The So-fi Festival, proudly presents Jonathan Torn’s The Scientist: An Evening with John C. Lilly, at Westbeth, Home to the Arts (463 West Street, Room 1209, between Bethune and Bank St) June 15th @ 830pm & June 18th @ 7pm.
The Scientist: An Evening with John C. Lilly is a journey to the mind of John C. Lilly: dolphins researcher, float tank inventor, psychedelic explorer, and interstellar diplomat. Presented with the estate of John C. Lilly this work is a solo performance with music, sound, and images. The Scientist depicts the spiritual and experimental journey of John C. Lilly, one of the most creative and controversial thinkers of the 20th century. His early groundbreaking research on the brain led him to encounter government mind control conspiracies, mind-expanding drugs, sensory deprivation and inner space explorations, and inter-species communication with dolphins, whales, and silicon-based extraterrestrial life forms. Skeptics and believers alike will find food for thought in his remarkable and often harrowing story. Featuring live guitar improvisation by Freddie Katz.
Tell us about your show? In your own words, what is it/ what is it/what is it about?
I first picked up a copy of John Lilly’s “metaphysical autobiography” The Scientist several years ago, shortly after he passed away. He was a key counterculture figure from the 60s onward: dolphin researcher, float tank inventor, psychedelic explorer, and interstellar diplomat. His story had inspired certain outlandish Hollywood treatments such as The Day of the Dolphin and Altered States, but the real story without fictional embellishment had not been told. Reading The Scientist I connected with the unique voice filled with wry, iconoclastic humor, humility and hubris, and a willingness to undergo the most ruthless kinds of self-dissection and analysis. It’s a harrowing story but also one that’s inspiring in many ways. The concept that Lilly would tell his own story was central to the concept from the beginning,
What multidisciplinary elements does it include and how are they used? How are they unique?
The core of the show is quite simple, as evidenced by the subtitle: An Evening with John Lilly. But because the show ranged into so many topics and areas: involved with early Pentagon thought experiments, his controversial work with dolphins, and contacts with aliens after that, I knew that the show couldn’t be a dry lecture. So there are a lot of visual elements The Lilly estate has been very open about letting me into their archives and I have some great documentation that I have worked into our slide show. I also have Freddie Katz, my musical director, and sound designer, performing live guitar on stage with me. His score includes echoes of dolphins and whales and also evokes inner and outer space exploration.
Why do you make theater? Can you talk about the medium and what it lends to your work?
I grew up on Broadway, and I’ve had a lot of time in my life to reflect on what makes the live theatrical experience a unique one. I play music too, and live performance has inspired my creativity there too. There’s a certain electricity, a virtuous cycle of energy exchange that occurs between a performer and an audience. I also think that theater is a medium that uniquely suited to discussing and circulating ideas. In past performances, a lively discussion about the play, about Lilly and our shared future has always arisen afterwords and contained some really fascinating exchanges, which I hope to get more of this time around.
Jonathan Torn lives in Flagstaff, AZ. His work has been seen in New York at The Brick, Chain Lightning, Torn/Page, and Tribeca Lab Theater.