Bankhead offers fascinating speakers lineup
By Lou Fancher
A new year brings bounce: new thoughts, diets, gizmos, lovers, resolutions. But if it doesn’t, if last year’s gum is still stuck on the bottom of your shoe — or gooping up your outlook — what’s a postelection, post-New Year’s partyer to do? Learn something new.
Cognitive engagement wrapped in an entertaining package is miraculous medicine for winter doldrums, and the Rae Dorough Speaker Series at the Bankhead Theater is a prescription for just that.
Far from droll lectures, the lively programs are geared to appeal to audiences from high school students to seniors. Past speakers have included leading voices in literature, science, history, theater, sports, technology, business leadership and more. More often than not, the hybrid-like speakers cross several categories, like author/professor of medicine Abram Vergeese (“Cutting for Stone”) or author/scientist/inventor Astro Teller of Google X and other companies. The programs always include a Q&A and frequently, an opportunity to interact one-on-one with the featured speaker.
One of the series’ highlights — adding a youthful zest that other series lack — arises due to the planning board’s mission to best serve local students. All students in the Livermore Joint United School District are admitted free, and students from other districts are admitted at a reduced price. The impact is evident in the topics addressed and the thought-provoking Q&As.
The 2016-17 season began as the fall sports season was gearing up with Jeanne Marie Laskas, who spoke about Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian immigrant pathologist who discovered a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Omalu was the subject of her best-selling 2009 book, “Concussion,” and a Hollywood film by the same name starring Will Smith.
In November, Julie Lythcott-Haims, an author and former Stanford University dean of freshman, spoke about helicopter parenting and other topics covered in her New York Times-bestselling book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.”
Her essential theme was, ‘Don’t worry and think for yourself,’ ” says board President Charles Hartwig. “We had 57 high school students attend, and many had great questions.”
Vice President Nadine Horner says the Bankhead’s intimacy offers a special opportunity for experts in their fields to interact in ways that aren’t possible in a large, more formal venue. She says that due to the casual setting and because they are a nonprofit with a budget that doesn’t allow for top-dollar national speakers whose fees range into the tens of thousands and whose talks are sometimes preformatted, “Our stage allows the opportunity for a perspective that may not be part of the general mainstream narrative. We book recognized leaders in their fields who engage well with an audience. We highlight local Bay Area talent.”
Subscribers to the series are often pleasantly surprised when a topic in which they would otherwise have little interest catches their attention. “Season ticket holders (tell us that they) book their tickets based on one or two topics but discover other areas of interest,” says Horner.
Coming Jan. 27, Ross S. Stein will speak on “All Things Seismic; the Earth Quakes.” As a consulting professor of geophysics at Stanford and CEO and cofounder of Temblor.net, Stein’s talk will explain the interactivity of earthquakes and why understanding one quake leads to better understanding of the next rupture.
“This is fascinating science and pertinent to our living in this wonderful area — an area prescient with risks,” says Hartwig.
Alan Ashworth is president of the UC San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. His March 23 talk, “Genes, Cancer and New Treatments” will focus on targeted therapy for cancer treatment. Also known as “personalized medicine,” Horner says the subject is “a hot topic in health care today.” The emphasis on up-to-date, even aggressively progressive approaches to cancer has parallels to a theme threading its way throughout the 2016-17 series: by thinking unconventionally, lives can be saved and people’s health and futures can be protected.
Wrapping up the series, former U.S. Ambassador Robert L. Gallucci strides April 27 into turbulent topics related to nuclear weapons with “Nuclear Weapons: They’re Back.” The issues involved include deterrence, national security, international relations and the rising tide of terrorism.
Horner, who is also the external relations officer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s public affairs office, says the relevance for the local community is obvious: “The city of Livermore is the home of two national laboratories working on national security issues for the country. Ambassador Gallucci will share new perspectives on the re-emerging global concern that nuclear weapons represent.”
Having attended several of the lectures, an “insider” note that’s not obvious in the descriptions is how engaging the speakers prove to be. These are experts but also everyday people whose passion, lifestyles, hobbies, quirks, questions, answers and knowledge revolve around the topics on which they speak.
In other words, they’ve pulled the gum off their shoe, examined it and discovered in it something undeniably fascinating. What better mindset is there for approaching a new year?