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Hal Luftig: Theater Will Never Die

Hal Luftig is optimistic that theater will not die as an artform, even in the face of our on-demand, digital consumption.

Hal Luftig: The value added to theater – and, you know, I know this is a debate that has gone on for millions of years and hopefully will still go on for millions of years is that there is no experience like it. It’s live, you’re live, they’re live. They’re feeding off you, you’re feeding off them, you know. And an audience senses that and that is an added value and I don’t really care how technology pushes us forward. There’s never going to be anything like sitting in a theater with, like I said, a hundred or a thousand people around you laughing, crying, you know, doing all those emotional things that hopefully good theater will do for you. And my challenge and the challenge that we have as an industry is getting people to recognize that and into, you know, the theater. And, you know, the complaint that I hear – I hear too the most about theater specifically – the price and the accessibility.

The accessibility – I’m going to go backwards. The accessibility is something as an industry – I think actually technology and the theater world can marry more. There are people out there that don’t know how to get tickets or they think that getting tickets are complicated. They don’t understand you can go online now. And I think, you know, the technology in that case has helped the theater industry tremendously. I mean there was a day – and I’m not that old but there was a day that I remember the only way you could get a theater ticket was to go to the box office. And now we’ve expanded that so it is amazing to me. The idea of it being too expensive is something that, you know, is a challenge to the industry too. And to that I always say my job is to let people know there are many ways and many different prices of seeing shows. There’s the TKTS booth. There’s, you know, direct mail. There’s email blast. We’re starting to use that technology. And so I think those two obstacles when you add it together, the added value is to get the world to understand there’s no experience like live theater. There can’t be. Live streaming, HD filming, even the audience that is listening to this conversation right now – it’s not at all like if we were sitting in a room live. And that’s the excitement of live theater.

We find that the younger generation unless they have come – been brought to the theater don’t get it. It seems like their grandmother’s form of entertainment. And, you know, to that personally I have been – and most of my career have been a big advocate of getting school children into the theater. And whether that is a Wednesday matinee where you donate tickets or we have a program right now with the city school system that we choose, you know, one school every Wednesday matinee and they get, you know, a hundred tickets. Some of the schools do it on merit, some do it on financial need, you know. Each school is a little bit different. But I find – and this is one of the greatest joys that I have as a producer is watching those kids watch a show, many of them for the very first time. And you can tell which ones are hooked. You can tell because again, their sensing without any explanation they’re watching someone live. I remember once when I was producing a musical called Jelly’s Last Jam and the late Gregory Hines played Jelly Roll Morton and we took every Wednesday matinee there were a hundred inner city school kids that got to see the show.

And one Wednesday matinee a couple of kids didn’t realize, you know, they saw it was live but they didn’t know the decorum of theater and they were screaming out Gregory, go Gregory, yeah, my man. And they were just so excited. And he kind of stopped the show and he just very calmly said, you know, we are so glad you are here. It is so cool but you know what’s not cool? I’m trying to, you know, so I’ll tell you what, man. Why don’t you like – let’s do the show that’s how this works and then you guys come backstage and we can rap. And these kids were like over the moon. And it wasn’t because they were, you know, rude but they were hooked. Man, I was watching those kids – they were so hooked onto live theater and I thought this is cool. They had just never experienced that before. You know, every form of entertainment these kids had up until this point in their life was a movie, was a TV, was a video, was a, you know, something. They had never gone and had that, you know, oh my God, there’s a person up there and they happened to know who the person was. So yeah, I love when that happens and that’s a big huge added value.

When I was a kid they were saying the great white way is dead. You know, they were calling it the fabulous invalid. I don’t believe it ever will die because of that feeling, that idea that you can’t get anywhere else. And I think the younger generation – they may be slower to get there but, you know, if we do our job right we’ll get them, you know. There are those kind of hip, cool shows where it’s cool to go and they go wow, this isn’t so bad, you know. Yeah, that’s how you kind of get them.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

Hal Luftig is optimistic that theater will not die as an artform, even in the face of our on-demand, digital consumption. Children, he says, are slow adopters, but will ultimately be won over if exposed to the stage. Luftig is a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer. His latest is Kinky Boots.

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Image source: Sereno, et al
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A neural crêpe

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So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

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