Buckminster Fuller was a genius, no doubt about it. He not only thought deeply, he loved to talk about what he thought. One can find page after page of quotable things that Mr. Fuller either wrote or said, such as
I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.
Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.
Everything you’ve learned in school as ‘obvious’ becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.
Imagine stringing together quotes such as these into an engaging two-hour illustrated lecture, and you have a good idea of the San Diego REPertory Theatre’s production of R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe.
Written and directed by REP co-founder D. W. Jacobs, this production received its world premiere at the REP in 2000 and became one of the most successful productions that the REP ever mounted. The REP is re-mounting it as part of its 40th anniversary season, and this production continues a remarkable string of hits that began last summer with a heartfelt production of Jeanine Tesori’s musical, Violet.
The production also features the return of Ron Campbell as “Bucky” Fuller. Mr. Campbell has the admirable ability not only to resemble pictures of Fuller, but he also seems to inhabit Fuller’s persona, including a beautiful, sly, gesture of tapping his fingers together several times to signal ends of thoughts.
And, signals are important, as the ideas are complex and sometimes seemingly visionary but simultaneously old-fashioned. Fuller embraced design as a key element of understanding systems, both physical and human. He was committed to improving society by making it more efficient and by creating systems that would serve humanity by providing housing, transportation, and a high quality environment. He thought about sustainability before it was popular to do so, but today the words he used to describe his thoughts seem very much products of their times.
Fortunately, Mr. Campbell doesn’t just talk. He uses a multitude of visuals (credit Jim Findlay and Ray Sun’s multi-layered projection design), and he’s out in the audience, borrowing a bracelet, interviewing an audience member, or having everyone stand, facing north, arms outstretched, all in service of better understanding the point.
And, as audience members, we do.
Fuller was best known for his geodesic dome, which served as the basis for many of his ideas about self-sustaining systems. The dome probably hit its peak as the as the thematic symbol of Expo, the 1967 Montreal world’s fair. In fact, there was a geodesic dome house in my neighborhood when I first moved in, and I always wondered what it would be like to live there.
I never found out. It’s gone now, and a few of its bones served as the basis for a large, conventional, two-story structure. Perhaps that fact serves as a metaphor for the sustainability of Fuller’s ideas.
Except – the same day as this performance, I attended the Kyoto Prize lecture by Dr. Toyoki Kunitake. Dr. Kunitake won his prize for his discoveries in biochemistry that serve as the basis for developing new materials. Some of the basic principles he described in his lecture sounded much the same as ones I heard later in the day at the REP.
So, overlook what seems to be dated language, and immerse yourself in Mr. Campbell’s performance of such a wide range of ideas. I’ll bet that you’ll come away full of awe and wonder.