A fresh start with the arts

Turn off the treadmill and ditch the diets, says Nancy Groves, and look to these inspiring events for a restorative, nourishing beginning to the new year

It's a cliché of comedy, the reason people avoid the front row of a Frankie Boyle gig: "Who are you and what do you do?" The answer no one expects to hear is "I'm a neuroscientist", still less from one of the acts on the bill.

But this is Bright Club, the "thinking person's variety night", where instead of stand-up, you get scientists; instead of one-liners, the latest in cutting-edge academic research. It's also just one of many arts events seeking to inform as well as entertain its audience this month.

If your January goal is a healthy mind and body, why not ditch the diet in favour of something more nourishing – and twice as fun? "There's currently a thirst for learning we don't get from more traditional channels," says Ken Arnold, head of public events at the Wellcome Collection, a museum long dedicated to putting art and science in conversation with each other – and the general public. "We're excited by what we don't know and like to be stretched." Just not necessarily on a treadmill.

The problem, says Arnold, starts at school. "We're naturally multi-disciplinary beings, but we're taught not to muddy the waters. Our teacher tells us: 'Don't focus on the colour of the rainbow, focus on its wavelength.' As adults, we are able to relax a bit." A slice of science-and-culture cake not only feeds the brain, but helps us to understand ourselves better. "Medical science and artists are both exploring the same question, after all," says Arnold. "What it means to be human."

At a time when research and the cultural sector are both being forced to tighten their belts, it pays to club together. But what makes a good art and science hook-up? "When everyone brings something different to the party," says Arnold. "A long marriage between scientists and artists ends up producing dull happy families. I'm more excited about a one-night stand."

Happily, this is one habit that doesn't need to be taught, he says. However, we all learn best when we're having a good time. So for self-improvement with a scientific stamp of approval, simply match your new year's resolution to the perfect night out.

Learn something new at Bright Club

Evening classes are all very well, but wouldn't you rather be LOL-ing at Bright Club, where academics attempt to find the funny side of their work, tackling a different sticky topic each month in front of a live comedy audience? Next up: "Brains" on 18 January. Like all good gigs, it runs in the back of a pub – Clerkenwell's Wilmington Arms – but originated at University College London as a means of connecting researchers to the outside world.

How does a five-minute stand-up slot differ to an hour-long lecture? "Audience expectation," says organiser Dr Steve Cross, comedy aficionado and head of public engagement at UCL. "Students are in a formal education setting to learn, while people have no more reason to be here than to be entertained. You can't rely on an exam at the end to keep them listening." Cue lots of silly props.

Offshoot Bright Clubs have opened at Manchester's Nexus Art Café and Cardiff's 10 Feet Tall, while on 4 February, the London branch takes over the Bloomsbury Theatre to discuss nothing less than "Life", with guests including Peep Show's Isy Suttie and Chris Abram from UCL's Department of Scandinavian Studies. Every few months, audience members also get the chance to show and tell.

"You leave feeling you've seen a top quality comedy night and yet you can tell your mum you went to an interesting university event and learnt about astrophysics," says Cross. Everyone's a winner.

www.brightclub.wordpress.com

Sing your heart out at the Sage

If quitting cigarettes is the best thing you can do for your lungs, learning to sing comes a close second. The Sage in Gateshead hopes to give your vocal chords a workout with Join in and Sing, a day-long workshop on 8 January, culminating in an evening concert with the Northern Sinfonia.

The event grew out of last year's successful BBC project, Sing Hallelujah, which saw novice choirs across the country performing Handel's famous work. More than 800 people are expected to participate at the Sage this month, many of whom will be singing in public for the first time.

Glee this is not, with a deliberately challenging programme ranging from Handel's "Zadok the Priest" to "The Heavens are Telling" from Haydn's Creation. But as conductor Simon Fidler says: "There is something so indescribably satisfying about being part of a large choir that everyone should try it once. Singing decreases stress, improves posture and breathing, enhances concentration and boosts your confidence and self-esteem." You don't get that from a self-help book.

www.thesagegateshead.org

Get physical at Guest Projects

Most New Year fitness regimes are destined to fail anyway so head to Physical Center instead. What sounds like a gym is actually the latest show to take over artist Yinka Shonibare's Guest Projects in east London.

Until 28 February, the Regent's Canal warehouse turns adventure playground for 11 performance artists exploring new concepts in physicality, alongside a busy programme of film screenings and lectures on bio-science. Hear cardiothoracic surgeon Francis Wells (known for performing live surgery on Channel 4) discuss the human heart, then watch Kristin Sherman's Prop Prop, a live sculpture scrum featuring a real rugby team.

"You know that questioning phase people go through as teenagers?" says head curator Juliana Cerqueira Leite. "Well, I'm still in it. What if we could slow down time and fall in several different directions at once – what kind of form would we take?"

Leite was last seen burrowing naked through clay to create her three plaster-cast sculptures for the Saatchi Gallery's Newspeak II show. "I would like Physical Center to become just that," she says, "a centre where people can drop in and know there's something going on, something that will make them question how their own form dictates their experience of life."

www.physicalcenter.org

Go green at the Royal Court

Staying on top of eco-affairs can be tricky, particularly when it comes to the polarised debate on climate change. Now Richard Bean has written a play loosely based on last year's "Climategate" to help you.

The Heretic opens at the Royal Court on 4 February, starring Juliet Stevenson as Dr Diane Cassell, a leading Earth Sciences lecturer at odds with the orthodoxy over man-made climate change. Is global warming the new religion? asks Bean. "I'm a scientist," says Cassell. "I don't 'believe' in anything."

With James Fleet playing her head of faculty and singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn making his Royal Court debut as an inquisitive undergrad, The Heretic promises to deliver.

Theatre can bring science to life in ways journalism can only dream of, as plays such as Copenhagen and Arcadia have demonstrated. Simon Turley, resident writer at Theatrescience, says: "A good bit of theatre completes itself in the mind and body of the audience, not necessarily when the show ends, but an hour, a day, or even a week later." Which is longer lasting than your average New Year's Resolution.

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea