An interdisciplinary project between astronomy and theatre

Undergraduate student Danni Wei, from the Department of Art at UC Riverside, created an experimental theatre play based on archeo-astronomical research on the cultural significance of the Orion nebula in ancient civilizations. It is designed to work as a public outreach tool to transmit ancient astronomy knowledge and link it to modern use. The project was supervised by Prof. Asher Hartman (Dept. of Arts, UCR), Dr. Mario De Leo and Prof. Gabriela Canalizo (Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, UCR), and was awarded funding through a National Science Foundation grant by Prof. Gillian Wilson (Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, UCR) and supported by the FIELDS Program (Prof. Bahram Mobasher, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, UCR).

The public performance of the theatre play Star Maps, Earth codes took place from December 5 to 9, 2015 at the Phyllis Gill Gallery, UC Riverside.

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Thesis abstract

by Danni Wei

The objective of this research-based creative activity is to formulate an experimental play that intersects fields of astronomy and art. My goal, in terms of audience reaction, is to provide: 1. A Sense of Wonder (emotional impact) 2. Opportunity for Involvement (physical impact) and 3. Information (intellectual impact) for my audience.

The play acts as a cross-cultural exploratory vehicle, utilized to make connections with the Universe by understanding how sky lore from various ancient civilizations reflect their ways of life. The main inquiry is whether or not I am able to appropriate archaeoastronomical data to create a viable, wondrous artwork for the modern day person to connect with, while conveying scientific information at the same time.

By researching peer-reviewed sources in both archaeoastronomy and art, I was able to come across an intersection—a few subjects of interest unbounded by cultures, religions, time, locations, and fields of study. The end result is the birth of a mixed media theatrical experience that envelops the singular Spectator with sky lore of the Orion constellation told across civilizations, animated by abstract puppets, lights, and sounds.

The puppet theatre structure, which was stationed at UC Riverside’s Phyllis Gill Gallery, was open by appointment only from December 5th to December 9th of 2015. The experience was designed for one spectator at a time; although, I allowed two people to enter together by requests. More than 40 spectators experienced the show, and from the end survey with 34 responses, I can conclude with a 96% level of confidence that the Spectator knew more about the Orion constellation after the play (from a scale of 1 to 5) between intervals 4.2 and 4.8. Furthermore, from comments and conversations, I can conclude that interdisciplinary artworks, such as Star Maps, Earth Codes, do have the capability to bring wonder, involvement, and knowledge to the contemporary person.


Resources for Star Maps, Earth Codes are publicly available under the Creative Commons License 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.

Bird-like characters peak on top of the dome-like theatre during a presentation of Star Maps, Earth Codes.