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A New Production Captures the Life and Spirit of Marie Curie

Marie Curie Museum/Susan Marie Frontczak
Marie Curie (on left) and Susan Marie Frontczak as Marie Curie (on right)

Ever since she was a girl, Susan Marie Frontczak's love of theater and of science have gone side-by-side.

"I was in my first play when I was 5, and I did math puzzles with my dad," she tells WCAI. "I produced things on his workbench. I produced my first play when I was 17. I was a founding member of a community theater in my 20s when I was working at Hewlett Packard as an engineer. So I've always had both sides of my life."

As an adult, she found she couldn't fit as much theater into her life as she wanted, so she took a one-year leave of absence from Hewlett Packard. 

"That was 21 years ago," she says.

She plunged deep into the life of Marie Curie, researching every aspect of her life and work, even traveling to France to turn the pages of Curie's notebooks.

"I had to sign a waiver because they're still radioactive," she says.

What she found was a figure so captivating, so inspiring, that she developed a one-woman performance representing Curie. She's still performing it some 14 years later. It is not so much a play about Curie as it is an embodiment of Marie Curie. She appears on stage in period dress, speaks with a slight Polish accent, and describes her experiments while holding equipment that Curie would have used. At the end, she takes questions from the audience while remaining in character. The performance is in the tradition of "living history." 

The audience learns that Curie was born in Poland, but was forced to study in secret there because women weren't allowed in the university. (Frontczak's family is also from Poland.) In Paris, Curie made scientific breakthroughs, including coining the term "radioactivity." She discovered two elements and her research was the foundation of a new treatment for cancer using radiation. 

Frontczak's interpretation of Marie Curie is so convincing that a photograph of her in costume has gone viral as an image of Marie Curie, and was even used on a stamp in the West African nation of Togo and one in Zambia, too. 

Now, a new video production by Jen Myronuk captures Frontczak's performance. The first test-screening of the film, "Humanity Needs Dreamers: A Visit With Marie Curie" will be on December 7 at MIT, hosted by Storycode Boston. Further distribution of the film production will come next year. 

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