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Inertia Makes the World Go Around

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

A mini-opera in four acts
music by Georges Bizet
words by Marc Abrahams

This mini-opera had its premiere as part of the 16th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, on Thursday evening, October 5, 2006.

Original Cast
Narrator: Karen Hopkin
The Boy: Pierre Fontaine
Eb: Margot Button
Flo: Gina Beck
The Dog: Maggie McNeil.
Pianist: Scott Nicholas
Friends: The new Ig Nobel Prize winners, the Nobel Laureates, and all the other ignitaries who were on stage.

Characters
EB and FLO, who are sisters. EB is always at rest. FLO  is always in motion. Each girl has a cellular phone always held to her ear.
The BOY.
The boy’s DOG (a biting, but non-singing, part). The DOG appears in Acts 1, 3, and 4.
FRIENDS— the neighborhood children (this role is played by guest scientists). They appear in Act 4.

ACT 1: “A Natural Leader”

NARRATOR [spoken]:Tonight’s opera is about a boy, and his ego, and his inertia. This little boy thinks he’s the most popular boy EVER. Here in Act 1, he has JUST moved into town. Right next door live two sisters. The boy expects the two sisters to come over and play with him. But that may not happen. You see, one sister NEVER leaves the house — and the other sister is ALWAYS running  around. Let me clarify that: One sister is at rest, and she tends to stay at rest — and the other sister is in motion, and she tends to stay in motion.

Now let’s meet the little boy, and his little dog. The boy explains how he’s going to get the two sisters to come admire him. Inevitably, the boy comes to realize, as he always does, how very wonderful he is. Let’s listen.

[The BOY sings this. His DOG is at his side, but doesn’t make a peep.]

[MUSIC: Toreador song from “Carmen”]

Girls at rest — they tend to stay at rest.
And girls who move — they stay in mo-otion.
It’s legendary.
Girls do not vary.
Not until they menstruate. Then, all bets are off.

Those two girls —
One stays indoors, you know.
One’s too much on the go.
One dud, one dynamo.
How can I get them —
How can I get them —
Get them to come visit me, to come bask in my glow?

I must use momentum.
That’s the key: momentum.
I have got momentum on my side.
I don’t know what kind of stuff it is.
Did they mention it one day in school?
Momentum! Momentum! Momentum! Momentum!

I am a leader! People follow me!
Na-tu-ral-ly! Na-tu-ral-ly!
Me! Me me me me ! Me me me me !
Ev’ryone’s cup of tea!
It takes just one good look
For you to see
That people follow me!

I am a leader! People follow me!
Na-tu-ral-ly! Na-tu-ral-ly!
People want to know all about me:
What I eat! When I pee!
It takes just one good look
For you to see
That people follow me!

[At the end, the DOG matter-of-factly bites THE BOY. The BOY walks offstage with the DOG matter-of-factly clamped to his arm.]

ACT  2:  “The  Two Sisters”

NARRATOR [spoken]: Here in Act 2, we meet the two sisters who live next door to the little boy. I’d better remind you about those two sisters. One sister NEVER leaves the house — and the other sister is ALWAYS running around. Yes, one sister is at rest, and she tends to stay at rest. The other sister is in motion, and she tends to stay in motion. Yet the two girls enjoy each other’s company. How? Easy. They are ALWAYS conversing on their cellular telephones. Now let’s join the two sisters — one at home, one running around —  as they discuss their strange new neighbor.

[MUSIC: Seguedilla from “Carmen”]

[The two sisters are conversing on mobile phones. EB sits at center stage, reading a book. She looks up — distractedly — only for as long as it takes to sing each group of thoughts — then immediately returns to reading the book. FLO is always in motion (jogging, perhaps).]

EB:
Some stupid boy has just moved into the neighborhood
He’s got some kind of fixation.
He claims that he’s got more friends than
Any kid in the nation.
He wants us to join the celebration.

FLO:
Fawn over him! He wants us to.
Fawn over him we will not do.
Fondle himself!
[SPOKEN:] If he wants to!
I couldn’t give a flying fig. (ha, ha, ha!)

EB:
I stay at home.
That’s where I hang out.
No way I’d let him in the door.
Let him chase you, run all about.
He’s like a bull, you a matador!

FLO:
No way he could catch up to me.
No way. He isn’t very fast.
He’s proud of being fully half-assed.
That boy’s so slow
[FLO taps her head]
I am aghast.

EB:
That boy’s a slow one.
[EB taps her head]
But he’s aggressive.
I think that his genes
May be recessive.

FLO:
He’ll want to push us.
He’ll want to shove us.
And if he does, I say “Bring it on!”

EB:
That stupid boy who just moved into the neighborhood —
Could be he’ll try to attract us.
But do what he might,
The most that he can do is distract us.
Let’s just ignore him if we can!

ACT 3: “A Boy Uses His Charm”

NARRATOR [spoken]: In Act 3, the boy comes up with a clever idea. He will lure the girls into coming over to see him. His secret weapon? Music. Let’s watch as the boy plays a song on the his favorite musical instrument.

[The BOY sings this. He holds his pet DOG. He beats it like a drum during parts of this song. The SISTERS, visible at a distance, ignore him. One sits in her chair intently reading a book; the other spends this whole song walking back and forth across the stage, never looking at the BOY.]

[MUSIC: Les Tringles des Sistres Tintaient from “Carmen”]

I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do.
I’ll charm those sisters with some music.
I know girls like to move to music.
I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do.

I know how funny this might sound,
But I make my own kind of music.
I doggedly compose my music.
I do the dog work on my own.
I do percussion using skin and bone.



[He beats out the rhythm on his dog.]

Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
No other instrument will do.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
I love the sound — and so do you!

[He stops beating the dog.]

I know you want to watch me play.
Girls like to watch kids who make music.
Well, I’m a kid who makes some music.
I know you want to watch me play.

It sounds much better right up close.
It’s intimate, my kind of music.
From far away it’s just plain music.
But it’s a very special sound.
There’s nothing like it — this boy and his hound!

[He beats out the rhythm on his dog]

Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
No other instrument will do.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
Beat out that rhythm on a dog.
I love the sound — and so do you-ou-ou-ou!

[At the end, the DOG matter-of-factly bites the BOY. The BOY walks offstage with the DOG matter-of factly clamped to his arm.]

ACT 4: “A Boy and His Inertia”

NARRATOR [spoken]: Despite the boy’s wishes, the girls never did visit him. But the boy canNOT stand being ignored. So now, at last — here in the concluding act of the opera — the boy does something DRASTIC, something he thought he would NEVER do. He goes over to the girls’ house and — yes — talks to them. All the neighborhood children — played tonight by the Nobel Laureates and other distinguished scientists — gather round to see what will happen. Let’s join them....

[All the other children in the neighborhood (played by the scientists, etc.) are there. They all stand behind the SISTERS. WHENEVER THE SISTERS SING, these FRIENDS sway in time to the music. Toward the end, they join the girls in singing “IN-ER-SHEE-YA!” — these group-sing occasions are printed in all uppercase letters: “IN-ER-SHEE-YA!”]

[MUSIC: Habanera (including a bit of the recitative that precedes it) from “Carmen”]

[The BOY has the DOG is at his side. But the DOG doesn’t make a peep.]

BOY:
I’m a popular guy.
A real pop-ular guy.
Us pop-ular guys,
We’re smart — and we’re wise.
I know you agree.
Follow me.

EB:
I’m not sure I can say just why
What you say
Sounds like it’s not quite sound.
You’re a popular kind of guy.
Do you know what makes the world go around?

FLO:
There’s a reason your plans get stalled.
A simple reason —
But it’s profound.
It’s inertia. That’s what it’s called.
Inertia makes the world go around.

BOY: Yes! Inertia! I’ve heard of that!

SISTERS: In-er——
BOY: Yes! Inertia! I’ve heard of that!
SISTERS: —shee-yaaa!
BOY: Yes! Inertia! I’ve heard of that!
SISTERS: In-er——
BOY: Yes! Inertia! I’ve heard of that!
SISTERS: —shee-yaaa!

EB: Inertia — that’s your hidden strength!
Inertia lets you go to any length.
In little things, AND on the whole,
Inertia always, always keeps control!

SISTERS & FRIENDS: IN-ER-SHEE-YA!

BOY:
Inertia gives me thrills!
Its thrillingness is unsurpassed!

SISTERS & FRIENDS: IN-ER-SHEE-YA!



[The BOY starts marching in place, as if he’s about to march off  and have everyone follow him. But nobody else marches at all.]

BOY:
I love in-er-shee-ya!
Oh, yes — I’m an enthusiast!

EB: You go ahead. You lead the way.
Go off to war. Go join Opus Dei.
FLO: Go off to Mars or Timbuktu.
Go hope inertia makes your DREAMS come true!

SISTERS & FRIENDS: IN-ER-SHEE-YA!

BOY:
I’ve got in-er-shee-ya!
Oh yes, I’ve got in-er-shee-ya!

SISTERS & FRIENDS: IN-ER-SHEE-YA!

BOY:
I’ve got in-er-shee-ya!
Oh yes, I’ve got in-er-shee-ya!

SISTERS & FRIENDS: IN-ER-SHEE-YA!

[At the end, the DOG matter-of-factly bites the BOY. The BOY walks offstage — in triumph — with the DOG matter-of-factly clamped to his arm.

The 2006 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The opera begins about a half-hour in. (YouTube link)

_____________________

The article above is from the November-December 2006 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.


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