Project: Species on Stage

Spec Studio x Australian Museum

Species on Stage: Transformative Tales for Troubled Times is a collaboration between Spec Studio and the Australian Museum, led by Dr Zoë Sadokierski (School of Design, UTS) and Dr Jenny Newell (Manager, Climate Change Projects, AM). Ultimately, the collaboration will result in a series of playful and engaging multimodal stories which weave together scientific fact with creative storytelling, to encourage adult audiences to collectively imagine their part in a climate affected, but still liveable, world. Each story will focus on care and stewardship of one at-risk species at a time, for example flying foxes, booroolong frogs, cray weed, platypus, black throated finch, hawksbill turtles.

Each story is presented as a conversation between scientists, artists and researchers, framed in three acts:
1. GLOBAL — Problem framing: ecological significance of species, threats to survival.
2. LOCAL — Pathways for action: community conservation projects to join/support.
3. INDIVIDUAL — Inspiration: a story of one person's connection to the species.

In December 2021, we ran a one-week creative development workshop, focusing on bats. First Nations geographer Sara Kianga Judge, graphic storyteller Fionn McCabe, musician Laurence Pike and sound designer Martin Peralta collaborated with the team to come up with a one-hour live performance in front of a test audience. The event opened with a Welcome to Country by Nathan Sentance and a provocative introduction by Rebecca Huntely, and closed with a feedback session from the audience – Museum staff, scientists, design scholars and theatre producer/directors.

Above: Laurence drumming accompanying a slideshow of bats as they appear in art through history. Below: Nathan Sentance and Rebecca Huntley introduce the program.

ACT ONE: A global tale of pollination and persecution.
In which Jenny, Sara and Zoë discuss— why bats are better than koalas; how Bram Stoker ruined things for bats everywhere, and the curious case of the bat that fishes.

INTERLUDE: Leathery Little Saints
Live graphic storytelling by Fionn McCabe

ACT TWO: A tale of community care.
In which we discuss— why bats are not burritos, the battiness of human carers and how urban gardeners can be as fearsome as the climate crisis.

INTERLUDE: Live drawing
Zoë Sadokierski and Fionn McCabe draw specimens from the Australian Museum collection, annotated by writing from anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose, accompanied by musician Laurence Pike.

ACT THREE: Notes from the Field
In which we discuss— A tale of personal connection, how the upsidedownness of bats can be a transformative metaphor.