Fall Major Production explores the ethics of genetic manipulation
The cast of Cas9 performs during a dress rehearsal Wednesday evening. This new play, presented by the School of the Arts and now on-stage at the Robinson Memorial Theater, addresses the ethical implications of modifying the human genome.
Genetic science will soon allow us to eradicate diseases and congenital conditions. But should we use this capability on humans? What genes, if any, should be erased from the human race?
These are just some of the questions being posed in CAS9, The School of the Arts’ Fall Major Production, which confronts important issues around genetic science and encourages reflection and dialogue in the McMaster community and beyond.
CAS9, which opens on Friday, November 11, on-stage at the Robinson Memorial Theatre, tells the story of a fictional McMaster lab director who is impatient with current legal restrictions that forbid using readily available technologies to modify the human genome to eliminate congenital conditions. Her convictions are challenged when a deaf friend asks for help to ensure that her baby will be born deaf.
The play’s title, CAS9, refers to Crispr cas9, a new genetic technology that allows researchers to edit out a single gene from a string of DNA and replace it with another. Currently it is illegal in Canada to use this technology on the human genome but the potential health benefits are so great that pressure is mounting to loosen this restriction.
For Assistant Professor Peter Cockett in the Theater and Film program, who scripted and also directs the production, Cas9 is the result of months of work.
“The show has been devised from scratch with students and it is remarkable to look back and think that in May we started with just an idea and now we are presenting a fully-realized production,” says Cockett. “The students have been performing at an extremely high level. The journey has been deeply rewarding.”
Cockett says CAS9 also included significant cross campus collaboration, saying “This has been one of the most satisfying productions for me here at Mac largely because it has involved such a wide range of collaborators from across campus and beyond. Every one of our collaborators has made a mark on the performance.”
Contributors to the production include Meredith Vanstone (Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics), Mat Savelli (Health, Aging & Society), and Claudia Emerson, Billie-Jo Hardy and Sam Sergeant (Program for Ethics & Policy for Innovation). The play was also put together in consultation with Jay Baltz (University of Ottawa, Faculty of Medicine) and Ubaka Ogbogu (Department of Law, University of Alberta). Catherine Joell MacKinnon also contributed as the team’s Deaf theatre consultant.
The production features deaf characters and American Sign Language (ASL) to English, and English to ASL translation has been incorporated throughout the performance.
CAS9 opens Friday at 8:00 p.m. in Robinson Memorial Theatre. Purchase tickets from the Compass Information Centre in McMaster’s Student Centre. Call 905-525-9140 ext. 21000, email email@example.com, or visit Compass in person.
Thursday 10th November, 8pm (Preview)
Friday 11th November, 8pm (Opening Night)*
Saturday 12th November, 8pm
Wednesday 16 November 8pm*
Thursday 17 November 8pm
Friday 18th November, 8pm
Saturday 19th November, 2pm (Matinee)
Saturday 19th November, 8pm
*These performances will have a pre-show and post-show talkback beginning at 7:30.