Doug Jacobs remembers vividly the first experience he ever had with R. Buckminster Fuller, the 20th century man of all trades. While a student at UC Santa Barbara in the 1960’s, Jacobs’ brother told him that you have to hear this guy speak. Jacobs, who was in the throes of classes and rowing crew, told his brother he couldn’t make it. Not a problem, said his brother.
“Just come when you can – he talks all day.”
And that was certainly not an exaggeration. More like an understatement.
“He started talking early in the morning,” said Jacobs. “I came later in the day, he was still talking. I came again after dinner – still talking. And I came at 10 at night. He was still talking.”
All of that talking, and an overall fascination with the man, led Jacobs to create his one-man show “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe.” The show opens Wednesday night, February 5th at San Jose Repertory Theatre for a three-week run.
What did this man, known to the masses as “Bucky,” spend so much time talking about? The better question may be, what did this man NOT talk about?
R. Buckminster Fuller is often described as an inventor and a visionary. His vision showcased his expansive knowledge about science, which he used as a way to solve global problems such as housing, shelter, transportation and poverty. Through all his intellect and vision, “Bucky” held 28 patents, wrote 28 books and received 47 honorary degrees.
For all of his intellect, Fuller was not someone who was inaccessible. One of his strengths was his pragmatism. He made people believe in a true global society long before the internet took hold, and gave individuals hope that they have an opportunity to contribute to the greater good. Jacobs recollection of the chaotic 1960’s made Fuller a perfect foil for the time.
“At the time, there was gas all over the community,” said Jacobs. “I happened to be in a dorm room when 25 cars turned the corner with five policemen in each car and the driver had a shotgun around his leg.
“Bucky had a way out of the wrestling matches that everyone was doing. He took the whole hippie generation and fascinated them with possibilities. He provided hope and knew the risks like an alligator in a storm, believing we can get to shore.”
Ron Campbell is bringing his knowledge and experience to the role of Bucky, with more than 500 performances under his belt. A veteran performer who just completed a five-year touring stint with Cirque du Soleil, Campbell equates Bucky’s arc with that of another well-known literary character who navigated a tumultuous world.
“I’m not playing Hamlet, but I’m pretty darn close,” said Campbell. “Bucky is a Hamlet, a person who had that kind of journey and asked the kind of questions Hamlet asked.”
Ultimately, one of the greatest aspects of Fuller’s legacy is the way he offered wisdom on an endless amount of topics, one of the 20th centuries great thinkers. And his mind is what Campbell believes was the key that made people connect to him.
“The entire show is Bucky’s mandate, which shows people the actual world and shows the way to make the world work through all of humanity,” said Campbell. “He was a person to whom nothing was off topic, he was so comprehensive in his thinking. His call to arms was his need for people to celebrate their own individuality. He knew he couldn’t change man, but could make man work for themselves.”
What is immensely difficult is choosing which aspect of Fuller’s life to focus on. Jacobs admitted that the first draft of this one-man show was 203 pages, but ultimately cut down to a much more manageable 65. And while there are so many aspects of Fuller’s inventions and other fun things, the human aspect of the message was the through line of the piece.
“Ultimately, I didn’t explore his cars and houses, but how he reinvented himself as a way for others to reinvent themselves,” said Jacobs. “If water is a metaphor for life, how do you navigate these storms? How do you steer the ship of your own life? Bucky had a way to put your life in your own lap.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
San Jose Repertory Theatre presents “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe.”
Written by D.W. Jacobs
Performed by Ron Campbell
Feb. 5th – 23rd
San Jose Repertory Theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA 95113
Tickets range from $29 – $74
For tickets, call (408) 367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com