NinjaTED 2018: AMANDA PALMER and the show of a lifetime (until next year’s)

A flame-haired performer/author/tour de force, an actor/entreprenur, an actor/rapper/activist, a best-selling author, a poet, a magician, two cellists, two accordionists, a violinist, a space archeologist, a sex educator, a science podcaster, a technologist-cum-musician, a Latin American band, and a carnival band walk into theatre. Sounds like the beginning of a really weird joke, right? Far from it. It was simply par for the course at “NinjaTED”, the annual charity variety gig that American performer Amanda Palmer has made an annual experience.

Bringing together the best and most fascinating fellows, past winners, musicians, performers and speakers from the vaunted global conference TED, Amanda Palmer’s NinjaTED is a bid to bring the exclusive and outlandishly expensive TED experience to the common people.

But really, it does far more than that. Tickets for the show are affordable and proceeds go to the Vancouver Food Bank (Palmer has raised more than $100,000 since her first uproariously doolally event in 2014). And since Amanda herself has been a TED speaker, she understands the limitations of the conference itself – that they’re beautiful and brain-expanding, but also rather hermetically sealed.  So NinjaTED has continued as it began: in the warm Vogue Theatre, filled with dedicated and adoring fans, anointed by chaos (though this year felt a bit more organized), possessing of a generosity of spirit and resulting in joy. Amanda Palmer understands that if you don’t ask, you don’t get, and so she asks…and we hugely benefit in the getting. There are simply no other experiences like this around; you feel better for being there.

But what exactly is it? NinjaTED is a three-hour cavalcade of diverse and magical performances by some of Palmer’s returning friends (musicians Jason Webley, poet Sarah Kay, podcaster and Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova, local accordionist Geoff Berner, and husband and superstar author Neil Gaiman among them, plus some “new friends” Palmer knows are coming for the conference and whom she invites to the event. Nobody really knows what to expect, everyone gets their one or two moments on stage, everyone on stage ends up loving the experience more than they were prepared to, and everyone in the seats, well, feel kinda blessed.

Where else could you get to see Amanda herself, singing “In My Mind” on her ukelele and pausing between verses to deal with some stoned interpretive dancers at the front of the stage (“Nothing fazes me”, Palmer laughed, all dimples, as she graciously and patiently tried to deal with the fellas interrupting her flow. Okay, maybe now that I think of it, this is pretty par for the course at any Amanda show, but no less wonderful.)

Where else could you experience actor and HitRecord online community founder Joseph Gordon-Levitt, acting out a key scene from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 1 – a conversation between the demon Choronzon and hero Morpheus – with actually Neil Gaiman reading as Morpheus? (As a side note: Gordon-Levitt had been pipped to bring to the screen a version of Sandman before very sadly leaving the project due to creative differences with the studio.)

Where else could you join sex educator Emily Nagoski (and her sister Amelia) as they lead an audience through a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” involving lyrics comprised entirely of the names of our genitals? Or see a magician, David Kwong, melt minds through a clever card-deck/Scrabble trick? Watch incredible Latin/Brooklyn band Ladama Project play their first-ever performance in Canada? Nod solemnly at the words to Londoner Riz Ahmed’s “Sour Times“? Or witness the return of Evelyn Evelyn – Palmer and Jason Webley performing “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn”?

Where else could you see Jaron Lanier, a virtual reality pioneer, play on a really enormous twisted flute and violinist Lili Haydn bend her bow? Or cry in a Sarah Kay poem about her brother joining the army? Or witness the beautiful performances – separately – of cellists Paul Rucker and Joshua Roman? Or hear ancient Egyptian poems via Sarah Parcak, and see Mythbuster Adam Savage on a ukelele? Where else could you grin as a legion of TED Talkers – including Detroit musician Mike Posner – belt out “Let the Sunshine In” from HAIR? Nowhere. You could experience none of this anywhere else. Except at NinjaTED.

This year’s TED conference theme was “The Age of Amazement” and it cannot go unsaid that for a person to put this kind of event together, that helps to feed Vancouver’s most impoverished, after non-stop travel, non-stop making the rounds at TED itself and non-stop motherhood (on occasion you could hear Ash, Amanda and Neil’s beautiful toddler son, crying out from downstairs and wanting to be a part of it all – “he loves bands!” said his father later), is the really truly amazing thing. Is there nothing Amanda Palmer can’t do? Unlikely.

Here’s to next year, and thank you very, very much Amanda and Neil, and to all the performers who helped to once again bring forth the light. \m/

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