Watson: trusty sidekick to Sherlock Holmes; loyal engineer who built Bell’s first telephone; unstoppable super-computer that became reigning Jeopardy! champ; amiable techno-dweeb who, in the present day, is just looking for love. These four constant companions become one in this brilliantly witty, time-jumping, loving tribute (and cautionary tale) dedicated to the people—and machines—upon which we all depend.
Tony Award nominee John Ellison Conlee talks about what it's like to play not one, but four Watsons in THE (CURIOUS CASE OF THE) WATSON INTELLIGENCE.
Four Watsons, one time-jumping ode to the people and machines that assist us. Selected moments from THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE, with commentary by playwright Madeleine George.
Watsons of the world, unite!
In June 2013, Playwright Madeleine George and director Leigh Silverman visited IBM Research for a unique melding of science and dramatic arts.
Tim: What came first for you, writing or theater?
Madeleine: It’s funny because I was just talking about this with my friend, the great playwright Rob Handel. We were talking about the different ways to get into writing plays. Some playwrights come from poetry and they get in through image and some come from acting and they get in through action or objective. I have a vivid memory of being in my acting class in college and being up there in the middle of an improv and feeling language just kind of volleying forth from me and my acting teacher standing at the back of the room as I was trying to improv the scene, shouting “Objective, Objective, OBJECTIVE!” [Laughter] I come at it from a delight in the surface topography of language as spoken by human beings. I think I can safely say that that is my entry point into plays. And I studied linguistics as an undergraduate, not theater, and I love listening to people talk.
Playwrights Horizons hosted a special panel discussion curated by WATSON playwright Madeleine George featuring IBM Watson Technologies director Eric W. Brown, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes author Maria Konnikova, and NPR Science correspondent/Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich.
Madeleine George talks about how she made the connection between Watsons throughout history, our dependency on government and technology, and how that impacts our connection with others.
PH on Instagram
When I used to teach playwriting in the New York City public schools, there was one exercise I loved to do best. It always got the most fabulous writing out of kids, whether I was working with first graders or seniors. It was called "The Object Monologue," and it began with me leading the class through a guided visualization, in which I asked them to imagine themselves inside a room they knew well, and to walk around that room in their mind's eye until an object called out to them. "Now walk over to your object," I would instruct them, "and get right up next to it. Notice everything about it. Now lean in close to your object, so close that your nose is almost touching it. Now... jump inside your object and become your object." There was always a gratifying gasp and recoil at this point, as a roomful of third graders with their eyes closed reacted physically to the impact of becoming hairbrushes, Beanie Babies, and basketballs. "Feel how your body feels now that you are this object," I said. "Now look around you. What do you see through your object's eyes?" After a moment, I told them to write a monologue in which their object expressed its deepest desire. The writing produced by this exercise was invariably hyper-dramatic – verging on Greek in its keening, single-minded intensity. "Use me!" the hairbrushes howled. "All I want is for you to use me!" "When you come home from school today, please don’t forget to pick me up and kiss me," begged the Beanie Babies. "If you play with that soccer ball again instead of me, I'm going to let all my air out and lie here dead," the basketballs threatened.
“I think therefore I am.” The philosophical upshot of Descartes’s famous maxim is to split the world in two. There is the “I” and there are the “I’s” objects. It’s a fairly apt structural description of the way our brains work. The problem is it reduces other people to objects. And great moral thinkers have wrestled with this dichotomy ever since. In art, we see this split in the form/content duality. In the act of creation, form and content are inseparable. But art that is formally inventive and identifiably individual always draws our attention. And in the theater, don’t we all just love a well-crafted play? Who is on your list of favorite master craftsmen? Oscar Wilde? Caryll Churchill? Tom Stoppard? Bruce Norris, perhaps? Add to your list, Madeleine George.
More and more, I have less time in the morning to take in the news before heading to work, which leads me to websites like reddit.com (“The Front Page of the Internet”), a thorough round-up from sources scattered all over the world. This morning brought me to The Guardian, the Hindustan Times, New Zealand Herald, Democracy Now, and Slashdot all in the course of about twenty minutes, at which point I snuck a peek at Facebook to see photos someone posted of me in summer camp about 23 years ago. This is the way our daily narratives are formed, not linearly but through networks and associations. My intake of the world while casually eating breakfast cereal and calibrating my day didn’t follow a straight line (a copy of the Times) so much as a multi-dimensional map that whisked me all over the globe and back-and-forth through decades.
Let’s say you’re playing Jeopardy! The category is U.S. Cities. The clue: “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero, its second largest for a World War II battle.”
If you’d asked me, “For whom or what are Chicago’s largest airports named?” I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I’d never really thought about where the names “O’Hare” and “Midway” came from. But when I read the aforementioned category and clue, I thought about pairs of airports in U.S. cities I could name, and when Chicago’s popped into my head, it was clear that one name was a person’s and the other was... and that’s when I remembered my history. Though I didn’t know the answer, I would have wagered quite a lot on that guess.