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Lights, Lights, Lights, Action! A Crazy New Light Projector

A dandypunk

What can you do with a spotlight?

You can light a spot.

But what if you give yourself more options and invent a tool that lets light spill, splash or tighten into a beam as thin as a pencil line — a beam of light that can draw!

Draw what? Oh my God, so many things: a galloping unicorn, a friendly girl, a guy who kicks you in the face, a wormhole, a ball that splashes into a fluid, a cube, a spiral, a rabbit, a squid, a scribble.

There's a performer in New York who calls himself a dandypunk. I don't know much about him (his real name is Joel Sebastian), except that he likes to play with light in ways I've not seen before — and he does it live, onstage, using himself or anything (a box, a trunk) as his canvas. Take a look at this ...

The technology on display here is called live projection mapping. It paints light onto any surface, be it a building, an old chest, a chair or a person; the images can be precisely fitted to whatever (or whomever) they're on. The light can be concentrated or smeared. Dandypunk can paint with his finger, or his finger can burst into flame. These new light projectors allow actors to draw companions into being, then dance, play, do whatever they want with whatever is in their heads. This is a many-splendored tool. Crayons must feel embarrassed. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Speaking of which — remember Harold and The Purple Crayon? The boy who invented a world with his quiet purple line? That Harold was calm, contented, rarely perturbed. If I could whisper in Joel Sebastian's ear (I don't know him) I'd say, you've got this totally amazing light wand, why not take it easy? Why drag poor dandypunk from one bedazzlement to another, where nothing satisfies, nothing stays because there's always more?

On his home page, Sebastian has an answer. His character, he says, "spends most of his time in a half waking, half sleeping state where he is constantly bombarded with visions of creatures, lands and characters from alternate dimensions."

OK. But that makes poor dandypunk a storm-tossed victim, a rag doll of light. What if he took over? Took command?

We are all Harolds, all dandypunks now. This tech revolution keeps giving us amazing new tools, with more and more options, but that's what they are — options. Beauty comes, grace comes, when we narrow down, find the choices that satisfy, that feel right. Sebastian is a powerful, deeply inventive artist, and I liked tumbling about with his character. But what will happen, I wonder, when he finds his "Harold," a quiet being who paints himself into quieter, hand-drawn spaces? We are just beginning to explore what these projectors can do; I wonder, I can't wait, to find out where we'll go next. (But you can take a peep in this piece from Joel Sebastian and his pal Mukhtar O.S. Mukhtar and their friends at Cirque du Soleil.)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Krulwich works on radio, podcasts, video, the blogosphere. He has been called "the most inventive network reporter in television" by TV Guide.

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