Science show at the Manship Theatre
The name Paul Zaloom might not ring a bell, but Beakman may, especially if you were a kid in the 1990s, glued to the set each week for “Beakman’s World.”
Zaloom was the wacky scientist Beakman, star of the Emmy-winning children’s science show. All these years later, “Beakman’s World” still runs in syndication around the world.
“A lot of times, science shows are almost like magic shows. There’s a certain number of tricks or whatever, that people do that work in big scale in live science shows,” Zaloom said Oct. 10 from Los Angeles.
Zaloom’s first touring show after “Beakman’s World” focused on science in general, but for his second production, he sought something different. “I found the brain to actually be really interesting, and I knew if I did a show about the brain there would be visual information that could be plugged into that that would be compelling,” he said.
Like the well-known story of Phineas Gage, the man who survived having a large iron bar blown through his head.
“And from that incident, we learn a lot about how the brain works,” Zaloom said. “Certain parts (of his brain) were damaged, his personality changed. It’s an interesting story, kind of gory, but the kids like that.”
It was Beakman’s young daughter, in fact, who encouraged him to use Phineas Gage in his show.
“I do large-scale science demos about the brain to explain how the brain works and it’s been interesting because I’ve invented some of the ways of communicating this stuff,” he said. “I use these goofy drawings that I make to describe in detail what the different parts of the brain do.”
Zaloom said one such demonstration shows what happens, step by step in the brain, when someone gets a pie slammed into his face.
“We do optical illusions, project them large and explain why are we being tricked, being fooled, and by understanding how our brain gets tricked and makes faulty assumptions, we learn actually how we get it right. By looking at the mistakes the brain makes we can actually see how well it works.”
The lifelong puppeteer also employs toy theater in “Beakman on the Brain.”
“It’s a tradition of puppetry that was popular in the British Isles in the latter part of the 19th century,” he said. “You buy kits, glue pictures to cardboard, make a little stage. Kids could have mini-theaters in their living room and do shows. Back then, it was like watching television.
There’s a big revival in toy theater today.”
Artistic partner Lynn Jeffries helped Zaloom design sets, write the script, and do research for the show, which Zaloom has toured with for about two years.
“I get people on stage and we do verbal and word game challenges, like reading jumbled text. I show animal videos that show how animals’ brains work, and I also do a segment on helmets,” Zaloom said. “I tell the kids it’s my nagging part of the show, but helmet safety is very important.”
To make the lesson more fun, Zaloom said he uses an egg (with a tiny helmet made in Sweden) and drops the egg with and without its helmet on to illustrate the need for wearing helmets in cycling, skating and other sports.
And there’s also a talking skull in the show, something else to keep the kids interested.
But that’s usually not an issue during his hour-long show, Zaloom said.
“They’re rapt, they’re curious.”