Pan narrans? . . . are we the storytelling ape?

image credit - Narrativium - transmedialab.org

A musical about food crime? …of all things!

The New Optimists is a forum of regional scientists from lots of disciplines, keen as anyone to make our world a better place — but with a perspective informed by their day job. They include top-notch people in fields as diverse as forensic linguistics and haematology, biofuels to analytical chemistry and mathematics.

Their work matters. Really matters. And The New Optimists is about getting their work, their informed perspective, in on decision-making.

But, and it’s a big BUT: They find each other’s work as difficult to wade through as the rest of us do.

Scientific endeavour is, by its very nature, information-dense. It’s about “How The World Really Works” — and that’s a load of information. And unless you’re heavily into the information-rich specifics of a particular scientific discipline, you’re lost. Yet . . . all animals, from the humblest amoeba to my friend’s guide dog, find their way around the overwhelming density of the information in the world around them.

We humans have a spectacular trick. Terry Pratchett points out in his 2002 popular science book/novel “The Science of Discworld II: The Globe” …in order for humans to understand anything it must be encapsulated in a story. In the fictional part of the book this is symbolised by the fictional element ‘narrativium’ (The most common element on the disc in Terry Pratchett’s Disc World universe). The science section suggests that, rather than Homo sapiens (Wise Man), we might be better described as Pan narrans (Storytelling Ape). We at New Optimists feel more like pan narrans than homo sapiens!

Hence The New Optimists set up the Narrativium Projects; this musical, “The Hand That Feeds: a musical about foodcrime” will be the second of our public performances. Crime is often a compelling component of a great story. Food crime, among other things, is an arms race between forensic scientists from many disciplines working for the good guys, working hard on your behalf to ensure our food supply network is unadulterated.

Others… the bad guys, work for organised criminals set to cheat us regardless of the consequences on us — the least that happens is that we’re cheated, the worst is that the food crime involves adulteration with lethal chemicals which make people ill or even kill.

So . . . Food Crime, the ‘story’ we want to tell, can be a chunk of ‘narrativium’. And it’s being further encapsulated in music because it’s a fun, catchy way of getting a serious message over.

Oh, and I like music, play a bit myself. I’ve used this madcap idea as a great excuse to commission a musical. And now I’m loving seeing the whole shebang take shape.

Kate CooperChief Narrativium Prospector at The New Optimists


“The Hand That Feeds – a musical about food crime” is being staged on the steps of St Martin’s in the Bullring, Birmingham city centre – Saturday 14th May at 12 noon and again at 2.30pm.

Narrativium III performance area

Performing here…

Those that register for #StopFoodCrime-fighter goodie bags can collect them before and after the performances.

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