Creating Tesla’s Dream

Traveling Science Show Presenters from The Franklin Institute
A New Play Produced by The Franklin Institute for the 2019 Philadelphia Fringe Festival

Authored on

January 23, 2019
David Wrigley

Paul Taylor, the Creative Coach of Museum Programs at The Franklin Institute, and I are in the process (my favorite part of creating a new play) of crafting a world-premiere production about the 1894 Franklin Award-winning scientist -- and key figure in providing usable alternating current to power our homes, businesses, and industry -- Nikola Tesla.  This play will be performed during the 2019 Philadelphia FringeFestival this September 11-15.  Most of our collaborative work has been presented during The Franklin Institute’s monthly Science After Hours events in 20 to 30 minute one-act plays.  We have created live musicals about Ben Franklin and Carl Sagan; demo-filled prohibition-era bootlegger dramas; interactive, audience Mad-Lib-scripted and performed Hollywood films; immersive sex-ed classes; Wizarding Consortiums on Muggle Science; and press release extravaganzas featuring 4D Mario and Luigi -- just to name a few! We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to create a more robust, full-length, theatrical event that will be enjoyable, educational, and inspiring for people of all ages.  

As part of the Traveling Science Show team at The Franklin Institute, our primary responsibility is to present one or more of a dozen different science shows to audiences of 30 to 300 students at schools, libraries, community centers, camps, and other places that want a bit of The Franklin Institute’s educational and inspirational energy.  One of the shows we offer is titled Electricity, so it makes sense for us to continue teaching about electricity by focusing on the greatest electrical engineer of all time, Nikola Tesla.  We see a connection between the innovative discoveries and scientific curiosity of Benjamin Franklin and Nikola Tesla, and we think his life and legacy deserve a little more recognition -- even as his popularity and fame are on the rise again after several decades of obscurity.  

We are looking forward to creating a show that uses our practiced story-telling devices, along with the tools of awe and spectacle, to capture and provoke the imagination of our audiences.  The premise of our piece, as it stands right now, is that Nikola Tesla is preparing to visit The Franklin Institute -- which he did in 1893 when we were located at the Atwater Kent Building, now the home of the Philadelphia History Museum at 15 South 7th Street -- to deliver the lecture, “On Light and Other High Frequency Phenomena.” In this lecture, Tesla shows several of his spectacular experiments which awed the audiences of his day -- and will do so again for ours.  Act I of our play is presented in The Franklin Theater, where we gain an insight into the complex, restless mind of Nikola Tesla as he drifts into and out of dream-filled sleep; sometimes showing his hope for the future, other times drifting into nightmarish amalgamations of the many challenges and difficulties he faced in his lifetime.  From Act I, we venture up the Pendulum Stairs to Pepper Hall where guests will be invited to hear a lecture and see demonstrations from the renowned scientist, the illustrious Nikola Tesla!  From here, we enter a bit of historical fiction: Telsa’s lecture is interrupted and electrical chaos ensues.  Let’s leave it at that for now... 

Paul and I are hard at work.  We have read several biographies, watched a variety of documentaries, and conversed with Tesla enthusiasts from around the world.  My plan is to keep you abreast of our process with updates through this blog, so stay tuned as we dive deeper into our research, planning, budgeting, writing, auditioning, rehearsing, and presenting this world premiere production of Tesla’s Dream.  

Traveling Science Show Presenter David Wrigley in costume as William Penn

About the author

David Wrigley

David has been creating, directing, and performing science shows with The Franklin Institute since 2014.

At Muhlenberg College David studied pre-med Biology and Theatre while performing in at least one play a semester and singing in two choirs and an acapella group. After college David continued his theatre training and performances in the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia, and Chicago.