Lab Rats: Thespian Perspectives
July 10, 2013 by Zoe
Some scientists are up for giving a lecture in a sunny field – but only Guerilla Science has the gumption to build a maze in the middle of the Hell zone in Glastonbury’s Shangri La field and fill it with rat scientists. Lloyd Ryan-Thomas – one of half a dozen immaculate actors fit for the task – tells us what it was like to stage our bravest experiment yet…
Performing in Lab Rats was a unique experience most certainly. Glastonbury punters were largely very playful, delighted by finding themselves suddenly face-to-face with human size rats!
The afternoon crowds, by contrast, were delightfully mellow; they were full of smiles and willing to play. Kissed by ambient sunshine, the whole experience within the maze and cognitive testing area had an almost halcyon atmosphere. The more relaxed tempo meant we were able to more clearly bring out the story of the tests, the audience being much more clearly connected with the central premise, namely “am I dumber or smarter than a rat?”
For several hours after each performance I could feel a sensory revenant of rat mask on my skin; it was intense. When you put on one of these wonderfully crafted masks you immediately become aware of how you have to adapt your physicality. The eyes of the rat were set on the top of the mask. The gauze through which we could see was located beneath the nose, so in order to maintain the illusion of the rat one had to figure out a way of seeing without seeing: keeping the head angled down so as to keep the rat’s eyes on the audience.
You don’t want them thinking it’s just some human struggling to see through a mask!
They key to simulating a ratty physicality is to “be nosey”. The rat’s most important sensory apparatus are the olfactory system and the whiskers. Both are located, obviously, on the nose area. This was the point of first contact with the audience, plunging the snout into crevices and caressing faces with whiskers. Not really being able to see the majority of the punter’s body meant that we were running in a heightened mode. You had to gauge everything by fractions of sight and the sounds in the room; we worked with a number of aural cues so we’d know when it was time to wrap up the experience. It’s really quite wonderful to operate with that kind of restriction as you really do feel your senses and body becoming more, well, present to compensate for the sight deprivation. Your spacial awareness suffers a bit too in a rat mask. There were some collisions in the tight space, but that was easily spun into the whole thing of rats just having bad eyesight!
Overall, I’ll just say that I had a rat of a time! We all did, fascinating experience. Cheers Guerilla Science!
This project was generously supported by the Wellcome Trust.