David Binder, Raisin in the Sun

What clearly set Raisin in the Sun apart was that it deals with a black American family not a white American family.

I acquired the rights for a Broadway revival and began the task of getting it started, which meant we needed a director. If you have a good director, you can get the stars, and the stars make the show happen. They also had to be African American. The problem is there were only two people in the world that fit this, first is George Wolf and the second was Mariam Clinton. We had, as they say, artistic differences. Being a producer is like being a magician, you have to create the illusion for everyone that everything is moving forward all the time. White people told me it’s a black play and black people won’t come to broadway, and black people tell me the play is dated.

There was not one other African American director who had major Broadway experience. Raisin not a performance piece, it’s very well laid out by Lorraine. Isn’t the theater where men potrayed women 400 years ago, or the color-blind casting of the 70s. At the core was that story. Wilson said, “I’m not carrying a banner for black directors, I decline a white director not on the basis of race, but on the basis of culture.” We’ve heard this story before when Spielberg directed A Color Purple. We’re seeing the same story played out in the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington D.C. Back to Raisin. It’s now four years: no star, no director, there’s a possibility I’ll lose the rights.

I took a risk on a regional director, who had exactly one minor New York credit. Sean P. Diddy Combs would be making his Broadway debut with us. Kenny led the cast both onstage and off, and sure enough the scenes that usually put audiences to sleep, were riveting. Each night when they got to those scenes got an ovation. Raisin would succeed in drawing huge numbers of African Americans to the theater, most performances wer 80% black.

Most memorable night for me was when Mohammad Ali came. I’ve never seen famous people get so excited about seeing another famous people. P. Diddy grabs a picture of him he had on his dresser to get him to sign it. I think about it and I try to figure out where that leaves us, I feel a great love for this play and a deep connection to it, and I think many do, when I was watching Milk last week I was so happy gay people had made that movie. But should only women direct movies about women, or Muslim people direct plays about Muslims? It was Kenny’s culture, not his race, that contributed to the success of the production amoung many other factors. If there was a black director that grew up in Beverly Hills, would he be as qualified as one from Chicago?

Lincoln theater will be doing the first major rivival of August Wilson’s play since his death. Ultimately in this age of ubercommunications, the theater somehow survives. The reason is that theater, like this, is ultimately about community. I want the communities to grow and evolve, and to this I think we have to tell each other stories, but sometimes to grow we need to really sit back and listen.

Bello Nock. Everybody Bellobrate!

bellorunning3Comic daredevil Bello Nock, star of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, was labeled by Time Magazine as “America’s Best Clown.”

Today we have the pleasure of having him on EG’s stage.

I have spent 35 years learning about life. I have hung by my toes in 30 degree weathers on a helicopter. I play 12 different musical instruments and speak 5 different languages. I have practiced and learned weird things. When I was 16 years old I jumped out of a helicopter with a ski rope and barefoot water skied away. I have performed all around the world, done a lot of crazy, weird things. Road a motorcycle on a tightrope, in a steel cage. I have done a lot of crazy, weird things.

But what I get asked most often: Is that your real hair? How do you do that? How do you sleep?

For 7 generations my family has been performing (on both sides of my family). I can date my family as performers back to 1772. I am a circus performer. I am a clown. I want to perform for you.

If you’re not here at EG to appreciate Bello and his great art – catch him on his Bellobration tour!

Alvy Ray Smith

You can find more about Alvy Ray Smith’s website here. Known for his work in computer graphics, he now has a second life as a genealogist.

Not going to talk about Pixar.I’d like to pay homage to the theory of computability. It’s the theory of how computers work and one of the great inventions of humankind. The Turing and post research invented this theory of computation and it underlies our entire world today. But it’s recent. What I like about computability because it’s tied to what makes life tick, and what makes art tick. Everything I’ve done is tied together with living things, art, and computation.

I learned about computation theory as a graduate student at Stanford and learned it through the form of celluer atonoma theory. It turns out you can do anything in computing with it. I wrote my thesis on self-reproducing machines. These organizations of patterns, each its own computer, would over time build a copy of themselves ad infinitum. Even though I had these theories, my biggest thrill was to get the cover of Scientific American. The game of life had just come out, and it was the most popular topic that Scientific American had ever published.

I had a whole career in celluer atomona theory that most people don’t know about. I broke my leg skiing and decided I wasn’t doing anything with my art and it was time to move on. I went to Xerox PARC and talked my way into its halls at its apex, to help out with Paint. Not going to talk about it because two great books are out: Droidmaker and The Pixar Touch. Decided to go to my “old man stack” where I would put all the ideas I had but that I was too busy doing movies or starting companies. One of these was to do a mathmatical theory and have it published in a mathmatical journal. It’s a complete generation of Napoleon’s therom. It took a year.

Second thing on the stack was digital photography, spent a  year, went to Africa.

Third thing, do my Mom’s genealogy. This is a picture of New Mexico. Our version of US History was Spanish, didn’t care about back east. Our heroes were Coronado, Devargas, then there were the Pueblos along the Rio Grande. One remnant of this time is the name Pixar which is a Spanish verb meaning to make pictures, of course it’s made up. Mom was turning 80 and I decided I wanted to do something really special for her, she had given me an old notebook from a great-Aunt from New Jersrey, I deciphered it and found that it mentioned the Revolutionary War in there. I wrote up a short book and gave it to my Mom for her 80th. I sent it off to a place in Boston called the New England Genealogy Society. Lucky for me the woman who read it, one of the fellows, I wrote her saying she made a mistake, she said I didn’t make a mistake but I have a theory or your problem, and wrote it up in the scholarly way. I got a free tutorial on how to do it right. The theory is wrong, their families didn’t intersect, but you can have my Word document.

Took the 8-page document and blew it out to 583 pages. Three mentors there, one in the Great Migration which is everybody who came from England to New England between 1620 and 1640. He’s 9 volumes into what he thinks will be a 20 volume series about that period. Long story short I wrote a book for Mom, and then I noticed Dad was a little jealous so I did a book for him, over 800 pages. Now have published over 3200 pages of scholarly genealogy. Each is a footnote in each book. As one of my mentors said, “You’ll get over it, it’s not really about you.”

The Y chromosone is passed down the male chain unchanged, mitocondria is passed down the female chain unchanged. Did a DNA-enhanced descent chart, I was able to derived what the DNA of the ancestor had to be. Next thing I’m doing is going back to a paper I wrote in 1984, I generate things you can think of as genes and turn into plants, they grow, flower. That was four or five orders of computation magnitude ago, now want to see what I can do.

Marc Pachter: Museum Guy

During an esteemed 33 year career Marc Pachter held various high-level positions at the Smithsonian Institute, most recently as Director of the National Portrait Gallery. On his exit, Marc did a collaboration ode to the Portrait Gallery with Stephen Colbert. See the video here.

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The National Portrait Gallery is the place dedicated to presenting great American lives – amazing people. We use portraiter as a way to deliver those lives, and that’s it.

What I want to talk about today is a program I started, the proudest thing I did. I started to worry about the fact that people don’t get their portraits anymore. So I created The Living Self-Portrait Series. It was my being a brush in hand for amazing people who I would interview.

I had two pre-conditions:  They be American. They needed to be people of a certain age: 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s.

Why did I do that? Well, we’re a youth-obsessed culture. So I wanted to sit at the feet of elders, to hear about them. It’s amazing for people to say they know how the story turned out. That’s the one thing they have. They know how the story of our lives turn out. It’s great to have an interviewee that can talk about all of those accidents; that can talk to the life narrative of how we get here.

I wanted interviews that were different. I wanted to be empathic – to feel what they wanted to say. To be an agent of their self-revelation. This was all done in public, 300 people sitting at the feet of this individual and me being the brush in their portrait.

One interview I did with Senator William Fulbright, the first time he’d appeared in public since his stroke, which was not severe but it had affected him. We had an hour-long conversation. Someone came up to me after and asked, “When did you become a doctor?” I wasn’t a doctor so I was confused. Her explanation: When he started the interview he paused mid-sentence, you gave him the bridge to complete his thoughts. And by the end he was speaking in full sentences – I was part of the process of pulling that out of him.

Who made a great interview? It had nothing to do with the quality of their intellect. It’s energy that creates extraordinary interviews and extraordinary lives.

The first person I interviewed was George Abbot, 97 years old and filled with the life force. We filled the room with that energy. He was famous for being silent, but he in fact ended up opening up. He subsequently got married again in 102.

After the interview I got a call from a woman who asked, “Did you really get George Abbot to talk?” Well, yeah, apparently I did. “I’m his old girlfriend and I could never do it.”

You want people to feel like they have a story worth sharing. The worst interview is with someone who is modest. Because all of these people are assembled to listen to them.

The worst: William L. Shirer, the journalist that covered the rise and fall of the Third Richt. He said everything was just coincidence, he happened to be in the right place at the right time. Awful. Interviewees have to think they did something and want to share it with you.

All of us are public and private beings. If all you are going to get is their public selves, it’s an infommercial.

The worst and best moment during this interview series. An extraordinary woman named Claire Booth Luce. She was a playwright, a Congresswoman, editor of Vanity Fair – one of the great phenomenal women of her day. She was not giving me a thing. When we were alone I was her audience. Now I’m her competitor. But eventually she proceeded to deliver the most remarkable performance. Elegant and respected, I’m much attracted to her life force (if not her politics).

Ask people the questions they are waiting their whole lives to be asked.

It was an amazing priviledge to do this series. The key point was empathy. Because everybody in their lives is really waiting to ask them questions so they can be truthful, to tell them about who they are and how they got there.

So I encourage you to be that way – not only for interviews, but for the members of your family and the friends in your lives.

Mike Rowe

We kick of the Work & Family evening session with the host of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel.

The castration process of lambs.

The Dirty Jobs crew & I were called into a little town in the Rockies. The job in question was sheep rancher. On the show I’m an apprentice and work with the people who do the jobs in question. My job is to keep up with the daily tasks of one day of their lives.

On this job, I realized that castration will be a part of this job. I rarely do research but this time I did. I called the Humane Society and said I’m going to castrate lambs, please tell me the deal. I was told they use a rubber band, applied to the tail tightly, another to the scrotum, tightly. A week later the blood flow stops and the parts in question fall off. I called the ASPCA to confirm it and they did. I called PETA and they confirmed it (though they didn’t like it).

On the day of, we started with our lead Albert, the crew and I follow. He grabs into his pocket and he pulls out what I thought would be a rubber band but he pulls out a … knife. He cuts the tail, then he cuts the scrotum. And then he puts his head toward the scrotum and I hear a slurping sound.

I’ve done something I’ve never done on a Dirty Job show. I said “CUT. We are not going to do it this way. We can’t do this. I want to do it the rubber band way.”

So I put the band on and it looked like the lamb was in pain. Doing it the PETA way means the lamb is distressed for a week until the balls fall off. Meanwhile the other lamb with the knife procedure is out eating and frolicking. I realized I was wrong. So I decide to do it the Rocky Mountain way. But there are 100 lambs in the barn. I felt like it was turning into a German porno.

Albert says push the scrotum up and the testicles come down, and then: “Bite it. Just bite them off.”

How did I get here?

But I did it.

After that shoot, Dirty Jobs didn’t changed – what the show is – but it changed for me personally.

I not only tell the story you just heard, and 190 like it but I also talk about what I got wrong. Some of the other notions I’d gotten wrong. People with dirty jobs are happier than many people I know. These are balanced people who do unthinkable work – roadkill workers whistle while they work. They have this amazing symmetry to their work.

Follow your passions. Follow your dreams and go for broke.

This is what we’re told growing up to achieve success.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but apparently if you follow your passions you can’t go wrong.

But that’s not the only way to go. Think of what other people are doing and go the other way. It’s not just following your passions, it’s doing jobs other people aren’t doing.

I started looking at efficiency vs. effectiveness. Teamwork vs. Determination. Platitudes that hang in fancy boardrooms, that stuff has all been turned on its head.

Safety. Safety first – what if OCHA got it wrong? What if it’s Safety third?

I value my safety on these jobs. But the ones who get it done are not out there thinking safety first. They think of the business of getting the job done. When I was working on The Deadliest Catch - most hazardous environment I’d ever seen. I’m 40-feet over the deck. I say with some level of incredulous to the captain and I say OCHA – and he says: Ocean

Captain says: Son, I’m the captain of a crab boat. My responsibility is not to get you home alive, it’s to get you home rich. If you want to get home alive, that’s on you.

What it all comes down to is this. I’ve formed a theory and it’s this: We’ve declared war on work on society. All of us. It’s a civil war, a cold war. We didn’t set out to do it but we’ve done it. We’ve waged this war on at least 4 fronts.

  1. Hollywood – the way we portray working people on TV, it’s horrible. Plumbers all have giant butt cracks and weigh 300 pounds. We turn working people into heroes on punchlines.
  2. Madison Avenue – what’s that message we put out there? Work 9-5 (or some semblance of that routine)
  3. Washington – I can’t even begin to talk about deals and possibilities of the ‘bottom line’ behind working jobs
  4. Silicon Valley – how many people have an iPhone, Blackberries. We are plugged in.

But innovation without immitation is a complete waste of time. We’ve got this new tool box. Our tools don’t look like shovels and picks. The collective effective of all of that has been the marginalization of lots and lots of jobs.

I dont know how may more of these [Dirty Jobs shows] we’ll do but we’ll do as many as we can.

I’ve got it wrong about a lot of things – so we’re thinking I’m thinking that the thing to do is a PR campaign for work – manual labor, skilled labor. Somebody needs to be out there about the forgotten benefits – grandfather stuff – the stuff we grew up with but lost.

Barack wants to create 200,000 jobs.

This war on work has impacted our infrastructure but it’s also declining technical schools. Fewer steam fitters, electricians… these guys are in decline.The jobs we hope to make and hope to create are not going to stick unless they are jobs we want.

Clean and Dirty are not opposites, they are two sides of the same coin.

Get back to work.

Tan Le: Emotiv Systems

Emotiv Systems presented by co-founder Tan Le, talks something amazing – brain wave technology that will change the virtual and 3D gaming experience.

Technical difficulties made us lose the transcription but you can find the latest details of the consumer mind-control headset in this month’s issue of Inc. magazine.

emotivDefinitely something to check out!

Update: We got the video so you can see this demonstration in its full glory.

Scott Kim, puzzle designer

Scott Kim’s website is at shufflebrain.com.

For the last 20 years I’ve been designing puzzles. Have done them for books, toys, computer games, puzzle column for Discover magazine.

A puzzle is a problem that is fun to solve (as opposed to everyday problems) and has a right answer (as opposed to a toy or game).

Puzzles are an art form. It’s a small form like a joke, poem, trick, or song, and the best ones are memorable. Shows the Vase/Profile.

Ambigram, going to feature heavily in next Dan Brown movie.

Rush Hour by Nob Yoshigahara, it’s a sliding block puzzle. I saw this idea and I wanted to make a sequel, it should have its own identity. Railroad Rush Hour, new square piece that can move both ways.

Dominate form of electronic gaming is casual (Bejeweled) and interactive (Rock Band). Second trend is mental fitness, games like Brain Age, Soduku. Third trend is social media, Facebook and Youtube.

First game is called Photograb. Next game will be called Wordstream.

Bran Ferren

Why do I love photography? Because it’s the intersection of my life with other people’s.

Through technology you capture those moments and assemble them. We see remarkable photographers doing important things for the world.

I’m not that deep. On a scale of 1-2 I’m a one when it comes to deepness. I just like to make beautiful images I like to make pictures of things that are personal that intersects with other people’s moments in time. That’s the beauty of photography – it can be deep, or just be pretty.

Art has been around me my entire life. I’ve always been good at technical things. Why am I not a painter? Because both my parents are – a pretty good reason not to do something.

They gave me great gifts. They dragged me kicking and screaming around the world when I was young. I got to see the great wonders of the world, most things I did not care about at the time. I was looking at the TV antennas while my dad tried to teach me about world architecture and culture. Why? Because the job of kids is to break their parents heart. And that was me.

The pantheon is a great building. The interesting moment for me was coming into this place, waiting to see something, I looked around a bit at a cylindrical building – big and ugly. But visiting this launched my various careers. It never occurred to me that people were smart 2,000 years ago.

They teach you when you are a kid not wanting to learn about architecture that there’s a concept of the arch. In the cathedral business, size matters. We were only able to build things X wide due to a material issue. Modern engineering helped us create the cathedrals we see today.

The dome of the Pantheon is made with light-weight concrete – 2,000 years ago – who knew to use that?

It’s a beautiful building, a shaft of light – the first time I saw light as sculpture. It hadn’t occurred to me that without light, if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. This is what got me interested in lighting design.

The building is cool – natural air conditioning. The hole in the middle – rain comes in, ok, put in a drain… 2,000 years ago.

You look at this building and one thing after the other, people were smart. Light matters, different colors are illuminated as light comes through – forced perspective.

Innovation is pretty easy, getting things built and done is much harder. Compelling and powerful ideas can reach forward in time … and touch a little kid and get then interested.

With that as background: one of the great things about photography is the ability to reach forward in time. I shoot “timeless images.” They happen not to show the time they were shot. Most of the innovations of photography have been designed to make it cheaper, more portable.

I can care less about digital vs. analogue. I shoot in both. Through the miracle of Photoshop (thank you very much) – This whole concept of is it film, is it this or that? It’s boring. As an artist you use the tools you’ve got. I want transparency, I don’t want technology to put it’s fingerprint on the images I do.

What’s the point of all this?

This is the hardware side of my life. The different between the emotional resolution of an image whereby a cinematographer, taking the performance of a million dollar camera down to the quality of a disposal camera. Seeing all the details isn’t art, and this is all about visual storytelling.

The concept of how you make the technology work for you is, I can take you anywhere – using cameras, projectors, and a dome. I enjoy hardware and technology but it’s just a tool. But my passion is taking pictures. It’s finding places of extraordinary beauty – I love exploring. I love finding places that are hard to find, hard to get to. Taking people who love exploring the human body, what a magnificent thing; putting it together in places.

Technology should be invisible – to me. It’s about intentionality, sculpting with life. It’s about the primal elements, water – what you use.

I use state of the art, high performance lenses, many of them I’ve built. The ability to intersect your lives, intentionality of image, collaborating with a person. The experience of putting it together, how do you make things work for you?

Finding these places, it can be miserable getting to them. One of my basic problems is being a control freak.

[Image] Death Valley – 130 something degrees when we took this image – because things look different when it is hot.

How do you get there? Wait for that moment when the light is perfect. Find the things that other people don’t see. Finding things that have no particular scale to them, you have to reveal it. That experience, that texture of light.

As an artists, the basics you have to do. The challenge to any of this creativity is: can I find a way to capture the essence?

Watching people take in their lives for the collaboration of a project. That’s my work. for me, it’s been great, it’s been a little bit of stepping into my parents footsteps. It’s the ability to show myself that I suck, that I’m no where near as good as where I need to be. But it’s an adventure. To me the specialness of photography is to make the technology disappear, as an artist take control of it. Capture those moments.

If i’m lucky, I’ll get to suck less, and 2000 years later, one of my images will inspire a kid to build a Pantheon.

Susana Martinez-Conde, neurologist

I use visual tools a lot to try to understand how our brain constructs reality. Shows illusion of something that appears to be a female nude but is really the underarm of a guy:

Second illusion shows the A and B squares are actually the same color:

Personal question, to find the best visual illusion. They run a contest every year.

These help reveal how our sensory systems work. Magicians use their intuitions to create the same things, and we can learn from them. Article in Scientific American this month.

How do magicians fool us? They use special effects, optical illusions, the most powerful weapon is the cognitive illusions, the manipulation, the channeling, the misdirection of attention and even memory.

[Watch it! That one blew me away.] A driver will be driving down the road looking for cars, not noticing cyclists and such. Now a Whodunnit video:

Is everything an illusion? The answer is yes. And no one has put this better than the famous philosopher, Keanu Reeves. Even after Neo picks the red pill, everything is still the result of electric impulses being transmitted and perceived by the brain. Our perception of the world is entirely illusion, everything we see is often very far from its reality.

Mark Stutzman: Being an Artist

My whole life I dreamed of being an artist. My friends or family would say “you’re quite the artist” and it upset me because I didn’t feel like I was anywhere close to where I needed to be. My favorite was Peter Paul Rubens, my dream was to be something like that. I had a teacher in 10th grade, and the kids named him “Toad” because he was missing his index finger, but he was incredibly influential on me. One day he brought in everything around his house that had art on it and said “this is what artists do, it’s called commercial art.”

Before you can call yourself an artist you have to cover a football field with your work. The shortcut I took was to become an illustrator. Many of the book covers he’s done are through Simon and Schuster, they were very open to allowing him to try different styles and approaches. Editorial is another huge place you see illustration work, I had a knack for doing likenesses, so I fell into Entertainment Weekly. Ended up with Mad Magazine.

Advertising was where I began in illustration, worked for ad agencies because it was a job as a staff illustrator, the work becomes very repetitive and is very deadline-driven. I enjoy it a lot more freelance because you get a variety of clients and directions. Size limitation on stamps is 5×7, the first assignment was the Elvis stamp. They do have to be incredibly simple, where my work was often referred to as “fussy” by the art director that hired me.

Posters are probably my favorite because they feel more like you’re doing a piece of artwork, sometimes people collect it, sometimes ends up framed on a wall. Got into doing posters for David Blaine for his very first stunt, a lot of times there’s hidden imagery or things that happen when the poster is rotated or turned, latest one was Dive of Death. When you turn it upside down you see his face. Did a big mural but hated working outdoors, doubt I would do it again. To me superheroes echo that dynanism that comes from the Renaissance period.

I’ve learned so much about illustration along the way, it’s important to enjoy the journey. Did the poster for Annie Get Your Gun, biggest break in New York.

First assignment for Mad Magazine was the Starr Wars on the Starr report.

First assignment from the Postal Service was Count Basie, art director called him up said “send me your best Elvis” they ended up with 60 Elvises and narrowed it down to two, and went up for public vote and sent out ballots across the US and you could vote for young or old Elvis. Mine run 3 to 1 margin, printing over 500 million in the end, equivilent of 289 football fields with just the Elvis stamp alone. In the end I may have earned my title… of “Illustrator.”