Over the weekend, popular Yale performance groups A Different Drum and The Sphincter Troupe each held STEM-themed senior shows.
A Different Drum, a Yale dance company founded in 1996, held three performances of their show “Patent Pending” on Thursday and Friday at the ECA Arts Hall. Meanwhile, one night later and several blocks away, The Sphincter Troupe, an all-female sketch comedy group, performed in Davies Auditorium to a crowd of approximately 250 people. The show, entitled “Women in STEM,” featured jokes about everything from fitness cults to the upcoming election. Neither group’s performance was primarily about STEM, despite the titles. But group members interviewed commented on the interesting interplay between STEM and the performing arts that has emerged in recent years.
“There’s a lot of crossover between dancers and people who are mathematically minded because there is a lot of dancing that is really formulaic,” ADD artistic director Holly Taylor ’17 said.
There is a misconception that most dancers would be humanities majors because of the “left brain, right brain” dynamic, but many members of the group are STEM majors, Taylor said.
ADD’s performance included 16 dances, many of which were choreographed by the members themselves. The group primarily performs modern contemporary dance, Taylor said. In between the dancing were comedic interludes the group put together during tech week that relate to the theme of the show. This year’s theme was “Great Discoveries,” which included everything from the discovery of gravitational waves to the invention of leggings. The most important discovery the group highlighted, however, was their own founding in 1996.
“We wanted a theme that would tie in the fact that we were celebrating our 20th anniversary, so the ‘Great Discoveries’ theme stemmed from the ‘discovery’ of our group,” Taylor said.
The interludes alternated between nonsensical, educational and satirical. One notable skit recounted the story of Rosalind Franklin, the female scientist who did not receive the Nobel Prize along with her colleagues James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. The skit drew both cheers and laughs from the audience. The group is currently all-female, though there have been male members in the past. Taylor attributes the gender ratio to the culture of dance at a college level, where dancers do tend to be predominantly female.
On Saturday, The Sphincter Troupe’s STEM-themed performance was punctuated by raucous laughter at the group’s impressions, and snapping at their social commentary on race, gender and sexuality.
The location of the show, Davies Auditorium, a hall traditionally used for large STEM lectures and presentations, was no accident, group member Yuni Chang ’18 said. But aside from the location, and a humorous but lewd redefinition of the STEM acronym, the scope of the show did not focus too heavily on STEM.
The origins of the group are, as Sphincter troupe member Anna Piwowar ’18 says, “very mysterious.” Piwowar estimates that the group originally formed some time in the ’80s, and has recently increased in popularity. The group labels their brand of humor as unapologetic. Much of their sketch routine revolved around making biting critiques of Yale as an institution and society at large.
“What sets us apart from the other comedy groups at Yale is that we seek to have a little bit more insight into the culture of Yale and current events, and to increase discourse about serious things at the same time,” Piwowar said.
After her work on DNA, Rosalind Franklin led pioneering work on the polio and tobacco mosaic viruses.