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For the love of science

‘Beakman on the brain’ at CAC

November 13, 2011
By MATTHEW PARRISH - mparrish@sungazette.com , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Kids don't know how much fun they're in for.

Paul Zaloom, aka Beakman, will present "Beakman on the Brain" at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.

Zaloom, who is best known for "Beakman's World," a goofy educational series that debuted in 1992, will tackle neuroscience this time, teaching kids about how amazing the brain is.

Article Photos

Paul Zaloom, aka Beakman, will present “Beakman on the Brain” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. Zaloom is known for “Beakman’s World,” a series that debuted in 1992.
PHOTO?PROVIDED

"I selected the subject because I'm interested in it," Zaloom said. "I thought, 'The brain is fascinating. There's all kinds of interesting stuff about it.' I just had to figure out what about the brain I wanted to communicate and what's a good approach."

The "approach," makes unexpected connections, kind of like the brain itself.

"I came up with an original way of doing it," he said. "The nerves are like roads - they look like a road map and connect to the spinal cord, which is like a super highway. I use the analogy of cars driving, getting messages from the nerves."

In a move that is very "Beakmanesque," Zaloom will show silly images to get his point across.

"I illustrate it using my goofy bad drawings," he said. "The drawings are 'Beakmanesque.' "

That fact should excite anyone who, like me, grew up watching "Beakman's World," first on The Learning Channel in 1992 (one year before "Bill Nye the Science Guy") and then Saturday mornings on CBS from 1993 until 1997.

Zaloom said that the irreverent show, which made use of techniques from avant-garde theater like self-consciousness and spontaneity, "was a lot of fun."

"We had a great time," he said. "Every minute was more fun than the last. It was hard work though - I was in 80 percent of the shots. I remember the exec saying, 'Gosh, I would get into work and see you there on the screen and then I'd go home and you'd still be on the screen.' "

The comedian said that he quickly learned that, since he was front and center, he had to be aware of how he was projecting himself.

"[Someone said], 'You're the star of the show and you will set the mood of the stage,' " he said. "So, if you're in a good mood and you're happy and jolly, then it will be a happy and jolly place to work. If you're grumpy and mean, it will be terrible. I decided to be grumpy and mean."

He's just joking, of course. According to Zaloom, the set was a very fun and creative place to be.

"There were a lot of laughs and we all worked together," he said. "The cameraman would say, 'I got an idea,' and they'd throw it out there. The props guy would have an idea. Everyone was allowed to contribute."

For "Beakman on the Brain," Zaloom also will make use of one of his favorite tools for entertainment and education, puppets. Zaloom has taught puppetry and performance art classes in several universities, including the Institut Internationale de la Marrionnette in France and the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Ga.

"You can do so much with puppets," he said. "You can do anything you want. You can reenact Phineas Gage having a bar go through his head, you can blow up the universe, you name it. I use a play theater. It's a small stage and we use a video projector to put it on a big screen."

Phineas Gage is an important figure in the show, one who has a bizarre and amazing story.

"Phineas Gage was a foreman in the 1800s setting up explosives to blow up rocks to make way for a railroad," he said. "But he dropped the tamping iron [a large iron rod], creating a spark that set off the explosives and sending the 13-pound tamping rod into his head through one end and out the other."

Gage, however, was relatively unharmed.

"The thing went clear through his head," he said. "But he survived and what happened was the only thing it changed was his personality."

Zaloom said that kids have been responding to the show with enthusiasm.

"It's really amazing to me," he said. "The children pay attention to me. I can tell. Like I said, I'm an entertainer. I've got my finger on the pulse for what's happening. When you've been doing this for 40 years, you become aware of where the house is at."

Despite performing for so long, Zaloom still gets excited to entertain and educate children.

"It's rewarding and fun and they're terrific to play for," he said. "Their sense of humor is different. It's not obvious what's going to make them laugh. It's a lot of fun."

Zaloom said that children will at least get an idea of how complex the brain is from seeing the show.

"They won't necessarily walk out of the theater knowing everything about the brain but it's an opening," he said. "Maybe they'll think, 'Wow, it's interesting that my brain can do all those things.' It's an opening into a new perception of how your life unfolds."

Tickets for "Beakman on the Brain" are $5 and may be bought by visiting www.caclive.com or calling the CAC box office at 326-2424.

 
 

 

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