Brave work

A darkened theater. Spotlights shine on five people -- a scientist, a dancer, a performance artist, a provost, a director. The topic under consideration: risk.

Part of the Brave New Works festival produced by the Playwriting Center of Theater Emory, this February forum honed in on the risks involved in the creative process, whether making a scientific discovery or exploring gender through art.

Emory chemist Dennis Liotta (pictured above) took such a risk when he departed from his comfortable niche in organic chemistry to try his hand at drug discovery. "I didn't have the baggage of knowing how things were traditionally done, so I tried new things," he says. That risk paid off with the development of Emtriva, the drug that took HIV/AIDS from being a certain death sentence to a chronic condition.

As a student in her native Amsterdam, Provost Claire Sterk was so curious about the lives of women in the Red Light District that she eventually pursued qualitative research on the relationship of prostitution and drug use. Her observations established for the first time the connections between female prostitution, the use of crack cocaine, and the AIDS epidemic -- and they so unsettled some in public health that the findings were aggressively challenged. "It is risky when you work outside of the mainstream," Sterk says, "but it does instill passion."

Choreographer and dancer Blake Beckham 01C regularly pushes herself "to inhabit the unknown, to stay with something and contend with it." One such contention is the critically acclaimed project, Threshold, in which dancers erect a two-story house made of cardboard, building tension between stability and fragility, juxtaposing the security of home with the material regularly used to pack lives and move.

Chi-Wang Yang, an integrated media artist at the California Institute of the Arts, defined risk as working outside his comfort zone by putting himself in collaboration with others whose ideas may be better than his own and by bringing together two disparate forms or ideas to intersect at a new creation.

Performance artist Scott Turner Schofield 02C spoke about the overwhelming need to tell his story. He pulls audiences into solo performances that explore transgender issues and difficult truths. In his Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps, he bares all literally, drawing on his body parts with lipstick, to talk about his decision to embrace a male identity. "Is it a risk when you don't have any other choice?" he asks.