Seven years ago I read an article in Harpers magazine about the history of timekeeping. It read more like a thriller than a scientific document, and it gave me an idea. I approached a writer friend who was just starting to make a name for herself: Hannah Moscovitch. I asked if she was interested in a possible territory for a play: time, and how we humans, caught inside something so much bigger than ourselves, contend with it. Infinity began. This play was, from the beginning, collaborative and multi-disciplinary: involving dance, music and science. An initial and inspirational workshop was populated with brave souls: Lucy Rupert, Danielle Baskerville, Gord Rand, Colombe Demers, Kate Alton, Rebecca Picherack, and, of course, Hannah herself. During a several year hiatus, Hannah moved from “promising” to “masterful”, and since returning to Infinity, her ability to synthesize the offerings of the team has been astonishing. To both physicist Lee Smolin and composer Njo Kong Kie, we owe a tremendous debt. These are creative thinkers who contend with the mysteries of the universe in their own very different ways. Their work is embedded in Infinity. The whole team – choreographer, actors, designers and assistant directors – has contributed enormously to this unorthodox process. Like every play, Infinity is a collective effort made for collective consideration. The final step will now get to happen – with you.
I am deeply grateful to Hannah Moscovitch and Ross Manson for the opportunity to collaborate with them on bringing Hannah’s play Infinity to life. My contribution was small-the play was in close to final draft when they got in touch with me. In particular the character of Elliot, so uncomfortably close enough to many friends I’ve worked with in his disordered brilliance, was fully formed.
People have been doing science and making theatre since the ancient Greeks, if not much earlier. These are how we humans explore the realities we find ourselves immersed in-nature, on the one hand, and the social and imaginative worlds, on the other. Then and now, these were both on the forefront of knowledge which will frame our constructions of the future. But unlike the Greeks, our culture is fragmented and lacks a coherent vision of its future because the pioneers on the different frontiers of knowledge don’t often talk to each other. This is why the rare opportunities for scientists to collaborate with artists are so important for all of us.
There is a silly myth that theoretical physicists and mathematicians strive for an ideal of disembodied knowledge. The portraits Hannah paints of Elliot and Sarah Jean are closer to the truth; our search for knowledge is embodied in ordinary life and we soar and crash to the extent that our loves and commitments empower us.
My own route to the discovery of the reality of time was different from Elliot’s, but like his involved both scientific and personal discoveries. But if the journey was different, Hannah somehow captured how it felt, and for that I am in awe of her ability to decode and present before us the truths of life.
Hannah and Ross invited me to draft a scientific backstory for Elliot, and so I made his discoveries part of an alternate history that our generation might have been able to tell, had we more successfully realized our ambitions of the 1980’s and 90’s. What I learn from Hannah’s story is that, because time is real, it matters what we are able to contribute, to knowledge as well as to our families-in the one chance we get. The play is told by Sarah Jean because Hannah understands that it is always the next generation that gets to tell our story.
Lee Smolin, the renowned theoretical physicist, acted as the consulting physicist on Infinity. It would be hard to overestimate his influence. We have – with Lee’s permission – lifted ideas directly from his book, Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, and incorporated them into the text. Lee wrote an eight-page biography for Elliot (the theoretical-physicist character in Infinity) that I have used to shape the play, and he has collaborated with me on the writing of the physics in the piece, revising the text with me so as to better illuminate the ideas. I am infinitely grateful to him. Huge thanks are due to Ross Manson who commissioned this work and conceived of it with me, and who has profoundly influenced its meanings. Thanks also to Kate Alton, Paul Braunstein, Njo Kong Kie, Isabelle Ly, Mariel Marshall, Haley McGee, Rebecca Picherack, Teresa Pryzybylski, Amy Rutherford and Andréa Tyniec for their dramaturgy and beautiful work.