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New play celebrates underrepresented people in scientific fields

“Young Nerds of Color,” a new play dedicated to uplifting the voices of BIPOC scientists, will run for five weeks from Feb. 17 to March 20, at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Young Nerds of Color" at the Central Square Theater
The poster of “Young Nerds of Color” hangs outside the Central Square Theater in Cambridge where it will be featured. The play, drawn from real-life interviews with scientists of underrepresented backgrounds, is dedicated to uplifting the voices of the BIPOC community and will run from Feb. 17 to March 20. JENNIFER SMALL/DFP STAFF

“The genesis of the play came from the questions — Why are there so few representations of BIPOC scientists on the American stage?” Melinda Lopez, arranger and playwright, said. “There are lots of great science plays, but you can’t think of many that featured black, brown, BIPOC, and AAPI scientists.”

The play draws from real-life interviews with scientists who come from underrepresented backgrounds.

“We started the process by offering opportunities for any scientists that identified as a person of color to talk to us. And over the period of several years, we spoke with over 60 scientists at every stage of their careers, and in every kind of field,” Lopez said.

While constructing the play’s narrative, Lopez discovered that the scientists she interviewed shared many similarities, including “dedication” and “joy and pride in their scientific work” — themes she used throughout the play.

“At some point in the process, I realized that I couldn’t create a fictional story that was as interesting as the real people,” Lopez said. “I decided that I wanted to curate and compose a piece based entirely on the real text of our interviews.”

The play’s message is also coupled with humor, she said.

“I want people to laugh and I want people to know the show is so powerful, but there’s also a lot of humor in it,” Lopez said. “There’ll be a lot of recognition of moments of humanity of all of these scientists that anyone will resonate with.”

When it comes to the societal impact of this play, Lopez said she wants underrepresented people thinking about pursuing a career in science to “feel seen.”

Des Bennett, the dramaturg of the play and the connectivity coordinator at the Central Square Theater, said they were involved in the interview process, transcription and arrangement of the play. Bennett said they were inspired to work on “Young Nerds of Color” because of their family’s long history in the scientific field.

“I’ve always been around people who have been curious about science,” Bennett said. “I didn’t see people of color in the sciences when I grew up, so I didn’t imagine that I could be one of those people.”

Kortney Adams, a cast member, said she hopes the play can bring support and inspiration to young people who are considering the STEM fields.

“I hope there’ll be some folks who find some validation in these stories and think ‘Oh my gosh, I’m not alone in my experience,’” she said.

Before becoming a professional actor and the education manager for the Central Square Theater, Adams was an environmental engineer.

“Even though I do not practice science anymore, I still have, you know, the random scientist inside the body of an artist,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in the places where art and science intersect.”

“Young Nerds of Color” features original music composed by Nona Hendryx. The play’s music has bridged the gap between science and the arts, said Bennet.

“The music has been really revolutionary for the play in terms of just adding that extra layer and adding that connection between the science in the play and the actors and their voices,” Bennett said.

Lopez is also a faculty member at the graduate playwriting program at Boston University and believes teaching has inspired her work.

“Teaching playwriting makes me a more interesting playwright,” Lopez said. “I learn so much from my students and I’m constantly exposed to new ways of thinking.”

She acknowledged that she can’t fit every narrative into the play, which was a major challenge for her during the writing process.

“We could do one every year for the next 25 years and we would not run out of fascinating stories,” Lopez said.

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