ST. CHARLES - John Gawlik understands that, to some people, particle physics and theater may seem to be polar opposites.
But as Gawlik sees it, that just opens greater opportunities for those who excel in each field to learn from each other.
And that is why Gawlik, artistic director for the St. Charles-based Fox Valley Repertory Theater, believes that great opportunities will open as a result of his theater company's newfound collaboration with Fermilab on one of the region's newest summer live theater events.
"We've seen the trend of plays that involve science gaining some steam recently," Gawlik said. "And we felt, with Fermilab here in the communities we serve, that we have a unique opportunity to really do something special."
Saturday, the Fox Valley Repertory began its second annual Collider New Play Project as part of the theater's Summer Theater Festival.
The three-week theater series will feature three staged readings of new plays, performed Saturday afternoons on July 7, 14 and 21 at the Repertory's theater at Pheasant Run Resort on the east side of St. Charles.
Each of the plays will be new works, written with scientific themes.
The plays performed were selected based on outlines and proposals submitted to Gawlik late last year and early this year. Once selected, playwrights are then partnered with scientists from Fermilab, who lend their particular expertise to allow the playwrights to more intelligently and more deeply incorporate science and scientific themes into their work.
Playwrights have about 3-5 months to complete a first draft of their play, suitable for a staged reading, Gawlik said.
Gawlik then selects professional directors for each play, and the directors cast the plays with professional actors.
Last year's inaugural Collider Project drew 15 submissions. This year, the project attracted more than 70 submissions, Gawlik said.
The 2012 series kicked off with a performance of "Quark," a new play by Evanston playwright Gloria Bond Clunie. The play focuseson a married couple - the wife is an astrophysicist and the husband, a kindergarten teacher - and their struggle to balance a desire to fly into space with a desire to alleviate human suffering, while also coping with personal tragedy.
The play was directed by Chuck Smith, a friend of Clunie's, who works as a resident director at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.
Clunie said the Collider Project was a natural fit for her play.
"I saw 'Collider,' and I saw 'Fermilab,' and 'theater,' and I said, 'This is where I need to be,'" Clunie said.
She was partnered with real-life physicist Elizabeth Buckley-Geer, who offered Clunie insight into physics, how the science works and the life of a physicist.
"This project expands one's heart, mind and soul," Clunie said. "When we expand our understanding of the wonders of the universe, we become more wonderful ourselves."
Smith said he believed projects like Collider are essential for the future of theater, as they help to "combine the arts and science" and help future generations understand both fields better.
"This is quite wonderful," he said. "It's one of the things that's sorely needed in society."
And Gawlik said projects like Collider allow Fox Valley Repertory to offer playwrights a venue for new work.
"Whether you're talking about a play, a musical or a symphony, someone had to give it that first shot," Gawlik said. "That's a big part of what this project is about."
Want to learn more about the Collider New Play Project? Visit the Fox Valley Repertory Theater website at www.foxvalleyrep.org/collider.