Stony Brook Theater professor Steve Marsh and a few theater students gathered around the podium in front of the Simons Center Auditorium. They were making final preparations for the staged reading of selections from Berthold Brecht’s play, “The Life of Galileo.”
The performance was the last event of the day for the conference celebrating the 450th anniversary of the birth of Galileo Galilei. The event was organized by Stony Brook University’s Center for Italian Studies.
The conference featured an array of lectures focused on Galileo’s achievements, from mathematics to poetry and music.
Marsh and the student actors existed the auditorium before house opened, as if this was a live production. People quickly filed into the auditorium in pairs of two or three and took their seats. The actors got the signal from the stage manager and walked soon after.
Before them, sat an audience of 32 in an auditorium that accommodated 252 people.
Of the 32 people in attendance, there were no more than eight students, including the reporter. The rest of audience made up of all the presenters, lecturers, organizers of the event and a handful of locals.
The low attendance did not discourage the actors. Instead, they displayed the type of professionalism that made the staged reading felt more like a full production.
There were props—a globe with a book hidden inside, stacks of paper, a geocentric model of the solar moderator introduced each scene and a slide-show projected on two screens served as the set.
The actors moved throughout the auditorium to create an interactive atmosphere in true Brechtian fashion.
For instance, in scene five—taken in a chamber in the Vatican—Pope Urban VIII hopelessly defends Galileo against a group of Inquisitors.
The Inquisitors stood on the stairs, surrounding the audience, whom were addressed by the Inquisitors as doctors, scholars and members of the church.
During the closing remarks to the audience, Mario B. Mignone, director of the Center for Italian Studies and organizer of the event, voiced his concern of the lack of student attendance.
“Where are the students? This is always the question that is raised; this is certainly a conference that should attract students because of these ideas and what Galileo stand for.”
“If you have an idea you believe in, you should stand for it and fight for it. I was trying to force some of my students to come, to even give them extra credits, I have a huge Italian class, more than 270 students, but few were here for half an hour or an hour,” Mignone said.
Mignone articulated that students should attend these events to stimulate and drive their curiosity.
Rev. George V. Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory and a presenter for the conference, praised the staged reading as “excellent and faithful to Brecht,” but found the lack of student attendance “disturbing.”
Jiaye Guo, Ph.D. candidate in structural biology, and Gen Ito, Ph.D. candidate in geological science, were two students who attended the conference.
They only heard of the event because of their friend who was a part of the staged reading.
“Weijian told me about it, only because of him I heard of it.” Guo said.
Weijian Wang is a graduate student at the Theater department and a technician for the staged reading.
Joe Adam, a graduate student in mathematics, saw a promotion post for the event in the Simons Center and came because of the promise of food and wine.
Usually, the presence of food and alcohol would draw a considerable audience, but at the end of the conference, the Simons Center staff had no choice but to throw out trays of barely touched fruits, crackers and cheeses along with glasses of red and white wine.