Saturday, July 23, 2011

Computerizing the Stage

Computers quickly modernized lighting, allowing lighting technicians to actually shift and change some lights during the show rather than fix them all before hand and turn them on or off on a bulky switch board. Microphones and sound technology also grew and became computer controlled in theaters; wireless mics were first available in the 1970’s. Finally, theater has been using multi-media techniques to create new dramatic forms and make older forms better.
For a long time, computers were simply ways to control stagecraft, keeping lights, sound, sets, and scenery moving and working correctly, if doing that much. Lights, sound, scenery, set-moving and building, and costuming are all considered part of theater technology. While many techniques have been modified rather than changed over the years, artists come together and share new ideas, ways of using theater technology, and creating better ways of doing things. Websites and unions help bring theater technicians together.1
On the other hand, people are using technology to create new methods of theater. The Wooster Group uses digital media and movies in their plays while the Gertrude Stein Theater Repertory uses computer to visualize productions and are now working with “digital puppetry,” which combines computer generated images with live performance.2 Improvisational Theater troupe Neutrino actually makes a short improv movie; they begin in theater, take suggestions from the audience, race to the streets to shoot a video, edit it quickly, then show the audience. These groups, and others, use media to present large portions of their productions or just to enhance live productions.
Neutrino Videos:
Warning: Language and Crude Humor in the following video

Another form of theater has gone to the web. Desktop Theater is a theatrical form which takes place in chat rooms, using avatars as characters and actors reading their lines while interacting with spontaneous members in the chat room. The idea, conceived by Adriene Jenik and Lisa Brenneis who are both media artists, was first displayed in a digitalized version of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The play featured icons to represent Gogo and Didi, both with hats, who entered a chat room called "The Moor" and proceeded to act out, their version of the famous play. The performance was captured and each chatty nuance saved for future generations. The play makers performed “live” for other members of the chat room and even had a few participate. A guy calling himself Muscleman interacted with Didi and Gogo quite a bit, even changing his name to Godot by the end of the play. It was an interesting twist (and Beckett is probably rolling in his grave) but the show demonstrated the viability of purely online plays—today, the play might be done for a live audience via web cam and Jenik and Brenneis have directed several more desktop theaters, expanding the number of actors, sets, and interactions with the audience as they developed their art form further.3 4 5      
Clip from

Even traditional theater is doing some really cool and revolutionary things these days. Spider-Man: Turn of the Dark employs technology that allows Spider Man to move around the theater on his famous web-ropes. There is also a massive in-air battle between Spidey and the Green Goblin directly over the audience.
(The song is kind of silly but the effects are really cool)
Legally Blond: The Musical uses lighted-columns to frame the set and keep the actors from rattling around on a massive stage while Wicked’s classic hydraulic-lift may not be new technology but is combined with fantastic music and neat fog effects and lighting to make it more realistic and moving.

Theater has always defined its time and technology from simple machines to computer-powered effects has driven theater forward. Theater exists partially to push boundaries and try new things; technology is one front theater constantly moves forward. Today, theater employs computers to control and create stage craft and sometimes to even create entire plays. The challenge remains in keeping theater the spontaneous, organic art form which enthralls so many people rather than letting it become the flawless productions already on movie screens. With groups like Desktop Theater and Neutrino, theater will continue to push boundaries with computer technology and hopefully remain the art form that has captured imaginations for centuries.

2 Henry Harvey, “Technology in Theater,” Hentry Harvey Thesis,, (accessed July 21, 2011).
3Jenik, Adriene. Desktop Theater. (Accessed July 20, 2011).
4Jenik, Adriene. "Desktop Theater: Keyboard Catharsis and the Masking of Roundheads."TDR 45, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001): 95-112. . (Accessed July 19, 2011).
5Rosenberg, Scott. “Clicking for Godot.” Salon| 21st (Accessed July 20, 2011).

Evolution of Theater

Imagine walking into a crowded area, the smells of unwashed laborers and meat pasties in the air while spectators jostle and push for a good position on the packed dirt arena floor. Above them, the sky is bright blue, a few fluffy clouds drift over lazily. Richer folk are seated under cover, the most expensive seats being on the third level. Seat cushions are extra. In front of the groundlings, a two-story platform is set up, the top story also sporting a thatched roof. The columns are painted dazzling colors while the upper story is painted to look like the sky and the lower platform designed like the interior of a castle. A curtain hangs across a back entrance and a trap door provided exits into Hell from center stage. It can also be a grave. A player steps out from the curtains and the crowds hush as he begins to speak. “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.1” Spell-bound, the audience made of rough workmen, privileged merchants, and a few nobles watches the drama played out with minimal props and hardly any scenery. The actors’ words paint the pictures, a better backdrop than any sketched out, and men flock to experience this new technology. The stage, the trapdoor and curtains, even the building itself are all something new to the dramatic world: a theater.
The Globe Theater
The first stage in England was The Theater, built in 1576.1  It was a simple affair, round with audience seating running from stage left to stage right and room for people on the ground in front of and to the sides of the stage. Soon Shakespeare's famous Globe Theater would be built. These people, ground-lings, were commoners who paid a small sum to go to the theater. Richer people paid more for seats and extra for cushions. Before theaters, the medievals put on plays in inn yards and town centers. Nobles would have plays put on in their grand halls and at times plays were performed on elaborate moving wagons. Miracle plays were the first plays to be performed in England, telling and embellishing stories from the Bible. Gunpowder was used in these make-shift playhouses, usually to signify the entrance of the Devil. Some actors were clever enough to rig up the gunpowder to costumes, making flames shoot out from the devil.1  
As drama moved into theaters, more could be done with effects, though actors had to be careful with fire: the buildings were made of wood with thatched roofs. By this time, ancient Greek and Roman literature was popular and used to teach students grammar. People took the plans for theaters referenced in ancient writings and build their own, including a stage, wings, doors for entering and exiting, something of a proscenium, and trap doors. Players still relied on the sun for light so shows took place mid-day. Theater again met opposition from the church and constant closures due to plague and clergy meant theater did not have much time to develop new technologies. Still, medieval theaters got actors back onto stages and opened up a world of possibilities.
In the late 1500’s, Italy was developing actual theaters, where plays and operas were staged. A world-wide popular scenery shifting technique was created in 1641 by Giacomo Torelli, the chariot and pole system.2   This system used poles attached to scenery beneath the stage that were moved along a track with chariots.3 With Italy’s stage advances, Opera soon grew more appealing to the masses. What had been reserved for high society  became a popular spectacle with technology.4
Chariot and Pole Scenery Moving

Sabbattini's Cloud Machine

Joseph Furttenbach and Nicola Sabbattini were set designers and theater inventors of the Renaissance. Between the two, they developed sliding waves, column waves, and upstanding waves for sea scenes; Sabbattini worked on a cloud flying machine and a thunder machine.5 Sabbattinis also worked extensively on lighting, developing techniques like dimming mechanisms to make the entire stage dark, spotlights, and scripting lighting changes to go with the show.

Theater technology and techniques improved through the 17th and 18th centuries, employing electriciy and steam and machine to achieve magic all over the world. Theaters shared and stole technology from one another and developers took their techniques the theaters around the Continent, to England and even to America in the early 1800’s. Disrupted by wars, religious uprisings, and economic woes, theaters fought to stay open and thrive before the next crisis hit. Still they managed to develop complicated lighting, from fire-based lights to electric footlights, to hanging lights. Scenery moved by pipes and chariots became painting drops moves by complicated pulley systems. Curtains could swish in and out, changing scenes had never been so easy. Sound relied on good acoustics, not microphones, and tricks involved mirrors and smoke. Theater grew tame in experimenting with technology and stuck to what worked. 7 Then Computers came.

1 Thomas Fairman Ordish, Early London Theatres: In the Fields, (London: Elliot Stock, 1899), 38.
2 Scott R. Robinson, “Italian Theatre and Drama,” Scott R. Robinson, (accessed July 20, 2011).
3Melanie Blood, “SET DESIGNER PART 2,” Melanie Blood’s Homepage for Course Material, (accessed July 20, 2011).
4 Henry Harvey, “Technology in Theater,” Henry Harvey Thesis, (accessed July 18, 2011).
5Department of Theatre & Dance, “Early Illusionistic [16th Century],”  The Development of Scene Spectacle: A Site Devoted to the Study of Renaissance and Baroque Theatrical Spectacle,, (accessed July 20, 2011).
6Department of Theatre & Dance, “Early Illusionistic Scene Change,” The Development of Scene Spectacle: A Site Devoted to the Study of Renaissance and Baroque Theatrical Spectacle,, (accessed July 20, 2011).
7 Henry Harvey, “Technology in Theater,” Henry Harvey Thesis, (accessed July 18, 2011).

Photo Credits: 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Setting the Stage

Greek Theater

Theater was popular with the ancient Greeks and Romans; the Greeks even invented Deus ex Machina (god from the machine), which allowed actors playing gods to enter or exit a scene using a crane. Greek plays were “performed in an outdoor theater, used masks, and were almost always performed by a chorus and three actors.”1 Greek theaters were performed in outdoor theaters, amphitheaters with an orchestra (a dancing space literally, this was a large circular floor where the performance took place) and a skene or set which could be decorated like palaces or temples and used for entrances and exits. Actors could also enter, via crane, from the roof of the skene. The amphitheater also had padodos, or wings, for the actors to enter and exit from. These theaters gradually evolved from the late 6th century BC through the 3rd century BC. 

Greek Theater Drawing
Model for a Roman Theater

The first Roman theater was built in 54 AD and was similar to the Greek theater. The Orchestra became a half circle, though, and the skene became a scaena (this would later be the word scene) which joined the stadium-style audience seating. A proskene (proscenium) was the area in front of the scaena. This looks roughly like modern theaters: a stage with an apron and a background and audience seating from one side to the other. The Roman stage was raised and given more doors while porticoes were developed and dressing rooms became popular. Trap doors were also common and theaters arranged for awnings to cover the audience from the sun.2 While Rome had appropriated theater from the Greeks, when Rome became Christian around the 6th century AD, theater was opposed by the church. The last recorded performance in Rome took place in 533 AD and when Rome actually fell, theater fell with it.3
Roman Theater Ruins
The Greeks and Romans significantly contributed to the technology of the theater. They established a theater, giving it an acoustically well-designed shape and an easily visible playing space. The Greek developed Deux ex Machina and basic sets while the Romans added buildings, prosceniums, trap doors, and dressing rooms to theaters. The technology of deux ex machina and the trapdoor would have led to some very interesting and magical scenes being staged. These would all be employed when theaters again were used, in the early 1500’s.

1 Walter Englert. “Staging an Ancient Greek Play.” Ancient Greek Theater. (Accessed July 20, 2011).
2 Eric W. Trumbull. “Roman Theatre Design—Buildings.” Roman Theatre and Drama. (Accessed July 20, 2011).
3 Eric W. Trumbull. “Theater at the End of the Empire.” Roman Theatre and Drama. (Accessed July 20, 2011).

Photo Credits: 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

And computers are useful too.

An assignment to look at how much I use a computer and network:

I use computers constantly and being in England has made me realize how much I rely on the quick access I have to Internet and other things even on my cellphone. I use my computer to work, to keep in touch with family and friends, to look up random questions throughout the day (who was that guy in this one movie with that chick?), and to remember my appointments and responsibilities. Not having access to 3G in England has really thrown a loop in my ability to get everything done-- for most of my responsibilities, I have to make sure I have wireless on my laptop or my phone. I have been on a computer about half of today.
Today, I used a computer this morning to do homework and to put together a document for work, as well as to look up a funny song that goes with the project. This afternoon, I used my phone to check a product I found and look at Facebook. This evening, I am again on a computer to do homework, this time my hosts’ desktop. Obviously the home computer is linked to an internet network. The church network was up and down this afternoon and the guy working on it could identify how many people were simply on the wifi--he could probably figure out who they are and what they are doing. There was also a lot of annoyance with the password because they made it a complicated-to-spell (for me anyways) phrase.
There is a big scandal over here about newspapers hacking into cell phones and stealing private conversations right now and it makes me wonder how easily other people can get into my computer and mess with stuff.  My phone and lap top are networked to be synced with one another, and I have my phone and any computer I work on linked to the Google cloud network as I use Google Docs and Gmail.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Why We Need the Web

There are many sites I love and others I hit every day: my web comics for entertainment, Yahoo for "news" and email, Blackboard to get school done, Facebook to stay in touch, Barnes and Nobel for books, and Pandora for music. Yet the site I've found completely necessary for school, work, and fun, now that I tapped into it, is Google Docs.
Google is already part of my everyday world, with Search, Maps, Blogger, Scholar, and Books. But Google Docs give me freedom and my documents mobility. No more worrying about email the right paper to myself or if I have a flash drive on me (or if I've lost yet another flash drive). Google Docs is accessible from any computer and even lets me work on my iPhone. The platform is similar enough to Microsoft Word that I can easily figure out how to format and move things around. There is an easy file organization system and being on the cloud protects my stuff from catastrophes like heard drive crashes, a tornado taking out my building and my computer, or other things I occasionally worry about with all my files on my laptop and external hard drive. Though I only have my school work up on Google Docs right now, I'm working on moving over my personal writing. Google itself is indespensible for me, but Google Docs has become akin to my right hand for taking care of school right now. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The theater, the theater, what's happened to the theater?

 A little blog for Technology in Communication class which will look at the technological advancements made over time for the stage. Welcome to behind the scenes of the Great White Way.

I am an actress, singer, writer, and dreamer , though I do other things on the side. Eventually, I will be the voice of a new Disney princess, or an actress on stage, or perhaps the next big author. Who knows? For now, I'm enjoying God's plan, which includes school, graduating in August, and an internship in England. Let's see what happens next.

Oh, and my big project will be up here too, to inspire a whole new slew of Rachel Barrys eventually. ;)