The Social Dynamics of Biology

Theatre/biology major wins Class of ’21 Award for production focused on diversity and inclusion in science.

By Romel Hernandez | June 23, 2021

Eva Licht ’21 could not bring herself to choose between her passion for drama and her curiosity for science when picking a major. Fortunately she didn’t have to settle on one or the other, becoming the first Reedie to graduate with an interdisciplinary degree in theatre and biology.

In addition to logging long hours in the lab studying the cell cytoskeletons of fruit flies, Eva conceived and directed an original show as her senior thesis—a dramatic performance featuring a cast and crew of students (participating via Zoom) examining the social dynamics and sense of exclusion students struggle with in the sciences.

For her multifaceted efforts, Eva earned the illustrious Class of ’21 Awardcreated by members of the class of 1921 to honor “creative work of notable character, involving an unusual degree of initiative and spontaneity.”

“Eva’s larger goal is to use theatre (both the creation process of making it, and the chance to see it) as a way to express and share scientific ideas,” Associate Professor of Theatre Kate Bredeson wrote in nominating her for the honor. “Eva’s dedication to the intersection of science and theatre displays her innovation, and is the kind of thinking and creativity that the Class of ’21 Award celebrates.”

Marshaling a team of actors and other creative contributors, leading rehearsals, marketing the show, and then staging three live performances—all on Zoom due to COVID—underscored her “creativity, adaptability, and flexibility,” Prof. Bredeson wrote. 

Growing up in Colorado Springs Eva caught the theatre bug as a high school sophomore when she acted in a one-act play. She acted and directed in stage productions throughout high school, but maintained a wide range of interests, playing varsity tennis and excelling in academics, particularly biology and chemistry.

She first became involved with theatre on campus with the Reed Independent Performance Project (RIPP). Last year she co-directing a mainstage show that had to be completely re-conceived when COVID abruptly shut down campus, resulting in a well-received, zeitgeisty Zoom production of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds.

“At Reed, theatre is a relatively small department, but the positive side of that is that there are so many ways to get involved,” she says. “I have loved being able to act and stage-manage and direct.”

Eva also distinguished herself working in Associate Professor of Biology Derek Applewhite’s lab carrying out research on cell migration in fruit flies. When she hit on the idea of an interdisciplinary major she was required to submit a proposal, and was able to tap Applewhite and Bredeson as her senior thesis co-advisors.

Her senior thesis production, Rehearsing Reality: Forum Theatre for Science Accessibility, drew on techniques based on Brazilian “Theatre of the Oppressed,” a framework for exploring social questions through an improvised collaboration between performers and their audience. The piece staged, then restaged scenes dramatizing ways students can be made to feel excluded or included by peers and professors. 

Eva says, “The process showed me how theatre can be a powerful tool to respond to what’s going on in communities and in the world.”

Eva planned to work on a project combining theatre and public health over the summer after graduating, and she is keeping an open mind on future creative and career endeavors, whether they lead her to the lab or the stage.

Tags: Academics, Awards & Achievements, Cool Projects, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Editor's Picks, Performing Arts, Research, Thesis