Tesla enthusiast, museum exhibition creator, 3D animated movie collaborator, storyteller and globally-minded artist Helena Bulaja Madunichas helped me understand Nikola Tesla better than I had before. Instead of viewing him an ineffectual business person who died penniless and alone in a New York hotel room, we should think of Tesla as an artist. Helena believes that artists and storytellers are essential components of our world, for “without stories, humanity would disappear.” Tesla was not motivated by the idea of wealth building, but driven by an innate desire to create, explore, tinker, and push past perceived limitations of the mind -- the same desires that inspire the work of many great artists. Helena believes that humanity now has an increased capacity to explore and discover the mysteries of the universe thanks to Tesla’s artistic vision.
I had the opportunity to meet Helena Bulaja Madunic in January, at the 5th annual Tesla Science Conference held at the New Yorker Hotel in New York City -- the same hotel where Tesla spent his final years tinkering, writing, thinking (mostly in isolation), and feeding pigeons. As part of our research for Tesla’s Dream, Paul Taylor and I decided to immerse ourselves in the emerging realm of Nikola Tesla enthusiasts. Helena was one of dozens of attendees from around the world who were eager to share their knowledge about Nikola Tesla with anyone willing to listen and engage. Attendees included electrical engineers, educators, artists, writers, actors, producers, researchers, leaders in government, representatives from the Tesla Science Foundation and the still-forming Tesla Science Center on Long Island, members of the Consulate of The Republic of Serbia, and many others. We were presented with a wide variety of thoughts and ideas about Tesla’s life and legacy, shared from many different vantage points.
As an artist who is telling Tesla’s story, I believe it is important to listen to the tales and anecdotes that already exist. It’s been less than a century since Tesla died, but already legends abound. At the Tesla Science Conference, Paul and I heard from one group that claims to have improved upon the Tesla Coil’s coil and toroid design by implementing what they term “sacred geometry.” Nearby, a retired electrical engineer and educator rolled his eyes and essentially dismissed their findings as “gobbledygook.” I’m no authority but I found this ironic, because many of Tesla’s inventions and ideas were also deemed “gobbledygook” by fellow engineers of his day.
Another conference speaker posited that humanity’s collective consciousness is not yet ready for the future Nikola Tesla dreamed about: a world where energy is freely accessible and humankind is able to harness and access that power with ease.
One gentleman I met walked me through, as best he could, the Tesla Coil experiments he has conducted with a giant Tesla Coil he created in a Canadian air hangar, which he has experimented with in his own back yard. According to his account, he was able to resonate with the oscillations of earth’s magnetic field, thereby generating more available energy than was put into it.
A woman I was told is a famous Serbian actress gave a reading of a letter that tells the story of how Nikola misses his mother and wishes he could be by her side. Through my own research I deemed the letter and the story to be completely made up, as it doesn’t align with the timeline of Nikola Tesla’s actual life, but you can decide which you believe to be real: the Tesla Timeline or the questionable letter.
I share these examples to illustrate how quickly one could get lost in the legend of Nikola Tesla. What is real? What is fiction? Which stories are based in truth, but slightly exaggerated? Which are hopeful fantasies? Is there a key discovery that not being heard because of its audacious and unbelievable ramifications? What exactly is complete gobbledygook? What is the next giant leap for the evolution of science and technology?
As our research continues, I have found that there is already a plethora of Tesla content out there in the universe. A theatrical play in LA, a musical, another musical, an epic rap battle of history, an opera, of course the car company, books, documentaries, museum exhibitions, and more. And yet, because Tesla dreamed so big, and because his influence was so far reaching, I know there is room to tell his story again, and again, and again. Here in Philadelphia we love an underdog story, and Tesla -- an immigrant who arrived in the USA with a few pennies, a dream, and the determination to see it through -- is one of the world’s greatest underdog stories. (Idea for future play- Saint Nicolas, Saint Nikola, Saint Nick: The Story of the Three Saints who show up in the Nick of Time. I digress…)
Our objectives in creating this play are manifold. We hope to paint a unique picture of Nikola Tesla’s mind and thinking; to tell a story which leaves audiences with an appreciation of the many contributions Nikola Tesla made to our world. We hope to draw attention to the unique connection between The Franklin Institute, its history of important lectures, publications, and awards with luminaries like Nikola Tesla. We hope to fulfill the mission of The Franklin Institute as we inspire a passion for learning about science and technology, a mission which would certainly resonate with Nikola Tesla. We hope to expose our guests to the creative work happening at the Franklin Institute and the larger body of artistic and story-telling artwork happening here in Philadelphia throughout the year and specifically during the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
The process of creating this play is well underway. Paul and I have composed our moment-to-moment, the skeleton of our play. We have our cinematographer signed on to create 25 minutes of Tesla’s dream/thought content. Our casting call is written and auditions will be held in March. We are excited to bring a team together and flesh out our narrative. What will we add to the abundance of artistic Tesla content? How will we make it uniquely Franklin Institute-worthy? There’s only one way to find out. See you in September!