When talented women embrace science, the result is a steady stream of joy and curiosity. We sat down with the Scirens, a new collaboration of actresses sharing their excitement for science and technology who advocate for their inclusion in the entertainment industry.
This spring, actress and writer Taryn O'Neill was inspired to solidify her position on the importance of actresses speaking out in support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In the conversation that followed, Scirens was born, a platform for actresses to spread their sense of wonder inspired by the world around us.
The Scirens with the Bad Astronomer during Comic Con.
The women behind Scirens are actresses united by a love for science and geekery. The core group is Taryn O'Neill, Tamara Krinsky and Christina Ochoa, joined by the addition of Gia Mora in July. Rileah Vanderbilt and Clare Grant were a part of the initial group, but have had to step back their activity to focus on other projects.
They took time out for an email interview, laying out their expanded mission purpose, and what they hope will happen next:
What is Scirens?
Scirens is a group of science enthusiastic actresses whose mission is to share and discuss science news, advocate for its literacy and inspire scientifically infused entertainment in all forms. The group consists of four core members: Taryn O'Neill, Christina Ochoa, Tamara Krinsky and Gia Mora.
The first meeting of the core Scirens.
We believe that by working together and taking advantage of social media platforms and our ability to create content, we can help to cultivate curiosity for science in the general public.
Why the name Scirens?
Initially the name of the group was "Actresses for STEM." Taryn had written a blog post about the need for increased science literacy in the general public and how actresses could be unexpected yet effective ambassadors for that. On Twitter, she mentioned several other actresses whom she thought would feel the same way, including Clare Grant and Rileah Vanderbilt, in addition to Krinsky and Ochoa. After tweeting back and forth a bit, we all got togetherand began brainstorming what might be possible. One of our original members, Rileah Vanderbilt, came up with the term "Scirens" – it's a play on the term "screen siren." It also suggests a "sirens' call" – we're just sounding the call for science. Plus, it's shorter than "Actresses for STEM," and every letter counts when you're on Twitter!
Gia hanging out with Einstein and his famous equations.
You were quite involved in live-Tweeting along with Cosmos. What inspired that? What sort of reactions did you receive? What was the most rewarding response? Do you miss it now the season is done?
The group came together a month before Cosmos began. Its upcoming release was probably one of our subconscious motivators, as we were all looking forward to the series. We are all active on social media and have seen how effective and exciting live tweeting can be for sports events and shows like Scandal and Game of Thrones. We thought that catalyzing an online conversation around Cosmos could be the perfect way to launch our group and reach out to the online community.
The reactions we received were incredibly positive. We chalk this up to the fact that our tweets came from a place of genuine passion. Our goal was to try to capture and tweet the meaningful, awe inspiring elements of each of the episodes – our abilities as actresses lend themselves to the emotional and the dramatic – and our tweets definitely had that DNA.
Christina with Bobak Ferdowsi during a tour of Jet Propulsion Laboratories.
Some of our favorite responses were that someone new had stumbled onto Cosmos because of one of our tweets, or that they were watching the show with their kids – motivating a new generation of curious, science-minded kids is important to us. And having the official Cosmos feed start following us and RTing us was definitely cool! The online community around the show was fantastic and grew every week. We definitely miss our Sunday nights with Neil deGrasse Tyson and the other Cosmos fans (though we won't mind trying to avoid all the Game of Thrones spoiler tweets!).
Note: Even before the premiere, Taryn was thinking about the impact Cosmos could have on inspiring content producers to see the value of science-inspired entertainment.
Tamara in a simulator at Space Camp.
As actresses, who are some of the female scientists you've been delighted to portray, or ones you wish you had a chance to play?
Tamara: I'm a bit obsessed with British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin. The data and images from her research were crucial in discovering the structure of DNA. Unfortunately, she passed away at the young age of 37.
I'd also love to play an astronaut.
Making friends at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
Taryn: Growing up I loved the portrayals of Diane Fossey and Ellie Arroway (Contact). I hope that a film adaptation of Hedy Lamarr hits the big screen one day. I wish I could say there was a scientist character that I've had the chance to play! But since I haven't, I'm in pre-production on a short I've written where my character is a quantum physicist… who later becomes an intergalactic astronaut.
So yes, I too would love to play an astronaut.
Christina: Lamarr, Sally Ride, Sylvia Earl, Henrietta Leavitt and…Galileo or Newton (Prosthetics go a long way now a days).
Gia: My grandfather used to call me Maria Mitchell, so I'd love to bring her story to the stage or screen. And Hedy Lamarr. Because who wouldn't want to help win World War II?
The Scirens Twitter presence has grown fast, acquiring followers and providing a steady stream of excitement about science. How would you describe the type of content on the Twitter stream? Logistically, how do you manage it? Does it have several authors/voices?
We tweet as organically as we can – by that we mean that whoever finds something that they especially like and think is interesting to a general audience will post it. We set daily goals and reevaluate weekly, and we try to make sure that there is a balance of news and info from different fields. If something can have an entertainment or storytelling angle we definitely highlight or comment on it.
Taryn reading New Scientist on the set of Granite Flats.
We're all pretty busy with our acting / writing work so if someone is shooting the rest of us will pick up the slack. You can usually tell who is tweeting – we don't try to merge into one voice, as we think one of the strengths of the group is the different viewpoints and energies we all bring to it. But we all have the same passion and intentions for Scirens, so hopefully the feed always comes across as enthusiastic and informative.
What's next for Scirens?
We are definitely entering into the next phase of Scirens. We just welcomed aboard Gia Mora to the group – she created and performs a show called Einstein's Girl and is a huge science enthusiast like the rest of us. We are developing a slate of shows that reflect our mandate of TV/Film/ New media entertainment infused with science storylines and characters – and hopefully influencing our industry contacts to do the same.
We will be at more science events like those we've previously attended such as the Intel ISEF and World Ocean Day Beach cleanup, and we attend a monthly Science Soiree that Christina hosts.
Note: You can keep up with upcoming events on the new Scieren's website calendar.
Taryn [left] and Christina [right] embrace applied oceanography at the beach.
We all support each other's individual science work – Christina has a site called Know Brainer, Tamara's blog Science Lush, Taryn her Sci Fi scripts and blog, and now Gia's stage show, Einstein's Girl.
Scirens makes perfect sense to me: If Angelina Jolie's public acknowledgement of breast cancer risk has led to an increase of medically-appropriate screening, why can't actresses use their celebrity to promote science and technology? In the few months since the group formed, their Twitter presence has grown rapidly as curators of science-friendly content and signal-boosting for neat discoveries in a variety of fields. Here's a sampling of their Tweets from the last few months: