Professor Krebs takes the illusion of magic to Off-Broadway
If a pingpong ball is placed in a long tube and all the air is taken out of that tube, then the pressure will drive the ball to a speed of almost 700 miles per hour. The ball is capable of shooting through three empty soda cans like a bullet. Is that magic? No, it is purely physics. Defined crudely, theater involves someone doing something in front of an audience, and a physics demonstration can be a performance in itself. On March 9, an event show called That PHYSICS Show! opened at the Electra Theater and was produced by Eric Krebs, a Baruch College professor. That PHYSICS Show! is basically a magic show, but instead of the audience wondering, “How did he do that?,” they get intrigued by the question, “Will that work, and if so, why?”
The show starts the moment the audience member walks into the theater. As they come in, they see that the stage is separated from the auditorium only by black and yellow caution tape, which already puts the audience in the mood of being a part of a science experiment gone wrong. The actual performance—although it is more adequate to call it a theatrical demonstration—begins when two rather goofy and enthusiastic guys run on stage, radiating with passion for science. Those two guys are not the principle actors. The show is considered to be for kids, so in order for the lead demonstrator Dave, portrayed by Dave Maiullo, the star of the show, to enter the stage, the audience has to call for him. As Dave enters and starts to mesmerize the spectators with his magic, it is almost impossible not to admire how much he loves what he is doing. As the show becomes more exciting with flames dancing to Frank Sinatra and people lying under a heavy brick with nails, Dave becomes that super cool science professor spectators wished they had. He is the true star of the show, proving to be not just a very creative and artistic physicist but also a brilliant showman who knows how to interact with the audience as well as levitating objects. As Krebs points out, the fact that both kids and adults act so much alike demonstrates the “beauty of live theater … bringing community together.”
Krebs explained that this particular piece is outside of his producing spectrum.
“I have majored in English,” he said. “I usually work in text and story, but I just loved how exciting and engaging the audience gets while watching this show.”
The idea for this piece was conceived approximately 15 years ago, when Krebs saw Maiullo perform his own work at Rutgers University.
“Back then, it was only a collection of tricks,” Krebs said. “Dave and I worked closely together to organize those tricks into a full performance with concept and main theme.”
Maiullo and Krebs wanted to create something in the realm of Stomp or Blue Man Group, both being highly successful and profitable off-Broadway event shows that are very popular with family audiences.
However, there is one major difference between those two shows and That PHYSICS Show!. Stomp and Blue Man are pure spectacles based on creating music using unorthodox techniques. Blue Man is a drum show, where the performers play different percussions while spraying paint on it, creating images from paint springing from the drums. Stomp is a show where people create musical symphonies by using items like trashcans and brooms. These two shows are paragons of what commercial entertainment is. There is no deeper meaning, no social commentary or philosophy and, ultimately, no artistic purpose rather than to excite and stimulate the audience.
Although That PHYSICS Show! lacks the depth of a drama like Rent or The Color Purple, Krebs still argues that the show has political and social significance.
“In a sense, the show creates that commentary by creating a science that is exciting and accessible to kids. You know, we have a lot of children in the audience, and a lot of them see what Dave does. It makes them excited and interested and when they leave the auditorium, they are thinking: Wow, I really want to go into science now. And that is something Dave has dedicated his whole life to,” Krebs said.
Krebs, being a college professor for many years, is a vocal proponent of education in any realm and takes pride that this show possesses that aspect. “As one of our earlier reviewers said, ‘spectacular and educational.’ A lot of people hear of this show and think, ‘Oh, I don’t know anything about physics.’ But Dave is so entertaining that we don’t even notice that he is actually teaching us about atmosphere and energy.”
Energy and its preservation is actually the main theme of the show—a concept that unifies all of the components of the production.
However, the show is also educational and inspirational beyond the scientific aspect. The climax of the show is a number, when Dave lays himself on a bed of nails, and then puts another bed of nails on his chest. This is completely safe, and he explains precisely why. He is even rolling an air-filled balloon on that bed of nails and the results are surprising as well. By making physics exciting, Dave reminds his audience that there is a whole world out there, and there are so many things to do and try other than sitting on their phone and staring at the screen. After the show, as the audience exits the auditorium, Dave waits and wishes every audience member a goodnight. As he shakes hands, bids farewells and smiles a Hollywood smile, he continues his performance outside of the stage, thus, metaphorically proving to us that science is always around us. The show itself, although not so aesthetically theatrical, is still nonetheless a very exciting and dynamic piece, which is beautifully educational and relaxing.