For more than a decade, Alan Alda communicated the experience of being combat surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the classic wartime comedy “MAS*H.”
These days, Alda is using his experience to help scientists communicate with each other and the public. And the “MAS*H” star claims that his acting career was the best possible preparation for the mission that he’s on now.
In 2009, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science was established at the journalism department of Stony Brook University in New York. The “MAS*H” star’s passion for science is no secret. Throughout the 1990s, Alda hosted a PBS show title “Scientific American Frontiers.”
In doing this, he discovered that scientists often have trouble trying to get their messages across to the public effectively. Alda thought about it for a while. He eventually concluded that the true talent of an actor is the ability to communicate. So why not apply some of those acting fundamentals to science?
In an interview with Stony Brook University, the “MAS*H” star talked about how he wouldn’t have been able to do what he’s doing without his background in entertainment.
“It’s very interesting that my work as an actor really was a perfect preparation for me to help scientists communicate better. Because there’s something fundamental about the acting experience, which is the connection between one actor and another,” Alda said. “It gets rid of jargon. If I know you can’t understand a word that means the world to me but means nothing to you, then I can say it in plain words to you.”
‘What I Learned From Acting, I Can Now Pass on to Scientists,’ Said the ‘M*A*S*H’ Star
Alda’s theory follows. People are often confused trying to understand the technical aspects of things science has figured out. If scientists explaining phenomena tap into effective ways to communicate with the public, people will be more likely to take an interest in the subject.
But how exactly does the Alan Alda school of scientific communication theory work? It’s simple. It all starts with a crash course in improv. Improvisation is in the front pocket of any comedic actor’s pants. Alan Alda himself is well-versed in the art, although “M*A*S*H” kept the actors working from the script for the most part.
“As the basis of communicating science, we teach improvisation. And that seems cock-eyed to some people. Why would you teach improvisation when you’re talking about science?” Alda continued in the interview. “Well, it’s not to make them comedians. It’s not to make them actors. It’s to get them used to the ability to connect with another person.”
In the past, Alda has talked about how he lives his life like an improvisation. It only makes sense that this would be his starting point for something so important to him.