Resurrecting great minds at TEDxRíodelaPlata

TEDxRíodelaPlataEd 2015, La Usina del Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: TEDxRíodelaPlataEd)

TEDxRíodelaPlataED 2015, La Usina del Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: TEDxRíodelaPlataED)

More than 1,200 attendees observed the “resurrection” of Darwin and Aristarchus at the TEDxRiodelaPlata and TEDxRiodelaPlataED events that took place in Buenos Aires on April and September of 2015. Live on a TEDx stage, actors were used to confess the dangerous ideas of the late English naturalist and deceased Greek philosopher who gave us the theory of evolution and the use of geometry as a tool for the study of astronomy. What transpired was a learning environment far more dynamic than what is typically generated through textbooks.

TEDxRiodelaPlata organizer Gerry Garbulsky and co-organizer Christian Carman designed the “resurrection” initiative to invite individuals to transform information into something that feels personal and humane. We spoke with Garbulsky about his creative process and how he came to host Darwin and Aristarchus on stage.

TEDx: How did you come up with the idea of getting late, influential, characters from history to share their ideas on the TEDx stage?

Gerry: We are always looking for people with ideas that can transform the world and there are many people in history that actually transformed the world with their ideas. These people died before they had the chance of sharing their revolutionary ideas in a space like the one TED and TEDx provide.  We felt like we needed to fix that so we started thinking of ways in which we could bring those people back to life so that they could have their opportunity.

TEDx: What is the curatorial process that determines the people and ideas you bring back to life? How do you choose them?

G: We really enjoyed thinking about the possibilities because discussing what people you want to bring back to life is not something you do very often. It was not enough to pick a person; we also needed to figure out the exact moment in their lives when we wanted them to give their talk. In the case of Darwin, for example, we decided that 28 was the best age for him to give the talk because he had just returned from his trip around the world where he conceived the indicial ideas of the common origin of all species. He had the intuition that he was going to come up with a big discovery (the evolution and natural selection theory) and his mind was really troubled as a result. We thought that his talk would really benefit from those emotions and that is why we focused on that particular time. We also decided that we wouldn´t bring back to life people who were recently deceased because we wanted to make the talk as believable as possible. If we chose to bring back someone like Gandhi, Einstein or Mandela we would have to compete with the image that the audience has from seeing them in videos and pictures and it would be harder to have an actor play the roll in a believable way.

TEDx: Were you pleased with both performances? Did Aristarco and Darwin satisfy your expectations?

G: We were very pleased and we will continue experimenting and trying to achieve the right balance to make sure that the talks are a credible reincarnation of these people while being aware that this is a TEDx talk. We needed to maintain the 21-century stage and platform regardless of having a speaker from the past. How do we make those 2 things compatible? We decided, for example, that the actor who played Darwin would not talk with any accent different from the local accent. We also decided not to use PowerPoint or any other audiovisual effect that was not there when Darwin was alive. Darwin and Aristarco would be dressed up like they did in their particular time, and they would express themselves with the tools that they had at that time. So yes, I was very happy with these two first performers from the past.

TEDx: How did you feel when you watched them? How did they make the event better?

G: I cried with Darwin´s performance. When I introduced him on stage I was already moved, but when I sat down and heard his talk I cried. It was, at least for me, the highlight of many months of work and it truly felt like having Darwin himself on stage. It was hard for the audience though, because the concept is something they are not used to and it took some time for them to adjust. Darwin is not the “funny guy” either – although we tried to include one or two jokes into his script- so the ratings of the talk were not the best but we understand that and, in fact, we expected that. We need to somehow educate our audience into this new format of bringing people back to life and we think it is worth it because we see a potential that goes beyond the performance in front of the live audience. The videos of these talks could be of great value for the educational system. Having the people whose ideas most influenced the world giving a talk is a great tool for a classroom because it is not like anything we had before.  We feel like this could add a lot of value to our education system going foreward. That is why these talks make our event, and the reach of our event, better.

TEDxRíodelaPlataEd 2015, La Usina del Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: TEDxRíodelaPlataEd)

TEDxRíodelaPlataED 2015, La Usina del Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: TEDxRíodelaPlataED)

TEDx: What people and ideas are you reviving next?

G: We are currently discussing the possibilities of the people we will be bringing back to life in our next event that will take place in October 2016. Even though we have not yet decided who the speakers will be, we do know we want to have a mix.

TEDx: What is the process for the writing of the talks? Who is involved in it?

G: I will use the case of Darwin to explain the process. First we looked for experts on both the life and science of Darwin and we found two people in Argentina that we brought together to begin the writing of the script. In fact, we made them go through the same coaching process that all speakers go through when writing a talk. We put together a script that resulted from their effort of trying to put themselves in the shoes of the actual Charles Darwin at age 28 and it was a fantastic journey. In fact, one of experts feels so strongly about Darwin that he ended up crying in many of our coaching sessions. One time, as part of an exercise, he had to describe the death of Darwin´s daughter – I think she was 11 when she died- and he cried as if he had lost his own daughter. It was a special moment.

When we finish the script we freeze it and move on to the next stage of the process: casting for actors. We saw maybe 3 actors for each of the reincarnations and when we chose the one we liked best we assigned them a theater director that would coach their performances. This theater director was actually a speaker at one of our events and she helped the actors achieve a balance that would get them out of their habit of acting for theater and plays.  We needed to make sure that the acting preserved the qualities of a TEDx talk. The personality and cadence of the format needed to remain so the talk would sound and feel the same to the audience. It’s not someone reciting a script but rather telling a story, sharing an idea like all our speakers do. That, to me, is the toughest challenge of this concept that we are still working to improve. We feel very lucky to have found the experts, actors and coaches to do these two first talks, and I am positive that the talks from the great minds of the past will only get better.

To learn more, watch Charles Darwin’s talk below:

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