Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Five Things: USITT Road Trip to St. Louis!

1. Last week I drove three Macalester students to USITT in St. Louis, Missouri - an eight and a half hour drive which became about ten hours by the time we got there (taking in breaks, gas stops, etc.). What we learned along the way: the route that Google Maps claims is the quickest route may also be the scenic route - we basically toured America's Heartland, and didn't see an interstate for most of the drive. This may have been the fastest way but it was also a very frustrating way to go. Also, after years of Travis making fun of me for being "stuck in 2006" for using I-tunes and actually storing media on my phone, I used Spotify for the drive's long playlist...and, of course, lost reception somewhere in Iowa. However we FINALLY got there (there = Holiday Inn Downtown Convention Center which was right next to, you guessed it, the Convention Center), found food and crashed for the night.
Before the long drive

Iowa has square donuts
2. Wednesday I attended a really amazing session called "Sketchup in the Classroom: Extruding the Bar Higher." It was led by Owen Collins, Delbert Hall, Robin Jaffe, and Shawn Evans. This session is THE reason why I go to these things - I left SO FREAKING EXCITED that I told a friend I was going to be up all night, just playing with Sketchup. The speakers covered techniques on using the program in both set and lighting design classes; the set design ones were great, simple and effective ways for getting non-majors who had never designed before building 3D models quickly but the lighting design ones really and truly blew my mind. I will be looking into them this summer (basically using Sketchup and a program called Capture Atlas to mock up lighting designs using ETC console software and an imported light plot) to see if it's something we can use in future lighting design classes, because it can be difficult to really get that visualization of your design in lighting design classes. We leave the blackbox as a classroom 1/3 of the way through the semester and it's paper projects & drafting for the rest of the time. This makes me so excited for the possibilities.

3. Wednesday night I met up with Kathryn Eader, a long time friend and former mentor from Austin. I used to assist her way way back many centuries ago at UT, when I was a grad student and she designed at the Butler Opera Center (which of course was NOT that long ago, according to the way she explained it to her students). We went out for dinner and talked a LOT about theater, and while I'm not going to go into details it was so wonderful, and so meaningful, to reconnect with her. Sometimes I just really need the support from old friends and people from home. This is the first year with no planned time spent in Austin since 2003 and I'm missing it hard.
The bar where we ate dinner - gorgeous "future set design"
4. Oh - the holograms. I did attend the session on Musion Eyeliner and was so excited but honestly was disappointed. Because, as Travis said last week, I am always disappointed by life. Seriously though, it was because while I definitely appreciate that this technology and this conference are many things for many people - and obviously all these people are earning their livings in different ways - I want to see the possibilities for this in live performance. Until I can see it onstage with a life performer in front of me, not in a video clip, it's really just a projection. And they didn't deliver that. I understand why, I understand how hard that would have been, but I hope that they can also understand that no matter how incredible the tech is, it's just going to be "meh" to me until I can see it interact with a human being live. I'm less interested in whether or not you can make the CEO of your medical company beam in to the seminar and more interested in whether we can use this as a solution for the witches and ghosts in Macbeth.

5. Escape Room Design!!! I was so excited to see this session on the schedule. The panel consisted of a set designer, an escape room designer & owner in St. Louis, and two former defense contractors (think DARPA) who began developing interactive tech for use in escape rooms (think Star Trek or Minority Report). I was literally bouncing on the edge of my seat the whole time and nearly knocked everyone in the room down to talk to them afterward. They also fielded some questions that made me want to jump up and say "NO THE TENSION EXPERIENCE DID THAT!" I really hope there's no online video of that session. Anyway. The point is, every student in that room was so WITH THEM, and some were even asking things like "you mean I can use my theater degree to design video games?" And the panelists said "we aren't storytellers - we need you guys." It was honestly inspirational. And had the escape room down the street not been booked up for the evening (I have a feeling it was the people in that room) I might have taken my students there.

Oh - things I didn't cover - the floor. The floor seems to be lots of people's favorite part and is almost never mine. I walked it with Mac's TD, Tom Barrett, and Paul Whitaker from Schuler & Shook, who is designing the theater in our new building at Macalester next year. We looked at gear and talked about different options for the theater but I have always been almost regrettably more interested in telling stories, creating experiences, building worlds, theory, concepts, and pushing the boundaries of what we can do than in the technology we use to do it.
The floor - where things were flying, exploding, and being set on fire, but my students were interested in a drill.

I did finally get to connect with Ian Garrett - we are working on a really exciting immersive/augmented reality project this summer - and ended up in a conversation with another woman (whose name I cannot remember right now) about the escape room design workshop, whether such things could be incorporated into performance, at which point I said that YES, I have experienced it, and she said she knew where I was going, and suddenly we were both talking about the Los Angeles haunt scene. It was kind of hilarious. We also both agreed - for those in LA reading this - that y'all are nuts. And I mean that in the most loving way. I also said that I fervently believed that you are representative of the kind of untapped population of possible audience members that theater artists are always talking about needing but never having (blah blah dying art form), and perhaps we need to start actually seriously making art specifically for you, because it was obvious that you wanted it.
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