How does your play help connect the viewer to science?
Should one choose between science and art? According to Belén Pasqualini, there is no need to do so. The Ateneo Theater of the City of Knowledge recently opened its doors to welcome the Argentinian actress for “Christiane: a scientific bio-musical,” a one-woman show developed and performed by herself. The work is based on the life of Belén’s paternal grandmother, Christiane Dosne de Pasqualini, the first woman admitted to the National Academy of Medicine of Argentina, a scientific researcher of experimental medicine in leukemia and a disciple of the researcher and Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1947, Bernardo A. Houssay.
We spoke with Belén about the relationship between culture and science, the challenges women face in this arena, her life philosophy and her grandmother’s legacy. Why is it important to tell Christiane’s story? What is the timeless legacy of her life?
My grandmother is a peculiar human being. She represents all those who love what they do and who stood out in their field, yet she always maintained a relatively low profile despite receiving high recognition for her work. In 1995, for example, she received the UNIFEM-NOEL Award in recognition of her career, along with Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
But perhaps one of the most interesting things about her is that she is that kind of person who are moved by a very specific “love” for what they do; they can spend their lives “living” in it. [They are] people for whom the world can really pass them by and yet, for them, they’re in their best possible situation. My grandmother introduced that category of people in my life and I guess unconsciously, just from knowing her, whenever I meet someone in whom I recognize that trait, for me the connection happens automatically.
For instance, it’s not a coincidence that a great artistic godfather for me is Alberto Favero: he has that trait, of being able to abstract himself from everything. There may be a tornado outside, but he remains focused on his task and present in the moment. In addition, I think it’s contagious, which is very nice.
What can women in science learn from Christiane?
My grandmother is beyond feminism. She didn’t even know she was a feminist. Her mission was: “I want to do this and nothing and no one stands in my way.” She probably isn’t aware of the role model she is.
She can’t leave the house anymore, so I try to bring the world to her. To this day, I am still taking people home to interview her or talk to her and it is amazing how everyone leaves there inspired.
That love and dedication for her life and work… she still talks about it with joy, she is a someone who conveys a will to “do things.” In that sense, she is inspiring despite herself.
How do you think the musical you have created contributes to the discussion of women in science?
I suppose it’s a way of extending and diversifying the debate around that struggle, so that women become more recognized in science. It seems to me that talking about it through theater and music diversifies the languages through which this struggle is presented; it’s a way to continue contributing to helping that voice grow louder and louder.
I believe that Latin America has more tools to contribute to this debate than we really are using. The great cities of our continent have this internal struggle: they want to be globalized cities and look outwards, so much so that we rarely stop and ask ourselves, “what do we have to say?” I see it a lot in theater. However, this is changing, and it gives me joy to see that there are more and more “local-flavored” plays and works emerging, that aren’t just emulating foreign resources.
We have to continue with that effort, more so because I believe that Latin America is at the forefront of many artforms.Do you think that the challenges your grandmother had to face, remain today for women in a similar situation?
There is still some resistance, because there is more awareness of the issues and things can be discussed more. But now the conflict is perhaps subtler, its denial is implicit, tacit and maybe more “diplomatic.”
In my opinion, the struggle now is perhaps more complex because now it isn’t so obvious. Figuratively speaking, we have cleaned out the weeds; now there’s the fine-tuning left.
Does culture have a real role in bringing science closer to people in general?
I believe that culture has a fundamental role in bringing people closer to life. For some people, life passes them by. For me, it’s beyond approaching science to people; it’s about approaching everything, about making us vibrate, live. That is why it’s very strange to me that in certain countries culture always takes a backseat. I understand that there are priorities, such as nutrition and health, but culture is a great form of education that is often underestimated.
In my opinion, we absorb more culture than oxygen, without realizing it. Culture is important to disseminate science, but it is more important to help us connect, as a form of reflection.
I’m not saying us artists invented the wheel. There are many works of art about great science personalities – about Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and the list goes on. In fact, the more I explored the world of scientific theater to prepare for ‘Christiane,’ the more I saw how many scientific theater festivals there are. I’m not inventing anything new, just contributing to it.
How does your play then, help connect the viewer to science?
Above all, the play talks about a very human story, about love of life, about wanting one’s life, liking what you decide to do with your life. Also, it’s about trusting that the happier and more satisfied you are with the decisions you have made, the more ‘beautiful’ your farewell to life will be. My play is, after all, the story of someone who is currently preparing for that “last trip,” I am narrating the life of character, whose journey is close to the end.
I think it’s nice when the viewer can connect with the story, with the life of a person who does not want to die because she liked his life very much, and at the same time if death comes, she is at peace, because she lived as she wanted. That insight is universal and goes beyond science, music and a particular person’s life story.
Finally, how are you and your grandmother alike, and what do you think is the most valuable lesson of having played this role?
We both have downward-looking cheeks [laughs]. And we both are, unintentionally, a little selfish, I think, for investing so much time to ‘do our thing.’
I think my grandmother was more forward-looking than I am, I would have to ‘modernize’ a little more to reach her level.
You know, she loves a poem by Robert Frost, called “The Road Not Taken” and I think that her great teaching to me, comes from there. The poem talks about two paths in a forest, and a person choosing the least traveled one and that ends up making all the difference.
I say this not necessarily because I always have to choose the path less traveled – although it is something that I try to identify myself – but because it taught me to make sure the life I live, is one I chose. The play is full of those moments in my grandmother’s life, when her life path split in two and she made certain decisions.
The fact is that how aware we are of what happens in our lives has to do with the “road” we choose when making certain decisions. The more we know this, the more I think one can come closer to living life more fully