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Tales from the wild: National Geographic explorers come to Madison
Overture Center | National Geographic Live

Tales from the wild: National Geographic explorers come to Madison

The photos, as you’d expect, are stunning.

But wait till you meet the explorers behind them.

The Overture Center kicks off its four-part National Geographic Live series on Feb. 11 — with topics ranging from Mars exploration to swimming through caves known as “blue holes.”

The lineup includes:

• Feb. 11: Tim Laman, field biologist and wildlife photographer, and ornithologist Ed Scholes with astounding photographs, video and audio recordings in “Birds of Paradise: Extreme, Bizarre, Extraordinary.”

• March 4: Cave explorer Kenny Broad, 2011 National Geographic Explorer of the Year, presenting “Beyond the Invisible: Secrets of the Blue Holes.” (Broad’s presentation replaces a scheduled appearance by Tim Samaras, the famed tornado researcher who was killed last May in a lethal storm.)

• April 29: Kobie Boykins, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with insights into 21st-century space exploration in “Exploring Mars: Rovers of the Red Planet.”

• May 20: Primatologist Mireya Mayor with “My Wild Life,” inspiring young people, particularly girls, with her life’s journey as the daughter of Cuban immigrants: from onetime NFL cheerleader and Fulbright Scholar to Ph.D. scientist and National Geographic TV correspondent.

The 60- to 70-minute-long talks take place at 7:30 p.m. in Capitol Theater and are followed by an audience Q&A.

National Geographic Live is designed, above all, to be entertaining, said Andy van Duym, vice president for National Geographic Live and a Madison resident.

“The content is certainly stimulating, and you’re learning new things about the planet and seeing great pictures. But I think the thing we hear most consistently from our audiences is that they feel inspired,” van Duym said.

“It’s really a chance to meet these really fascinating explorers — men and women who spend much of their lives on assignment for National Geographic. The audience gets to experience the world through the eyes of these incredible people, who really lead extraordinary lives.”

Bringing National Geographic Live to Madison was the idea of Ted DeDee, Overture’s president and CEO since 2012. In his prior job running a performing arts center in Ohio, DeDee booked the series and it “was wildly successful,” he said.

In addition to the evening talks in Madison, Overture is presenting National Geographic Live during the day for students from the area’s middle and high schools.

The series “is very well-suited for families with children of those ages,” DeDee said. “When attending as a family, the conversations about what they hear and what they learn extend beyond the presentation. I’ve had parents call me up and leave me messages at 1 in the morning,” describing what a fascinating talk they had late into the night with their children about the explorers they had seen.

“It’s not unusual that I’d get that kind of phone message, email or hear in person, ‘Wow, this is a whole new world of discovery,’” DeDee said.

The speakers in National Geographic Live have an ongoing relationship with National Geographic, which funds many of their explorations — and has a long history of live talks.

“Speaker programs have been part of National Geographic since it was founded in 1888,” van Duym said. “Actually before there was a National Geographic magazine, there were lectures by the explorers we were supporting. So the tradition goes back to the very beginning of National Geographic. We’re looking to tell the stories of the world and of exploration in different ways.”

In 1998, National Geographic took its concept of live public programs — done for more than a century at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. — to Seattle, where each National Geographic Live speaker sells out the city’s huge orchestra hall several times over. National Geographic Live has now spread to 17 North American cities including Madison, plus sites in Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore.

“It’s been extremely popular in a lot of different cities,” van Duym said. “We believe that Madison has the kind of ethos and interest in the outdoors, overall environmental awareness and progressive mentality that translates into the success of a program like this.”

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