“Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared,” Albert Einstein explains in a thick German accent on the phone from Reno.
“This means a very small amount of mass will release a gigantic amount of energy.”
Well, it’s not exactly Einstein. It’s actor Frank Mullen in character as the genius physicist. He’ll be giving a monologue and taking questions as Einstein at the Boulder City Chautauqua on Sept. 17. For anyone who’s ever wanted to know a little more about the Theory of Relativity or how Einstein remained a pacifist in World War II, or, maybe, what’s up with that hair, this is the opportunity to reach back into history and find out.
Additionally, John Muir—the naturalist who roamed the Sierra Nevadas and co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892—will be on hand to field inquiries about nature, preservation and why he memorized the New Testament.
Both historical figures will be appearing, via historian-actors Mullen and O. Jayatu, in The Genius of Nature at the Historic Boulder Theatre. College of Southern Nevada history professor and Vegas Seven columnist Michael Green will moderate the event, and music will be provided by pianist Charlie Shaffer.
The tradition of Chautauqua started in the late 1800s as an experimental educational program at Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly in rural New York. It provided an opportunity for adults to learn outside of the school setting, and proved so popular that Chautauqua groups began forming all around the nation to discuss history, science, literature and public issues.
The form of Chautauqua that survives today is the portrayal of historical figures, such as Einstein and Muir, as both entertainment and education.
Frank Mullen is a reporter for the Reno-Gazette Journal and a journalism professor at University of Nevada, Reno, and a longtime Chautauqua performer. He’s portrayed Babe Ruth, Benedict Arnold and Edward R. Murrow, among others.
Mullen takes about a year to prepare his character. During that time, he keeps a stack of books by and about the character on his nightstand and reads about them at least two hours a night. In the case of 20th-century characters, he also finds newsreels to perfect their voice and mannerisms.
“A lot of people want to know whether Einstein believed in God,” Mullen says. “They think because he was a scientist he was an atheist or agnostic. … Actually, he referred to God a lot. He didn’t believe in him as a personal God, but as … an underlying harmony that pervades the entire universe.”
“Einstein is the chief describer of nature.”