On the sidewalk outside the Rio Theatre, an impromptu barter was taking place. A small silver coin passed between hands and Isaiah, bewildered at his luck, stood holding the ticket: an extra admission pass held moments before by an audience member in the line snaking to the entrance of the sold out TEDx event inside.
“I found a way in!” the traveler from San Diego exclaimed, beaming.
An excited serendipity and optimism filled the air for the event inside: a series of TEDx talks on the theme “Radical Collaboration.” From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on April 24, a host of volunteers transformed the Rio Theatre into a venue for 23 punctuated talks on the potential of working together — from sexual collaboration through the female orgasm to political connectedness through online collaboration.
“If you open yourself to the universe, to God, to whatever you want to call it, it opens itself back up to you,” said Isaiah, slipping the admission pass over his head and picking up his backpacker’s backpack to walk inside.
In the theater, an excited chatter lulled as the lights dimmed and the stage was given the series of what organizer Nada Miljkovic called “talk haikus,” short talks or performances trimmed to fit an eight to 18 minute time frame.
Dr. Bruce Damer, an associate professor of molecular biology at UC Santa Cruz, began the six and a half hour event, expounding his idea to use meteors as a source of rocket fuel in space. By using a balloon-like mechanism to enclose meteors, they could be harvested for water and other resources.
Later, life and relationship coach Bez Maxwell talked about the value of surrender, both for sexual and holistic fulfillment. “Order,” she said, “doesn’t give us what we want from each other. It doesn’t take either of us to that radical edge of surrender where nobody knows what is going to happen next.”
The screen beside her displayed two graphs illustrating her vision of the male and female orgasm, the first as a straight linear progression, the latter as a web of whimsical loops and zigzags.
“This isn’t just about sex, this is about your life. Which of these two graphs looks more like your life?” she asked. “There’s a beautiful life that wants to live you in addition to you living it. The question is, will you allow it?”
Many of the speakers came from UCSC, including Dr. David Haussler, who shared his work with genomics, Dr. Daniel Costa, who explained how tracking elephant seals helped his research team map the Antarctic sea floor and Dr. Barry Sinervo, a UCSC ecology and evolutionary biology professor who gave a sober warning of the mass extinction of reptiles.
However, the stage was not reserved only for established speakers and academics.
“It was intimidating because there’s so many thinkers and doers on this bill,” said Seattle-based indie musician Ben Doerr, who performed with his band St. Paul de Vence. “We’re usually on the bill with other bands that are brilliant and that’s wonderful, but there’s real world change happening in this room.”
Education reform was a recurring theme during the talks. Matt Beaudreau, vice principal at Adventure Christian School in Roseville, suggested radical democracy for students in running schools, while Christy Hutton, academic dean of Kirby School in Santa Cruz, condemned standardized education imposed on students who defy standards. Barbara Rogoff, a UCSC psychology professor, explained how integrating young children into activities is vital for their healthy development.
“How many audience members are under the age of 12?” Rogoff asked. A lone, small hand rose in a back row. “We need more kids here!”
Later in the event, emcee Irene Tsouprake asked how many UCSC students were present. Approximately a fifth of the hands in the auditorium raised.
“They have to grow their audience,” said returning TEDxSantaCruz audience member Margie Kern-Marshall. “It’s too expensive.”
However, the $70 general admission cost, discounted to $35 for students, bought not only a live viewing of the performances — which are available on YouTube — but what second-year UCSC student Buckminster Barrett called the “space of the TED talk.”
“If you’re watching it online, you know there’s a big crowd of people there but you don’t know what they’re all about,” Barrett said. “There’s something a lot more interpersonal about seeing the person who just spoke walk off stage and blend in with the crowd of people, who have their own thing to say as well.”