Queen Director’s Message
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Where the bee sucks,
Neonicotinoid insecticides in a cowslip’s bell lie,
in fields purple with lavender,
yellow with rape,
and on the sunflower’s upturned face;
on land monotonous with cereals and grain,
sour in the soil,
sheathing the seed, systemic in the plants and crops,
the million acres to be ploughed,
seething in the orchards now,
under the blossom that hangs on the bough

by Carol Ann Duffy (former poet laureate of the UK)
From her book of poems, THE BEES

A few weeks ago when I spoke with Madhuri Shekar, our playwright, I asked her what inspired this play, and why bees…

She said she wanted to write a play about scientists. When she began writing this play, she was working on her MFA in playwrighting, and she was living with a student getting her PhD in organic chemistry. She was fascinated by the scientific community and its parallels to the theater world. She said that she observed that science, like the arts, is chronically undervalued. Scientists keep odd hours and work at all times of the day and night. Their friend groups are usually formed with those they work with and are a very tight knit group. They are very passionate about their work; they care deeply about what they do and spend a lot of their down time discussing it with their friends. Fundamentally undervalued and endlessly passionate.

I laughed in recognition at the similarities.

I asked her why bees, she said she actually tried writing about a different subject, but it wasn’t going anywhere and her scientist friends told her to write about bees, because “everybody loves bees.”

She went on to say that she had given herself a sort of prompt. One of her dearest friends is a fellow playwright and she wondered what would be the worst thing that could happen to this friendship and she answered, the worst thing would be if my friend said to me, you are not a writer. Madhuri took this community and this idea and spun it into this beautiful play. At the heart of this play is the friendship of two brilliant young scientists, Sanam and Ariel, who not only work together, but have become each other’s family. Like, in the words of Shakespeare:

We still have slept together,
Rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together,
And wheresoe’er we went, like Juno’s swans,
Still we went coupled and inseparable.

Sanam and Ariel have been working for six years to prove that neonicotinoid pesticides, made by Monsanto, are responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder. Very briefly, Colony Collapse Disorder is a name for the disappearance of bees. The bees don’t just die, they disappear. As they are about to reap the benefits of their rigorous study by publishing a career defining article, Sanam stumbles on an error in their calculations. We witness what happens to their friendship when they challenge each other’s professional and personal integrity standing on opposite sides of the philosophical question “does the end justify the means?” Do they compromise or stand firm on ethical scientific inquiry and watch the destruction of everything they’ve built together.

This play is delicate. The climax of the play sweeps over us not with the reds of rage and sadness, but rather the deep blues of isolation and uncertainty. It is quiet. Like the disappearance of the bees.

And along the way we learn about Colony Collapse Disorder and investigate other themes, some very present in the news today including:

• Confirmation bias – and how that now affects our national elections

• Scientific truth – how statistical models can be manipulated (for which both the presidents of Stanford and Harvard have recently resigned)
Class – how it affects all institutions

• Class – how it affects all institutions

• Expectations for women – juggling children, marriage, and career

• Expectations for South Asian immigrants in America

• One of my favorite themes: Math is sexy

• And as Vinita (founding artistic director of EnActe) so movingly mentioned to me, a play that celebrates South Asian women in science.

Madhuri is a South Asian writer and most of her plays gently examine the identity of the diaspora. We are hoping to honor and include the sound and texture of the South Asian diaspora here in America in our sound and costume design.

And finally, in essence, we are setting the play inside a honeycomb.  In some ways, the community of scientists is a hive of its own. Inside the hive they are studying the bees. We in turn study them. And we ourselves are faced with the question, what would we do? Do we stand up for the truth even if we could lose everything? And we watch how they work and eventually, as can happen in a hive, we see them smother the old queen to allow a new queen to emerge. In our play the queen is actually an idea. In some ways, we watch the process of the letting go of a cherished idea because we must admit it is no longer entirely true.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Shakespeare.

"For so work the honey bees, creatures, that by a rule in nature, teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom."

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