A new Minneapolis theater production aims to teach science with glow-in-the-dark puppets.
The show "Cellula," at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, dramatizes the process of cellular mitosis, which is how a cell divides. It's biology under blacklight.
A neon blue and green oval pops into view on a pitch-black stage. It looks like a donut with a green dot in the middle. The shape twists and turns through the air as singing rises and falls in the background. This is the show's main character, Cellula.
We learn that she's about to divide, through mitosis.
Again, this is a puppet show. The florescent shape on stage is a puppet, made out of bubble wrap and plastic, coated with fluorescent paint that glows under the blacklight.
Two puppeteers stand in plain view, invisible because they're dressed entirely in black. Live acapella singers provide the soundtrack. Playwright Shari Aronson does the narration.
"All right," she calls. "Let's magnify 400 times!"
The show simulates "zooming in" on the cell as it prepares to divide. A glowing, filmy circle appears.
"Cellula signals when she's ready," Aronson explains. "The DNA tells her how to copy the nucleus. And then she splits! One Cellula becomes two!
"Is it magic? No, it's mitosis!"
Offstage, Aronson said that she had tried to duplicate her own first experience of looking through a microscope with her mother, a biology teacher.
"A common thing that people look at under the microscope with students are planaria," she said. "They're flatworms, so they're multi-celled creatures, but they're microscopic ... I fell in love with my planarian and I named her Charlotte, and so that was my first pet."
She said the puppet show is for everybody. Even children too young to understand the science can get sort of a first look.
"So then when they encounter it again in school, they already have a base layer of interest and engagement," she said. "'Oh, yeah, I remember seeing that.'"
Spoiler alert: At the end, a towering blob of glowing pink and blue cells fills the stage. Scientists might call it a blastema — if it were several times smaller and on a slide in a lab, instead of on a stage in a puppet theater.
"Cellula" runs Friday through Sunday at In the Heart of the Beast and goes on tour later this year.