Female Role Models: From the Stage to the Brain

From Marilyn Monroe’s iconic subway grate moment in the 1954 film The Seven Year Itch to Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” speech in 2016, women public figures have an immense — if at times unconscious — impact on people’s lives. A new theater production called The Female Role Model Project aims to unpack that influence in a scientifically-enhanced way.

In the show, actresses portray figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Obama, Melania Trump, and Kim Kardashian, blending those characters with their own experiences as women. But in a unique twist, they wear EEG headsets that display their brain signals to the audience. The point is to back up subjective experiences with something more objective — something more scientific — in order to consider how role models might actually transform the brain.

The cast of The Female Role Model Project poster
The Female Role Model Project

Professor Natalie Kacinik, a cognitive neuroscientist (Brooklyn College, The Graduate Center, CUNY), worked with creator Tjasa Ferme to add the production’s scientific component. “What we’re really trying to do with the show is to keep the artistic, theatrical quality while also conveying something that has this informational aspect to it,” she said in an interview.

Not only do the EEG headsets allow audiences to witness each actress’ signals in real time, but  musician and sound engineer Justin Mathews then transforms those signals into different frequencies and sound patterns, and multimedia artist and Brooklyn College Professor John Jannone converts them into a video design via a software program developed specifically for this project. The end result is a multi-sensory experience meant to increase people’s awareness about female representations, stereotypes, and the effect both have on the brain.

EEG reading produced by Emotiv headsets
EEG reading produced by Emotiv headsets

“It’s really hard to reduce bias — a lot of these things are so ingrained and automatic in us — so it’s hard to get rid of these preconceived notions we have,” Kacinik said. “At least by increasing awareness, I think that can be a vehicle for long-term change.”

The Female Role Model Project runs from Nov. 7 to Dec. 2 at 3LD Art & Technology Center in Manhattan. 

Explore This Work

The Female Role Model Project

“The Female Role Model Project”
“3LD Art & Technology Center”
“Transforma Theatre”

Work By
Natalie Kacinik (Assistant Professor, Psychology) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools
Brooklyn College
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
“Kim Kardashian and Feminine Identity” (GC News)
“Meet the Brains Behind ‘The Female Role Model Project'” (Clyde Fitch Report)
“‘The Female Role Model Project’: Review” (Plays to See)

Related Terms

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