Conceptual director, interactive designer, idea generator, and performer Natasha Tsakos visited TASIS on October 26 as part of the 2017–2018 Senior Humanities Program. She gave a dynamic presentation to the entire High School at a morning assembly in the Palestra, met with theater students in the afternoon, addressed the senior class in the Palmer Center in the evening, and held a question-and-answer session in Casa Fleming following the address.
Originally from Geneva but now residing in the United States, Ms. Tsakos is passionate about the language of interactivity between the imaginary and the real and strives to create extraordinary experiences on Earth and beyond. She is now developing Billion Billions, a new show set to premiere in 2018 that leverages unique mobile technology, real time data, and state-of-the-art projection mapping to create a production that responds to real-world events.
Ms. Tsakos has garnered a lot of attention for her ability to pioneer ways to integrate technology with live performance. She is the president of NTiD, inc., a creative powerhouse dedicated to activating imagination through theatrical experiences. She has produced and created nine multimedia shows, including two for the Discovery Channel, and ten short films, and she is the published author of two books, including COLOURS, which won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Digital Award. She has performed at Coachella and with Cirque du Soleil for the Super Bowl Opening Ceremony, has opened the G20 Summit with her show CLIMAX and the Tribeca Film Festival Imagination Talks with her piece FACE FORWARD, and has spoken at the United Nations, TED, Google, YPO, KIN Global, IBM Summit, SIME Stockholm, TEDx Broadway, TEDx PuraVida Joven, and TEDx San Diego. In 2016, she became an Ambassador to the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth 2030 Project.
At the morning assembly in the TASIS Palestra, Ms. Tsakos was introduced by High School Theater Director Valerie Bijur Carlson, who remarked, "I am delighted to get to introduce you to Ms. Natasha Tsakos, a performing artist I have taught for years in drama classes because I respond deeply to her ideas about theater and what it can to—its truth, its wisdom, its beauty, and its power to build our empathy for each other, our shared humanity."
Ms. Tsakos energetically took the floor after students viewed the video clip above. Upon noting how excited she was to be presenting in her home country for the first time, she eloquently expressed her passion for both theater and technology and explained how they can intersect to heighten our awareness of what it means to be human. She discussed how we are living in "insanely interesting times," noted that half the jobs in existence today are projected to be automated within the next 20 years, and declared that the top three skills required by 2020 will be complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. She told her captivated audience of students that what matters most is that they are passionate about something that adds value to the world and creates positive change, explained to them that we all have the creative potential to thrive, and challenged them to give themselves "permission to be out of the ordinary!"
Senior Humanities Program Coordinator Peter Locke and Ms. Carlson arranged a special afternoon session in which Ms. Tsakos met with students from two drama classes along with members of the cast and crew for the School's upcoming fall play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. "We all cozied up in the Drama Room—about 20 of us—and for an hour, she answered questions posed by our student thespians," said Ms. Carlson. "It was an exceptional opportunity for the students, and they were grateful, excited, and completely focused."
In her evening address to seniors in the Palmer Center, Ms. Tsakos discussed her own journey—particularly how her passion for reading and performing at a young age caused her to fall in love with theater—and led students down the "rabbit hole of possibilities" that emerging technologies have created, including augmented reality, virtual reality, immersive experiences, and software created by artificial intelligence. "We are entering a brave new world full of possibilities," she said. "And all of us will be involved in thinking, dreaming, imagining, making, building, and programming."
Ms. Tsakos explained that she does not believe in using new technologies merely for the sake of doing so, but that we need to leverage the power of technology to augment our creative potential. She closed by urging students to "find your passion and humanity before someone else defines it for you—then go change the world for the better...because now you can."
An Interview with Natasha Tsakos
Student writer Ekaterina Plotnikova '18 had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Tsakos while she was on campus. Below is their exchange.
How often do you give presentations at schools, and what do you like about doing that?
I do not often present at schools. I have probably been to three schools in total. I love it! There is an extra responsibility on the speaker because you are students and you absorb every detail. I was a student once, and I am not too far away from that time either. The message needs to be carefully transmitted. It is important to get you excited about the things I am excited about.
"Everybody is creative at heart, and we all have creative potential."
How often do you change the content of your presentations, and what influences you to find something new to talk about?
I try to change the content of every presentation I deliver, which is a lot of pressure. Some talks get repeated due to a lack of time.
Sometimes my point of view on a particular subject is constant, and there is no point to talk about something new. This only happens when the technology remains up-to-date and there is no need to reframe and rephrase the subject of the information. I try to refresh my mind and settle it differently before every presentation I give. It is important to understand that we cannot arrest our thinking since it varies. We are constantly affected by the new inputs that change the way we think of the world, interpret the world, and perceive the world.
I get inspired from the things that do not work. Whenever I see a show and it upsets me, I want to find ways to improve it. I get fueled by all the time wasted on that show, especially when I know I can make it look better and gain more attention from the audience. I get in touch with my own humanity and it motivates me to create. The social system of our world affects my social commentaries. For me, the world is upside down. It is fun and important to pick a particular social element in society and discuss it.
What is your impression of TASIS so far?
I arrived yesterday. It is the most beautiful campus I have ever seen in my life! I love the fact that it doesn't feel like a school. It's like a town or a village. It is alive. The buildings do not look institutionalized—they are just beautiful buildings from the town of Montagnola. The campus is integrated with everything else, which is beautiful.
What advice do you have for TASIS students as they think about their futures?
Everybody is creative at heart, and we all have creative potential. Now we are entering a new economy, which I think will be a creative one. Most of the jobs that people are used to doing will be automated. The new fields that will be opened up for us humans will be much more creative, and they will require us to be much more creative. We can train the creativity of the future generations through the art practices. It is not necessary to study dance to become a professional dancer—that is irrelevant. In fact, the new skills that are multi-sensorial will allow our minds, brains, and imagination to think differently. Not a lot of focus has been put into that concept and into the combination of disciplines. And the whole process will be interesting to learn and apply in our daily lives. I would suggest that students take different art classes, like theater, dance, and visual arts. The brain will then create new connections in order for us to understand the world better and adapt to its fast-growing changes.
"It is the most beautiful campus I have ever seen in my life! I love the fact that it doesn't feel like a school. It's like a town or a village. It is alive."
We need to play more! The level of pressure that we have all the time as students, teachers, and working people suggests serious human character behaviors. We are often advised to calm down the rebel, to become quiet and control the wilderness in us. I don't think we need to do that because that's the beauty of us. We are human, we have ideas, and we get lost and confused—and that is all right. We need to give ourselves permission to grow, to be a rebel, and to find the channel of our energy production.
The arts shouldn't be put aside. Arts create processes that will be crucial for innovation—especially when we live in a world that will impose the elimination of half the jobs by new technology in 20 years or sooner. The world is killing all the redundancies of our lives. What will remain is us, and we will become creative with the new industries that we haven't even discovered yet. It is about a reinstitution of the arts within the curriculum that we offer now, so that it connects all the areas of knowledge. I would love to learn geometry through motion. I would love to learn physics through dance, to learn philosophy and reasoning through literature. I would love to learn the different phases and the abstraction processes. There are so many cross collaborations that should happen. And hopefully they will.
2017–2018 Senior Humanities Program
Farmer, sustainable designer, science illustrator, and educator Joseph E. Trumpey opened this year's Senior Humanities Program on September 25. Brie Mathers, who has spoken to 100,000 teens worldwide through her multimedia event Love the Skin You're In, will be on campus November 20–23, and artist, photographer, author, and educator Susan Middleton will visit on March 19. Mr. Locke plans to to add one more speaker later in the spring.