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Abstract

This is a first attempt at a listing of plays and films about astronomers, and books and articles (many on the web) about these plays and about science drama in general. No claim is made for completeness and additional suggestions for plays or resources are most welcome. Contact: fraknoi@fhda.edu SPECIAL NOTE in 2019: An enlarged, updated version of this document can be found at: http://www.fraknoi.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Plays-and-Some-Films-about-Astronomers.pdf
Some Plays about Astronomers
A Listing by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College) (Nov. 2015)
© Copyright 2015 by Andrew Fraknoi; all rights reserved. Contact: fraknoi@fhda.edu
NOTE: This is a first attempt at a list of plays and films about astronomers. No claim is made for
completeness and additional suggestions are most welcome. (A list of astronomy operas is
included in my topical listing of music inspired by astronomy at:
http://dx.doi.org/10.3847/AER2009060 )
Gabridge, Patrick: Reading the Mind of God (a play about Johannes Kepler and Tycho
Brahe). The text can be found at: http://webs.wofford.edu/zidessb/Theatrefiles/reading%20the
%20mind%20of%20god.pdf
A synopsis and history of productions is at: http://www.gabridge.com/full-length-plays/reading-
the-mind-of-god/
Goldhaber, Judith & Pennypacker, Carl: Falling through a Hole in the Air (a musical play
about Stephen Hawking):
http://www.psyclops.com/hawking/ccsf_play/falling.shtml
(A song from the play is performed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXjwZIqJwos )
Gunderson, Lauren: Silent Sky (about astronomer Henrietta Leavitt):
https://sites.google.com/site/henriettasrhapsody/ and
http://news.discovery.com/space/astronomy/star-fiend-henrietta-leavitt-comes-to-life-on-stage-
110415.htm
For more about the dramatist: http://laurengunderson.com/
Gunderson, Lauren: Background (about Ralph Alpher and getting credit for the prediction of
the cosmic microwave background radiation.) The text of the play is available in the author’s
compilation Deepen the Mystery: Science and the South Onstage (2005, I Universe), which also
includes a short comic play about Isaac Newton.
Hoar, Stuart (a New Zealand playwright): Bright Star (a play about the work and life of
astronomer Beatrice Tinsley): http://www.brightstar-
theplay.com/web_documents/media_release__2_nov__brightstar-theplay__nz_hobbits.pdf and
http://www.playmarket.org.nz/playwrights/stuart-hoar and
http://www.remotegoat.co.uk/review_view.php?uid=6261
Hood, Kevin The Astronomer’s Garden (a play about John Flamsteed and Edmund Halley)
Printed version available: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Astronomers-Garden-Beached-
Theatrescripts-Modern/dp/0413650804
Hunter, Maureen The Transit of Venus (a play about Guillaume Le Gentil and the effect of his
travels on his loved ones). See: http://www.amazon.com/Transit-Venus-Scirocco-Maureen-
Hunter/dp/1897289138/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_of_Venus_(play) (The play
became an opera as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_of_Venus_(opera)
Kovacsik, William: Vera Rubin: Bringing the Dark to Light is a new two person play that
involves audio-visual effects on the dome of a planetarium; it had its premiere in Boulder’s Fiske
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Planetarium in 2015: http://betc.org/fiske-planetarium-boulder-ensemble-theatre-company-
collaboration
Littmann, Mark (an astronomer and popular book author) is writing plays about Caroline
Herschel and Halley and Newton: http://orionastronomy.wordpress.com/about/may-2012-
astronomy-for-the-theater-play-excerpts/
Lonergan, Kenneth: The Starry Messenger (about an astronomy instructor at the old Hayden
Planetarium on the eve of its being torn down, was staged in NY with Matthew Broderick):
http://variety.com/2009/legit/reviews/the-starry-messenger-1200477294/ or
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/theater/reviews/24starry.html?_r=0
Miyagawa, Chiori: Comet Hunter (about Caroline Herschel) See:
http://www.ttbook.org/book/chiori-miyagawa-and-jim-lattis-comet-hunter
Nicholas, Siobhán: Stella (another play about Caroline Herschel):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2012/may/14/play-astronomer-caroline-herschel and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nzf1wZNQhY
Pachino, Jamie: Splitting Infinity (a woman astrophysicist, a rabbi who has known her since
childhood, and her Christian Scientist post-doc explore the boundaries between science and
religion and the existence of God)
Study Guide:
http://www.sjrep.com/plays/archive/0809/splittinginfinity/splittinginfinity_sg.pdf
Playwright: http://www.jamiepachino.com/Home
Padamsee, Hassan Creation’s Birthday (a play about Hubble’s life and work). See:
http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/sites/default/files/pdf-
cache/pdf_views/pdf_1/fea9796589f0492d90997a322733c638/On%20stage%3A%20Hubble
%E2%80%99s%20contentious%20life%20and%20science.pdf or
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/creation-s-birthday-a-play-by-professor-hasan-padamsee-of-
cornell-university
Sobel, Dava (author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter) has written a play about
Copernicus called “And the Sun Stood Still”, which she discusses and includes in her book, A
More Perfect Heaven. For her discussion of how she came to write the play, see:
http://astrosociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/ab2011-83.pdf
Sparks, John & Alben, Russ The Smartest Man in the World (a musical about Albert
Einstein). See: http://www.curtainup.com/smartestmanla.html
____________________________________________________________________________
______
SOME MOVIES ABOUT ASTRONOMERS (a very incomplete list):
Addicted to Love. (Matthew Broderick plays an astronomer in this 1997 romantic comedy from
the U.S., but the astronomy is completely incidental):
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118556/plotsummary
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Contact (Jodi Foster plays Ellie Arroway, a radio astronomer based on Jill Tarter in this 1997
film): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contact_(1997_US_film)
Corpos Celestes (The Sky We Were Born Under) (A Brazilian film about an unhappy
astronomer with a complex past): http://www.barrio-latino.info/2011/05/27/metaphysical-
brazil/#more-732
The Heavenly Body (a 1944 comedy, where William Powell plays an astronomer whose
neglected wife, Hedy Lamarr, turns to an astrologer for advice about her romantic life)
Roxanne, a 1987 US film, that modernizes Cyrano de Bergerac, has Daryl Hannah as an
astronomer who comes to a small town to look at a comet. The astronomy is pretty incidental.
The Theory of Everything (2014 film in which Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing
Stephen Hawking)
____________________________________________________________________________
______
OLDER PLAYS:
Bertold Brecht’s Galileo. Brecht, B. Galileo. 1994, Grove Press reprint English edition. See also
the 1974 DVD of the filmed version directed by Joseph Losey, and starring Topol as Galileo,
available on King Video.
Barrie Stover’s The Lamp at Midnight (about Galileo)
Good News -- a 1927 musical, book: Laurence Schwab and B.G. DeSylva, lyrics: DeSylva and
Lew Brown, and music by Ray Henderson. In the 1920s at Tait College, football player Tom
Marlowe falls in love with Connie Lane, who is tutoring him so he can pass astronomy and be
eligible to play in the big game.
____________________________________________________________________________
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Some Relevant Articles:
Stoppard, T. "Playing with Science" in Engineering & Science (Caltech), Fall 1994, p. 3. The
brilliant playwright who uses science ideas regularly shares some of his thoughts.
Usher, P. "Shakespeare's Cosmic World View" in Mercury (the popular-level magazine of the
Astronomical Society of the Pacific), Jan/Feb. 1997, p. 20. Also see Peter Usher’s 2002
piece on the web at: http://www.shakespearedigges.org/ox2.htm
Physics in the plays of Tom Stoppard: http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2009/10/theater-for-
physics-fans-and-physics.html
For lists of plays about science in general, see such web sites as:
http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/search.php?go=yes&medium=pl&orderby=title
and
http://www.europlanet-eu.org/outreach/outreach-activities/11-archives/117-theatre-plays
and
Plays on Science: http://www.physics.princeton.edu/~trothman/plays_sci.html
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