Elmo, Antigone & Aaron Sorkin in Aspen:An Ideas Fest Arts Reporter’s Notebook
* Aspen ski legend Klaus Obermeyer may be the only character who can make people smile more easily than Elmo.
A giggling, lab coat-wearing Elmo made the trip to Aspen from Sesame Street this week for the “Spotlight Health” forum at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where he surprised U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy onstage Sunday morning. Elmo, proclaiming to be a “fully licensed pretend doctor,” talked vaccines with Murthy and gave one to Baby David before the Aspen Institute crowd.
Following the event, Institute staffers and their families gathered poolside at the Aspen Meadows health center to take pictures with Elmo. After a few minutes of photos, the 95-year-old Obermeyer emerged from the locker room and parted the scrum —wearing his swim trunks and signature permasmile — for his daily laps in the pool.
* This summer, veteran theater director Gregory Mosher is bringing a production of Sophocles’ “Antigone” to communities across Africa. He offered a preview Monday afternoon at the Aspen Ideas Festival, beside Herbert Bayer’s Marble Garden, with South African actress Phumzile Sitole as Antigone.
The play, Mosher noted, has been staged for some 2,500 years, acting as a societal mirror in contexts ranging from Nazi-occupied Paris to Nelson Mandela’s cellblock on Robin Island. In Africa, he hopes to bring it to villages that have never experienced the timeless Greek tragedy.
“I wanted to get it back to its rawest possible situation,” Mosher said. “We’re not bringing culture to the masses. We’re going to learn.”
* Aaron Sorkin bleeds for you. The screenwriter behind “The West Wing,” “The Newsroom,” “The Social Network” and “A Few Good Men” told a rapt Ideas Fest audience that he’s a “physical writer,” moving around his office, his home and beyond as he scribbles out scripts — sometimes finding himself blocks away. Once, during a late-night writing session on the first season of “The Newsroom,” he said, he wandered into his bathroom, slammed his face into a mirror and broke his nose.
“If it had been a Scorsese movie, he would have said, ‘Let’s do it again. This time, a little less blood,’” Sorkin recalled.
He phoned a friend to help him with the bloodbath, but still had more important things on his mind.
“She said, ‘We need to go to the emergency room!’ and I said, ‘No, read these pages!’”
Among world leaders and thinkers, Sorkin is one of the few celebrities I’ve seen the Ideas Fest crowd truly fawn over. An overflow throng of Sorkin devotees descended on his talk with New York Times columnists David Brooks at the Hotel Jerome on Monday night.
In a very Aspen Institute-y moment, Sorkin swept away comparisons to sentimental writer-directors such as Frank Capra, saying Cervantes is his model and that his biggest influence is Aristotle’s “Poetics.”
“When you’re in trouble writing, it’s because you’ve broken one of these rules in Aristotle,” he said.
He also snuck in several plugs for his film adaptation of Institute CEO Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, which comes to theaters nationwide Oct. 9.
* How did Netflix’s content chief Ted Sarandos learn the skills he needed to guide the media game-changer from a DVD rental service to a groundbreaking online streaming service to an original production company making talked-about shows such as “House of Cards” (and soon, six Adam Sandler movies, a “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel and a Judd Apatow-directed Pee-wee Herman film)?
Well, he told Katie Couric on Tuesday, he learned it all as a video store clerk. Sarandos recalled his formative days as a community college student in Phoenix in the 1980s, working at Superstar Video.
“Everything I needed to know I learned in that store,” he said. “It was film school and an MBA course all in one. … I was doing programming, marketing, lease negotiation, all of that.”
Netflix’s vaunted recommendation algorithms? He devised the concept while serving as a tastemaker for his customers in Phoenix.
* The new participatory aspect of the festival is a welcome addition. The one-hour “You Can Learn Anything” sessions included ukulele lessons with Josh Kaufman, improv with Second City and tonight, at the Hotel Jerome, Carol and Ken Adelman will help Ideas Festers perform the works of Shakespeare.
* Organist Cameron Carpenter is not, Michael Eisner noted in a performance and interview in the Greenwald Pavillion, a “75-year-old lady playing church music.”
Carpenter, at 34, is young, hot, stylish, mohawked and, as his Ideas Fest audience learned, brilliant both on his instrument and in talking about his art. In a wide-ranging conversation with Eisner, Carpenter talked about the organ as an instrument of science and discovery. With its complicated inner-workings, for centuries until the invention of the telephone, the organ was “the most complex man-made device,” he said.
No two organs are exactly alike. He compared figuring each one out to a scientist working on an equation. Making organ music cool for a 21st century audience that associates it with church and musty tradition, he said, is nearly as exciting a challenge.
“There are so many physical, conceptual, and social barriers to overcome,” he said. “And my work here is to overcome that.”
Carpenter is a Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence at the Ideas Fest. For more on the residency program, and fellow resident artist JR, pick up the July 9 issue of the Aspen Times Weekly.
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