EMERGENCE: Things Are Not As They Seem

Prepare to enter a theoretical haze that will leave you inspired and awestruck.

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Dr. Russell Moul

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology.

Science Writer

Patrick Olson in a orange pick suit in front of a screen with earth and geometric shapes and singers. His arms are reaching out.

Patrick Olson: Emergence will be at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, New York, NY, USA, from October 10-January 7. 

Image courtesy of EMERGENCE

EMERGENCE is a new and deeply original performance that is hitting the New York stage this month, and it promises to be unlike anything audiences have experienced before. Is it a musical? No. Is it a rock concert? A Dance? A Monologue? A chemically induced psychedelic trip? It is all of these things and more. 

Join artist Patrick Olson as he blends music, spoken word, dance, and psychedelia to explore the dizzying point where science meets human experience, where we learn that, ultimately, things are not as they seem.


To be clear, EMERGENCE is a stage show that combines a variety of performance elements to tell its story. But it does so in a unique and deeply moving way that engages with modern science. Be it spoken word monologues, or music, dance, and large-scale immersive video images; each piece comes together to take audiences through a journey of (re)discovery.  

“So the show is broken into segments,” Olson explained to IFLScience. “In each segment there's a short talk, where I speak about something that is plainly familiar, plainly obvious in that we all have preset ideas about what that thing is – the color of a flower, for instance. And then we peel away the superficial perceptions that surround them.”

The aim is to make the familiar unfamiliar, the known unknown. As Olson added, we take “those understandings and learn that really underneath it, the universe is wildly mysterious”.

“We complement that then with lots of music and lots of immersive graphics, and performance art and dance. And I like to think the whole thing comes together to deliver sort of a new set of insights, a new sense of connection with spiritual feelings about the nature of the universe.”

This is perhaps one of the features that makes EMERGENCE stand out. The show mixes science and art to help us explore our relationship to the world around us and our place in the enormity of the universe. In that sense, it is a deeply human narrative that focuses on our lived experience of the world as it interacts with the theoretical models and perspectives that explain it.  

“I think it absolutely is centered around being human,” Olson explained. “And, we return to that a lot. It's not just oh, you know, here's an interesting feature of physics. Here's what happens inside of a black hole. I was trying to tie it to what does it mean to us in our daily experience and our sense of connection to the universe?” 

But ultimately, EMERGENCE is a fantastic way to enjoy and appreciate science. As Olson said, “it's also just really entertaining.” 

What can audiences expect to experience?

“I think I'll tell you what people tell me, rather than what my intentions are,” Olson explained. “What I see reflected back to me from people who come out of the show is a sense of connection, and disorientation combined. Which, normally, those things don't go together.” 

This complex interaction of connection in disorientation comes from that shared experience of familiarity turned on its head in a way that inspires awe. “I think this show is organized in a way where people feel a sense of communion and togetherness in connection with the performers, and also with their neighbors in the seats next to them because we're all connected in the same way. And yet, because we start with familiar things, and then reveal how different they really are – how things are not as they seem – there's this sense of what do you mean, objects don't have color?” 

Here, Olson is referring to the fact that an object on its own does not have a color as a specific quality of itself. Our perception of color – the greenness of a leaf, the blueness of the sky – is something that is created in our minds. Objects can interact with light in a certain way, in a specific way, but what we call color remains an invention of our psyche. Although this may seem simple, the knowledge of that fact and our experience of the rich, colorful world around us rarely meet at the same time. But when it does, Olson stresses, it can be unsettling.

“I mean, that's kind of an earthquake. If you really internalize that concept, and you realize that color comes from the wavelengths, the varied wavelengths in visible light, and without visible light, there is no color and objects have no inherent color, they only have surface properties. That's really profoundly disorienting. And we talk about that in the show, and we sing about it, and we dance about it.” 

I shall no longer play other people's music”

In many ways, EMERGENCE is the culmination of various threads that have run through Olson’s life. Having grown up among music – his mother was a piano teacher – Olson quickly learned that he wanted to do things his way.  

“I think I was eight years old when I magnanimously declared to my mother, 'I shall no longer play other people's music,'" he said. 

But in addition to all his artistic experiences, the most important step on the journey to EMERGENCE was his role as the founder of a publishing company that found its niche in scientific books within the educational market. This, he added, “brought me into contact with hundreds of scientists and they're just fascinating people. I so admire the discipline of their thinking, and I so admire the structures of their methodologies, and the organization of thought in their pursuit of truth, you know?” 

The scientists he met at this time helped to peel “away this paradigm of, you know, normal daily living and exposed me to the mysteries of the universe in ways that I feel incredibly fortunate to have had”. 

Not only did these individuals inspire his sense of wonder, they also helped advise Olson on the scientific ideas he wanted to explore through EMERGENCE.  

“I'm indebted to everybody in the show and our creative consultants. This was a team undertaking on all fronts in terms of the scientific verification of the concepts, the scientific ideas themselves, and how we deliver them." 

To hear a taster of Olson’s reverence for the wonders of the universe, check out and be on the lookout for the official cast recording coming soon to streaming services. 

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