Profile Response: BJ Krintzman and Richard Ortner

HWWLT Logo on yellowBJ Krintzman is an attorney and arbitrator from Newton, MA, and a Director of The Boston Conservatory, a private college of music, theater, and dance in Boston, MA. Richard Ortner is a wannabe tomato grower from Canaan, New York. Until he fulfills that dream, he is President of The Boston Conservatory. We met in Richard’s office to share Pad Thai and Ginger Pork takeout, and explore ‘How Will We Live Tomorrow?’ before attending BoCo’s annual Freshman Revue.

imgres-1BJ – How Will We Live Tomorrow? I go immediately to the dark side, lack of water, scarcity, conflict. Where is the world today? Everybody hates us. Terrorists, the developing world, the discord is huge everywhere.

imgresRO – I go to a tribal place. The Internet is returning us to word of small identity groups. We go online and find our tribe. It is the end of browsing. There is no unfocused exploration, just reinforcement of our particular ideas.

BJ – There is no question that we have defiled our nest.

RO – If you subscribe to the Gaia Hypothesis, that the earth is a balanced living system that results in catastrophe when that balance is lost, we are coming upon a time of great disruption. The human dominance of this plant will lead to our demise and the earth will reformulate along a new equilibrium with new life forms.

It is not just the planet and the environment we are corrupting, but what it means to be human. When the Supreme Court defines corporations as people we have lost an understanding of what it means to be a person. That is a recipe for Armageddon

BJ – The impact of the Internet is huge. Does it isolate or connect us?

RO – Yes.

BJ – Okay, you’re right there. But it’s unnerving to see groups of people together, in restaurants and other places, each on their own device.

RO – We – you and I – think that’s terrible, but we don’t speak the language, and I believe the language of texting and social media is a legitimate, though different, language.

BJ – But don’t we have to be able to read body cues?

RO – Did you see the article in The New Yorker about Affectiva, software that deciphers facial recognition? This woman from MIT developed a program that registers our emotional responses. Her initial interest was in understanding how children learned to read emotions, particularly within the autism spectrum. As we’re looking at our device, the program registers our emotional response to whatever we see by scanning dozens of subtle facial movements. Retailers got a whiff, now everybody wants it. They can use the algorithm to feed what we will experience next.

How do we explain the explosion of autism? It’s a sign that our tribe is growing more isolated. Pulling into ourselves is a survival response to too much stress.

BJ (turning to me) – Have you seen The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night? I see a lot of theater, at least seventy plays a year. It is the single best piece of theater I have ever seen.

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RO – BJ and I saw it together in New York. This little boy observes the chaos of the adult world and cannot process it. He cannot comprehend the actions of the adults around him. As we grow older, we loose sight of how complicated the world is because we become part of making the chaos.

BJ – It’s a simple story, so well told, with terrific staging. All viewed by a child. A child is all ‘id’, everything is about me. But autistic kids have no metaphoric sense. It’s a corollary to innocence. It revives that time before you were too afraid to ask the question. Adults don’t ask questions, we are too afraid to look weak.

But getting back to your question, I don’t stop and ask myself, “Am I on the path I want to be on.” I get up every day and do what is before me.

images-1RO – I am leading a much more deliberate life than I did a year ago. I assessed what I wanted to do here at the Conservatory and in the rest of my life and developed a plan that unspools me in a satisfying way. Within three years I plan to grow tomatoes at my place in Canaan. Have you seen my new rock wall? (Richard shares iPhone pics of a stone wall). I’m creating a sunny space for a tomato garden. I also want to do cucumbers.

BJ – You are building this wall, making this garden. The only way to achieve a goal is to have a goal. I don’t have that right now. I like what I’m doing, but there’s no big plan.

RO – Back to tomorrow. I don’t think we’ve finished exploring the affect of the Internet. We get a lot of content, but not much meaning.

BJ – And no form. I’m hard wired about grammar and punctuation. That is all falling by the wayside. I know it’s elitist to say, I know that if you can communicate you’ve achieved your objective, but I’m stuck on good form. I see the casual way stuff is thrown up on the Internet and I feel that our skills are devalued.

RO – Just as we devalued our grandparent’s ability to walk in the woods and know which mushrooms were good to eat. Each generation has its own knowledge needs and forms of expression.

BJ – You are lucky in that respect, working here, with so many young people.

RO – Every year I ask incoming freshmen, “What are you listening to, and how are you listening to it?” I am always pleased by the range, from Sibelius to Lady Gaga, and usually surprised by the form. There are so many ways to extract information in our world, and they are changing all the time.

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Dinner ended in time to attend the Freshman Revue, a sort of ‘final exam’ for the Boston Conservatory’s freshman survey course in musical theater. The show features all freshmen in musical theater in performance vignettes that span musical theater history. This year, the ensemble included a moving tribute to the evolution of civil rights, with a plea for solidarity in Baltimore, the latest American city to erupt in reaction to police shootings of minority citizens.

images-2That was followed immediately by a pensive rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s ‘Beautiful City’. I was struck by how Richard and BJ’s concerns about tomorrow belie the reality that they invest so much time and energy in the optimistic pursuit of nourishing young artists. In Godspell, Jesus sings ‘Beautiful City’ to his disciples. The song responds to the question, ‘How will we live tomorrow?’ in a direct and positive way.

Out of the ruins and rubble
Out of the smoke
Out of our night of struggle
Can we see a ray of hope?
One pale thin ray reaching for the day

We can build a beautiful city
Yes, we can; Yes, we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But we can build a city of man

We may not reach the ending
But we can start
Slowly but truly mending
Brick by brick, heart by heart
Now, maybe now
We start learning how

We can build a beautiful city
Yes, we can; Yes, we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But we can build a city of man

When your trust is all but shattered
When your faith is all but killed
You can give up, bitter and battered
Or you can slowly start to build

A beautiful city
Yes, we can; Yes, we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But finally a city of man

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About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, theawkwardpose.com is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog, www.howwillwelivetomorrw.com, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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