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Staging His Culminating Experience

As if his Dartmouth education were a complex equation in search of an elegant solution, Latif Nasser '08 applied for a Senior Fellowship looking for a way to bring together a range of interests as wide as the liberal arts curriculum itself. Advised by faculty from the departments of theater and of physics and astronomy, Nasser is writing a full-length play about the young Albert Einstein.

Group photo
From left: Avni Shah '07 (director), Latif Nasser '08 (playwright), Margaret Jacobs '08 (set designer), Jennifer Reiser '09 (lighting designer), and George Neptune '10 (actor) hold a discussion following a performance of Nasser's one-act play, Seedy. (photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

Nasser describes a path through "amazing courses with great professors" along his way to becoming a playwright. Astronomy 4, The Development of Astronomical Thought, which Nasser took with Professor of History Richard Kremer and Marcelo Gleiser, the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and professor of physics and astronomy, was one such experience. "Growing up, being taught 'science is science, solved and done'-and then encountering the idea that theories, explanations change-that was eye opening," Nasser recalls. The course also introduced him to Bertolt Brecht's play Galileo; Gleiser eventually became one of Nasser's Senior Fellowship advisors. Professor of Theater Peter Hackett '75, Nasser's other Senior Fellowship advisor, calls him "a sought-after actor" and a talented writer.

And, says Kremer, who also directed Nasser's work as a James O. Freedman Presidential Scholar, "Latif is an example of liberal arts in action." Kremer set Nasser to work on one of the antique scientific instruments the College owns, a reading machine from the 1930s, and challenged him to figure it out. "Latif reverse-engineered the machine, got it to work, and presented his results in a paper and a film at the 2007 meeting of the Scientific Instrument Commission," Kremer says. (The film is online at YouTube).

Ron Green and Latif Nasser
Professor Ron Green's (right) course on assisted reproduction was the inspiration for one of Nasser's plays. (photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

Nasser's roster of produced plays already includes The Star Chamber: A Cosmic Comic Tale, a one-act play that he took to theater festivals in the Midwest and Canada over his sophomore summer. Last summer saw The Oologist's Egg, which won the 2007 Eleanor Frost Playwriting Competition, produced on the College's Mainstage. Most recently, a group of his short plays was presented in December at the Warner Bentley Theater in the Hopkins Center. That show included a farce, Seedy, set in a dodgy reproductive medicine clinic. It was the offspring, as it were, of the College course Assisted Reproduction in the 21st Century, for which Ronald Green, the Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, professor of religion, and faculty director of the Dartmouth Ethics Institute, was one of Nasser's instructors. "Writing plays has become a way for me to think through the topics I study," Nasser says.

Released from course attendance and major requirements, Senior Fellows have the freedom to focus fully on their projects during their last year at college. For Nasser, that has meant time in libraries and in theaters, exploring archives and attending plays in Washington, D.C., New York, and elsewhere-and beginning to write. "Latif has a mature sense of what's good theater, of what's entertaining," says Hackett. "In Latif's play," Gleiser says, "the science will be accurate, but the heart of the play is looking at how Einstein-a very young Einstein, right out of school-had to fight the status quo, to say, as a scientist, to the scientific establishment, 'You're wrong.'"

The Senior Fellows program also requires that each fellow present the project to the Dartmouth community, which means there's another Nasser play to look forward to this spring. Anticipate a piece that plays with language while examining science and the human stories entwined with it.


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Last Updated: 5/30/08