Vikki Burns was one of this year’s FameLab UK finalists. In this film, she describes her experience of drying on stage during the final, and what happened next. It’s a terrific, brave, positive film, and I’m hugely impressed with Vikki for saying what she does here. If you’re an academic thinking about entering FameLab, or of taking part in Bright Club or Science Showoff or the like, watching this film might reassure you that audiences are lovely.
It’s worth watching right through, though, because in some ways the second half of the film is even more useful. It’s Vikki’s final piece from FameLab. Get past the inevitably-artificial feel of watching a performance crafted for a stage being delivered to the unblinking gaze of a video camera, and I think the piece is instructive.
In 3 minutes, Vikki describes the exploratory but compartmentalised nature of science, the role of cytokines in signalling, and the boundaries between illness, depression, and fat. With topical jokes. In a wetsuit. It’s a terrifically-judged piece of science storytelling – compelling, surprising, and comprehensible.
She wasn’t alone: the standard of FameLab finalists is tremendously high, and I think all of them this year delivered similar sorts of sophisticated, complex structures. At Bright Club and Science Showoff I’ve seen thoughtful, imaginative and challenging material delivered with flair and charm.
Why, then, do so many demo-based routines lift their gaze only as far as a simple explanation of the phenomenon?
Separately, I’ve been embroiled in a discussion about the risks of demo performers ripping off each others’ treatments. I have to say, I think the risk is overstated… but I also think it would be minimised by building routines which are more challenging to appropriate. More personal, more ambitious in their scope, and more tailored to the flow of the show in which they sit.