Emory Report
November 2, 2009
Volume 62, Number 9

Evolution events
The campus is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species” with a range of events.

Top scholars from Emory and abroad will speak at “The Evolution of Brain, Mind and Culture” conference Nov. 12-13. For full details, visit the Center for Mind, Brain and Culture.

Primatologist Frans de Waal, whose research inspired the play “Hominid” will participate in a public Creativity Conversation on Nov. 15.

The exhibition “Origin” is ongoing at the Schatten Gallery, featuring early editions of Darwin’s book and art with an evolutionary theme.

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November 2, 2009
Chimpanzee drama inspires ‘Hominid’

By Hunter Hanger

On a small island in Holland, a modern day “Macbeth” unfolds as a beloved leader is overthrown and a utopian community is rocked by bloodshed and greed. The new play “Hominid” is based on actual events within a chimpanzee colony in a Holland zoo as documented by primatologist Frans de Waal, director of Living Links Center at Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

“Hominid” will be presented Nov. 12–22, in the Mary Gray Munroe Theater at the Dobbs University Center. Tickets (public $18; Emory employees $14; Emory students $6) can be purchased at 404-727-5050 or www.arts.emory.edu.

Playwright Ken Weitzman, Playwriting Center of Theater Emory Director Lisa Paulsen, and members of Atlanta’s Out Of Hand Theater were commissioned by the Playwrit-ing Center of Theater Emory through grants from the Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts and Emory’s Creativity: Art and Innovation to create a new evolution-themed work. The partners attended last year’s Evolution Revolution Symposium and developed an early incarnation of the new play for a reading during the concurrent Brave New Works and Evolving Arts festivals.

In the new, finished work “Hominid,” conspiracy, murder and suicide unfold in an intriguing real-life drama.
“The story was staring us in the face,” says Out of Hand co-founder and project director Ariel de Man ’98C. “We drew from Dr. de Waal’s very first book, ‘Chimpanzee Politics,’ and realized that this true story was far better than any story we could ever invent!”

The playwrights gained additional insights and ideas from de Waal’s other books and from Dutch documentarian Bert Haanstra’s film “The Family of Chimps.”

“The thing that compelled us most about de Waal’s work,” says Weitzman, “was his investigation into just how similar humans and apes are.”

As they structured the script and the concept, de Man says, “we filled ourselves with de Waal’s ideas. The need for hierarchy to maintain order, undeniable gender differences, the power of coalitions — traits that humans share with other great apes.”

De Man says the experience of partnering with a playwright and scientist was unique for her theater company, which historically developed new work predominantly through highly physical ensemble exploration.

Weitzman explains: “Out of Hand works in a very particular way, building a show from the beginning without a script, using a series of material generating exercises.”

This production is co-sponsored by the Emory College Program in Science and Society and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.