Actor Joe Spano takes on the life and ideas of the visionary
freethinker R. Buckminster Fuller
WALLACE BAINE - Sentinel staff writer
Article Launched: 03/07/2008
R. Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller has been dead for 25 years. But no one
of his generation, or perhaps of any previous generation, would be
more comfortable walking out of the past right into 2008.
Fuller "" futurist, inventor, philosopher, architect, engineer,
freethinker, utopian "" prefigured today's world of carbon
footprints, global warming and technological salvation. He has been
called one of the most fascinating original minds of the 20th century
and an enlightened American mystic. Yet, today, he has not penetrated
the mainstream consciousness of most Americans.
A new one-man show, coming to Santa Cruz on Friday, March 14, is
looking to enlighten contemporary audiences on the man who became a
central figure in the intellectual development of the 1960s
counterculture. "R. Buckminster Fuller: The History and Mystery of
Life" features actor Joe Spano in the conservative suit and big,
horn-rimmed glasses of Fuller. The play is meant to address both
Fuller's life and his ideas.
"There are biographical elements to it," said Spano, known for his
recurring role in the landmark 1980s TV series "Hill Street Blues."
"But it's also a history of the evolution of his thought."
Spano said he has commonly heard from audiences that many people were
pleasantly surprised at the play's content.
"I've heard, 'I was so afraid that I wasn't going to understand it.'
But it's not about science or specifics about engineering. It's
really about the experience of thinking for yourself, the integrity
that makes you be yourself and how you've got to follow the path to
fulfill your own life."
The play's writer and director Doug Jacobs said that he first came
across the ideas of Buckminster Fuller 40 years ago, during Fuller's
first full flowering of influence.
"I was a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, looking to study political
geography," said Jacobs. "And my brother, who was in the College of
Creative Studies at the time, told me, 'Hey, you gotta come hear this
guy talk.' So I went, at the beginning of Bucky's lecture, slipped
out to go to class, came back and he was still talking, left again,
came back again and he's still there. And this went on for two or three days."
It wasn't until years later, in 1980, when Jacobs read Fuller's
seminal book "Critical Path" that he went "down the rabbit hole" for
"Bucky bridges science and the humanities," said Jacobs. "All those
lines we draw "" left/right, Democrat/Republican, scientist/artist ""
he cut across all those lines. He just paid no attention to them. He
was all about jumping fences in the best kind of American way."
Fuller is most known as the inventor of the geodesic dome, but his
philosophical ideas embrace the doing-more-with-less notions only now
coming into mainstream thought today. He was a systems thinker who,
to take one example, felt that world hunger could be easily wiped out
with a different systematic approach.
The play came about in 1995 when Jacobs, already fully immersed in
the Bucky belief system, was approached to write a play on the
centennial of Fuller's birth. Jacobs said he brought elements of
performance art and entertainment into the story of Fuller's life,
perfectly in keeping with the man's personality.
"He had this fascination with show business," said Jacobs, "and a
not-so-secret desire to be a song-and-dance man. This will be
different than a lecture. There's a poetic element to the play as well."
Spano spent hours watching tape of Fuller's lectures to get the
mannerisms and speech patterns down, and also re-interprets Fuller's
tweedy manner of dress and personal style.
"He was really a counterculture figure," said Spano. "But he wanted
to be taken seriously also. And he knew he wouldn't be taken
seriously unless he dressed conservatively, like a bank clerk."
"The thing about him," said Jacobs, "was that he could go down into
the minute details of any subject that interested him and then zoom
out to the bigger picture, going masterfully from the microcosm to
the macrocosm and back again. And very, very few people have been
able to do that."
Jacobs said Fuller had wished to provide the world with an example of
what one person could do, given effort, energy and creativity, and
that his play reflects that part of Fuller's philosophy. "It's a call
to action to become who you're meant to become, just like he did. It
asks the question: What are you meant to do with your life?"
Spano said that Fuller's message is perfectly contemporary to today's
artists, writers and freethinkers.
"He says in the play, 'I do think we'll make it, if we wake up and
act in a sensible way.' And that's something that people really want to hear."
Contact Wallace Baine at 429-2427 or email@example.com.