Keam, Misfit Mod, The Swan Sisters, Ariana Tikao and Sheree Waitoa.

Free Radicals’ director, writer and narrator Erin Harrington will guide the audience through the song cycle during several spoken interludes. 

“The performance will combine a spoken narrative with really diverse musical pieces, ranging from choral and ‘classical’ through to electronic to contemporary, and some lovely indie folk music, in languages including English, Latin and te reo Māori,” says Dr Harrington, who is a UC Arts lecturer in Cultural Studies.

“The connections between the works and the stories and ideas we’re exploring are going to surprise people. We want the audience to reflect on the nature of passion and stories and vision, as well as how and why the experiences and discoveries of these incredible women have been so consistently shuffled off to the sidelines. This also means using women from the past to reconsider how we should be thinking about the scientists of the present and future.”

Professional singer-songwriter Naomi Ferguson, who has written and will perform the premiere of a new work about UC graduate Beatrice Tinsley as part of Free Radicals, is also the show’s producer. She and Dr Harrington have worked together on a number of collaborative projects that combined theatrical and musical elements.

“There is something unique and amplifying about the inclusion of crafted musical elements in a theatrical setting. Free Radicals is the result of thinking of ways that we could further explore these exciting collaborations,” Ms Ferguson says.

“We are loosely terming this show a ‘curated song cycle’ as it is comprised of individual composers and songwriters each contributing one work around a common theme – women’s scientific achievements. We are pleased to be presenting a work of this nature in the year we celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

This event is proudly supported by the University of Canterbury Foundation and presented as part of WORD Christchurch Festival.

Free Radicals, 6pm-7pm on Wednesday, 29 August 2018 and Thursday, 30 August 2018, at the Recital Room, UC Arts at the Arts Centre, 3 Hereford St, Christchurch (If this will be your first time attending an event at UC Arts in the Arts Centre, this video will help). Tickets:  $30/$15, Register now