Playwright Ellen Denny grew up with stories of a scientist in the family. They were just regular family stories to her until one day, she dug deeper and discovered that her great-great-aunt Harriet was, in fact, Harriet Brooks, the first woman in Canada to be a practicing nuclear physicist, and the woman whose name is now borne by a 113-million-dollar research institute. Now, Ellen is bringing Harriet’s story – and symbolically, the stories of modern women in science – to life on the stage. I sat down with Emily Pettet, co-producer of Wonder, to learn more.
Born on July 2, 1876 in Exeter, Ontario, Harriet Brooks studied at McGill University and went on to become the first Canadian woman to work in nuclear physics. Though Harriet worked internationally, alongside the top physicists in the world, gender barriers forced her to leave science prematurely. Centred on Harriet’s life, Wonder bridges the science and theatre worlds together to create a story that rings true for professionals in today’s world of STEM.
Harriet’s story is relatable not just to women in nuclear, but to underrepresented people across all STEM fields, who have to fight for representation, consideration, and equality. Harriet had to choose between her family and her career, and the truth is that women around the world still face these choices, these doubts, these impositions on our bodies and lifestyles. “Society today continues to debate women’s bodies,” says Denny, “and women’s choices around marriage, motherhood, and pursuing a career.” Though Harriet lived over a century in the past, her experiences are still quite relevant today – says Director/Dramaturg Sarah Kitz, “the fact that it is set over a hundred years ago only shows how far we still have to go towards an equitable world.”
After a packed public reading in London, Ontario last spring, Wonder is heading into a development workshop in Toronto February 5-10th 2019 with Sarah Kitz as Director/ Dramaturg and Cara Spooner as Movement Dramaturg. The team is currently looking for sponsors and STEM field advisors who are interested in working together to bring this story to the stage. If you’re interested in funding this production, or are a scientist who wants to advise them with your industry perspective, reach out to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.