Ian McKellen on Fresh Air!

Ian McKellen twitter profile imageI had a major treat last night! While making myself an evening meal I turned on the radio to find Ian McKellen (whose voice and delivery I love so very much I can listen to him slowly reading an arbitrarily long list of random numbers) being interviewed by Dave Davies on NPR’s Fresh Air. It was of course delightful, and some of the best radio I’ve enjoyed in a while (and I listen to a ton of good radio every day, between having either NPR or BBC Radio 4 on most of the time) since it was the medium at its simple best – a splendid conversation with an interesting, thoughtful, well-spoken person.

They also played and discussed a number of clips from his work, recent (I’ve been hugely excited to see Mr. Holmes, just released) and less recent (less well known delights such as Gods and Monsters -you should see it if you have not- and popular material like the first Hobbit film), and spoke at length about his private and public life and the intersection between the two, for example how his coming out as gay in 1988 positively affected his acting, and why…. There’s so much in that 35 minutes! […] Click to continue reading this post

Nerd-Off Results

UCB_nerd_offSo I’m supposed to be writing 20 slides for a colloquium so let me see if I get this right really fast:- First round, the Koch Brothers bested the Justice League and Ultron was beaten up by Inspector Gadget meanwhile Ice Cube trumped Mr. Rogers and Stephen Hawking battled Charles Darwin but the audience loved them so much that they were asked to team up for the next round (before which Jon Snow did standup in the break) and in which they lost to Inspector Gadget who […] Click to continue reading this post

Not Struck…

…by lightning or anything. Yay.


It was fun! (See previous post for what I’m talking about.) The audience seemed to like it. I got to explain that being curious and doing experiments and forming hypotheses is somehow preferable (to some) to sitting back and saying “God did it”, and that there are a lot of nice side effects of that curiosity. (You know, increased food supply, improved medicine, better communications, travel, overall quality of life, and so forth…) We even got to talk a tiny bit about physics (somehow I got on to neutrinos…. not sure why, but then… why not?). […] Click to continue reading this post

Copenhagen Address

copenhagen_address_aLast night’s event was wonderful. The actors had such passion, and it was all done with great pacing and flow. This was a most marvellous play reading – the cast’s performances felt so fully inhabited by the text of the play that it hardly felt like a reading at all.

They (Nike Doukas as Margrethe Bohr, Arye Gross as Neils Bohr, and Leo Marks as Werner Heisenberg) and director Jack Rowe, should be very proud. They did very little rehearsal for this, which is makes it all the more impressive.

I gave an opening address* (and also introduced the evening**, as usual forgetting to introduce myself…) and the text of my address follows:

Good evening and welcome!

Yesterday, the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced. You might recall that it was for the discovery of the mechanism that gives all elementary particles their masses. A profound mystery about the universe was solved. While that’s a wonderful thing, and many people acknowledge that, many people don’t connect anything about that quest to understand the universe to themselves.

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Break a Plate!

alcestis_stillWow. I’ve just returned from a most marvellous evening, and feel compelled to recommend what I saw to those in the area who can get to see it. You’ve possibly heard/read me talk about Nancy Keystone’s wonderful work in collaboration with her Critical Mass Performance Group before (e.g. see here and here). I probably used a lot of superlatives while doing so. Well here I go again. Nancy and the CMPG are doing a remarkably lively, clever, poignant (and downright funny in all the right places) production of their treatment of the Euripedes play Alcestis at the Boston Court Theater in Pasadena. I strongly recommend it for a thought-provoking and very moving evening out. It is a meditation on life and death that is powerfully done, and it is one of the best evenings of theatre I’ve had for a while. It’s one of the classic Greek plays we’re talking about here, but it is not a bunch of people standing around in togas (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) fretting. It is contemporary, on the face of it, timeless in another sense. (Photo is from the Boston Court Theater site.)

It is always impossible to describe Nancy’s work, because it is such a powerfully […] Click to continue reading this post

Science Slams!

One of the things that came up in conversation in my meeting at the APS on Tuesday was Science Slams. These are a lot of fun, and are growing in popularity and frequency. Maybe you might want to take part in one, or organize one. There’s a lot of great theater to be had, and its fun for wider audience, just as poetry slams when done well can be fun for an audience that might not have chosen to study or listen to poetry. (See earlier posts on the local Dead Poets’ Slam, for example.)

My friend Herbi Dreiner, at the University of Bonn in Germany, (he’s in the photo at the right, used with permission) is one of the most active and experienced people I know of in the area of successfully combining physics, theatre, and (if you like) performance art. If you don’t know about his herbi_dreiner_slamminphysics show, that has even gone on tour internationally, have a look at an article he wrote about it (with links to video and photos) for the journal The Physics Teacher here (arxiv version here).

Herbi’s been getting involved in physics slams too, and he wrote a very nice piece about his own participation in the Guardian. Have a look here. He went into some nice detail about how (with the help of the audience) he illustrated the issues [..] Click to continue reading this post

H4 Project – Kickstarter

I’d like to draw your attention to an exciting project that my dear friend Harry Lennix is working on. It is called H4, and combines the two parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV into a film. I have mentioned it in previous posts once or twice, (I did a few vista to some of the locations), and now it is post-production. There’s an effort to raise extra funds to allow the film to be completed and find its way to audiences where I expect it will be both entertaining and educational, given the goals that Harry has for the project. Have a look at the film below to have it all explained to you, and then head over to the kickstarter page if you want to help out!


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Picasso and Einstein: Face Off?

I just learned from Amy French in a comment on the post on the production of the “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” play that got cancelled) that the short promo film she did for the play is on YouTube. It has two of the principals on screen. It’s short and fun!

Here is is: […] Click to continue reading this post

Of Kings, Princes, and Rogues

harrys_harry_2I’ve been writing the final exam for my physics class all afternoon, and into the evening. After sending a version off to my colleague Doug for his comments, I left my office for the day shortly after 8:00pm, to do something completely different for a while. Where did I go? To a high school somewhere mid-city to watch a rehearsal/workshop for a production of Henry IV (parts 1 and 2).

A dear friend of mine has called upon his colleagues from stage and screen to put […] Click to continue reading this post


My Walkabout finds me in Madrid for a little while, and I find myself reporting joyfully on rain, once again. Not because it has been raining an unusual amount here, but because of a production I went to the other night. It was primarily a dance event, celebrating and dramatizing the work of poet Frederico Garcia Lorca during his time in New York in the 1920s. The choreography was by (I’ve forgotten… will find ticket and update shortly) [update: Blanca Li. Title: ¨Poeta en Nueva York¨] with flamenco as the primary form, mixed with several other dance traditions. dance_theatre_stillThere was a lot of good and enjoyable work to see, but I’ll admit to being blown away by the theatre’s (and associated production staff’s) ability to suddenly create a rainstorm on the stage, and sustain it for a prolonged period while one of the dances (using the water, as you can see) used it to great and stunning effect. I had to sneak a (no flash and no disturbing of neighbours of course) photo for you. Click for larger view.

A bit like the first time you saw Jurassic Park back when it was first released and utterly groundbreaking visually, I (and maybe you?) spent time thinking, “this is amazing!”, “how did they pull off this illusion?”, before concluding that maybe the […] Click to continue reading this post

Friday Night Observations

Friday evening was very enjoyable indeed, with some arts and literature near the start, and live scientific research toward the end. It began with a nice trundle across town on the 920 bus, when it eventually arrived (why are there still so many long gaps in the 720 and 920 schedules at crucial times of the day?) heading over to Westwood to the UCLA campus. I listened to music, read Jonathan Gold’s column in the LA Weekly, and listened to conversations around me. I got to Westwood and Wilshire after half an hour or so and walked up to campus and to Royce Hall, getting coffee on the way and even stopping in to an AT&T store to check on something. The campus was surprisingly quiet at 7:30 or so and I made my way over to Royce Hall, sending a text to a friend about later.

Besides the environmental reason I like to try to take public transport, it is also nice to plan it out and then be 15 minutes early and nice and relaxed before an event, and not be arriving all stressed due to traffic and then worried about parking and so forth. The show started late (as everything does in LA because there is a tacit assumption that everyone will be late due to traffic and parking and so people mostly were late because, of course, they know this assumption is in place. (At the 8:00pm actual official start time only about 20% of the audience that would arrive in the next 15 minutes were actually seated.)

atwood_gods_gardenersThe event, you’ll recall, was all about Margaret Atwood’s new book Year of the Flood. The author and the actors and musicians came onto the nicely decorated set and started with one of the songs specially written for the event. There is a limited set of engagements in 16 or 20 (I’ve forgotten) cities performing this reading and this is one of them. Margaret Atwood was the narrator and there were three actors reading the parts of three characters from the book. A central cult/religion that appears in the book (and the previous book with […] Click to continue reading this post

Waiting for Godot

waiting for godot posterWow. This is a dream cast, a dream production, and a dream interview. You’ve got Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as the leads, for a start. Two of my favourite actors on stage or screen. But they are joined by another favourite of mine, the amazing Simon Callow! The quartet is rounded out by Ronald Pickup (who I don’t know as well, but is no slouch himself). They’re doing Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, and it is going to tour at various theatres in the UK before ending up in London. That would be quite marvellous to see, I think.

Anyway, why am I telling you this? Other than just to enthuse about having those […] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – Dark Matters

categorically not! presenters feb 1st 2009

(Categorically Not! presenters and performers on 1st Feb. 2009)

The next Categorically Not! is on Sunday February 1st. The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events.

The theme this month is Dark Matters. Here’s the description from K C Cole:

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Red, Yellow, Blue, Green…

red yellow green blue…among other colours.

View of the day from the garden. (Winter. Number x in a limited series of y.) (Click for larger view.) The rains have gone for a while. The sun is back, with clear blue skies to close out the year.

I’m trying to rest. Well, I’m working on various projects at home, mostly. Colours are on my mind a bit in one of these projects, actually. Later today I’m going to be down in the (only slightly mad-scientist) workshop making a portable screen on which to project films.

Projecting onto the wall is good, but I want to make a silver-grey screen with a dark border that will really pop the colours out. Some of this is about not projecting onto […] Click to continue reading this post