About Chris Van Patten

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USITT 2010 First Impressions

I arrived in Kansas City yesterday with flat expectations. After landing in the KC international airport I was fully prepared to be greeted with a landscape dominated by the horizon and bible-thumping middle Americans proselytizing me for my sinful yankee ways.

I was completely wrong.

Kansas City is beautiful, and the people couldn’t be friendlier. We’re staying at the Hotel Phillips less than two blocks from the Power & Light district, KC’s well designed downtown entertainment district. On the main concourse several franchise restaurants and bars surround a covered atrium reminiscent of the Vegas strip, with LED lighting fixtures and a pro audio system for us techies to drool over. Of course,  I’m not here to review the Kansas City nightlife. The USITT 50th anniversary conference called bright and early Wednesday morning so we retired to our rooms to rest up for the opening excitement.

First thing in the morning–after receiving my full conference pass–I met my companions in line for the Stage Expo opening. And what an Expo it is! Lighting fixtures, people flying systems, gels, drops, vinyl dance floors… a theatre geek’s dream, and LOTS of swag, I spent most of my time on the floor today getting the feel of things, I’ll be having some more in-depth conversations with presenters over the next few days.

After the Expo it was on to the first of many sound sessions; the first I attended was given by John Leonard, an internationally renowned sound designer from the UK. He began the session with a retrospective view of the last 50 years of sound design technology, contrasting the system for the 1960’s era West End production of Oliver, which consisted of 5 floor mics, 4 or 6 speakers, a single 100 watt amplifier and 78rpm vinyl disc playback with the contemporary production which uses over 100 speakers, three separate mixing consoles, highly complex processing equipment and over 50 wireless microphones for the same size cast. Overall I found the session interesting and informative, but not particularly useful as per my CURCA grant goals.

In the afternoon I attended ‘The art of sound for dance,’ a panel session featuring four prominent sound designers sharing their insights on the subject. I found this session tremendously useful, Darron West (resident sound designer and founding member of the SITI company) encouraged us to be more proactive in the rehearsal process with the final goal of creating a performance where “both sound and choreography can stand on their own and combine to create something magical.” Mr. West also commented that sound design for dance could use theatrical sound effects to open new worlds of creativity for both choreographer and designer.

First two day in Kansas City Missiouri for the 50th USITT

This is my second time in USITT, the theme for this year is about the evolution of technology and design in the past five decades. I really look forward to the sessions as well as the exhibition of the design from famous designers about their own progress.

We arrived at Kansas City yesterday afternoon, on the flight a student from SUNY Fredonia who sat next to me. He said Fredonia also have a large student group coming to the convenience. We are going to meet the whole group tomorrow in the Upstate New York USITT meeting.

I went to the “So you think you know everything about Top Hats” that is a lab session that demonstrate the use of and the need of top hats. Basically is the same section from last year but providing a more theoretical and mathematical way of explaining 45 degrees cutoff. If you do not quite understand what and why top hats is important, top hats can reduce the viewing angle to the lighting source that can be annoying or distracting to the lighting designer that it is possible that there is spill light to the auditorium and we see shadow of the audience. The 45 degrees cutoff is that the length of the top hat always equals aperture to achieve the angle.

Reasons that creates light spill is the fixture mechanical design, especially some less sophisticated optical like PAR or Fresnel also dust, haze and poor maintenance. Other reason is it can be a decorative accessory.

Here are some images of different top hats:

(the speaker also consider barndoor as one kind of top hat too)

Kansas City!

Hello all.

At the USITT conference, I will be exploring the development of theatrical lighting fixtures, from their humble beginnings as candles, to the complexity of today’s LED fixtures. I will be focusing on the most recent developments in lighting of this kind. What cutting edge lighting instrumentation is available to modern-day scenographers? My research will yield a comprehensive timeline, both in visual and textual formats, of the development of the lighting fixture, from its conception as a controllable element, to the complex, finite control we have today
Today’s seminar was entitled “Evolution or Immaculate Conception: Lighting control over 5 decades.” It covered lighting instrument controls from 1913 to present day. On the panel of presenters were Kirk Starks, Tracy Fitch, Gordon Pearlman, and Anne Valentino. These people represented the masterminds behind controls such as the LS/8, the Obsession, and the Piano Board.
They started with Autotransformers, which were the first movement forward in the industry circa 1913. Previously resistance dimmers were used, and after auto-transformers were marketed, the Met was the first to switch over their entire system. Soon thereafter, the idea of the dimmer panel was developed starting in 1915. These ideas were then combined with the Fred Bentham’s Light Organ. It looked exactly like an organ, and it consisted of a keyboard that controlled a clutch that drove the motorized autotransformers. This was developed in 1935. Soon, Strand came into the picture and developed the first completely electric control desks. Their first break through however, was the IDM 1967 control desk. Its revolutionary idea was simple; it was a board that had a memory. It cost $150,000, and only had 16K of memory. In 1979, the Light Palette was created, and this was the first board that integrated the lingo that theater technicians used then and now. Shortly thereafter, the Morpheus Commander was created, and this was the first board to recognize moving light controls. A nifty little tidbits, is that the idea of the moving light, was invented by sound designers, not lighting designers.
To this day light boards continue to progress, and add functionality. At the same time, large strides are difficult because learning to use these systems takes time, and sometimes time is not a luxury. Slowly but surely, control systems for lighting instruments continue to develop in our industry.

Organic Design Research – USITT 2010 Part1

Hello from Kansas City MO!
I’m currently working on trying to find some answers to organic design in the theatre, specifically in the realm of fabric manipulation and in preparing that fabric for a flame proof stage.
I started out my day by going to the design expo. While I was there I was able to gather various catalogs and discern which booths would be the best to request more information. I was able to narrow it down to Rose Brand and Rosco via Syracuse Scenery and Stage Lighting Co.
From looking at the Rose Brand catalog I was able to grasp that their fabric manipulation lies in curtains, ceiling drapery, and various spandex and wire forms for lighting. I realized that most of the fabric manipulation that I’m interested on will be learned through experimental methods using costuming techniques of layering and draping to different forms.
I also learned that there are multiple forms of flame retardant, coming in forms such as paint additives, pre-mixed, liquid flame retardant, and instant flame retardants. I also found information on which flame retardants worked best for the various surfaces found in the theatre world, from acrylic fabric to wood. Since at UB we do not have a paint shop with ventilation I will be asking Rosco what form of flame retardant will work best in a non-ventilated space.
After the design expo I went to a session “The Future of Theatre Minds In Immersive Design! A conversation with 5D The Future of Immersive Design Conference.” In this session the speakers really focused on the concept of design and where it is going in the future. The term 5D applied to the concept of narrative design – and the 5 ways in which design applies to narrative design; experience design, interactive design, film, animation, and television. Theatre rests between that of experience design and interactive design. In theatre our purpose should be to create an experience – one that will allow us to transcend into another universe. One of our objectives should be to focus on the spaces that draw people into a building, create an interactive environment in our theatres that will make audience members want to come in and stay. Audiences are forces to sort through a pile of information and cling to something that is tangible and real. They really stressed the concept of a forum on youth. From this pool of youth we are able to discern what is most important to them and from there we can steer are art to broadcast to the public. In order for art to survive it must respond to the current trends and culture of the times.
For the next session I went to “Working Outside the Black Box”. It was essentially a forum of people who were previously designers and technicians in school but found jobs elsewhere that they really enjoy. Many of them are salesmen for large brands like Rosco. They mentioned backstagejobs.com, artsearch, jobworld, and esta.org. In order to survive in the design world you need to have more than a passion, you have to be happy in the constant collaborative environment. If you can’t manage both of those tasks it is best for you to network and explore other outlets in the field.
So I’m looking forward to tomorrow!
Kansas – OUT!

Day one of Adventures in Kansas City Missouri!

After a long and tiring journey we finally arrived at Kansas City Missouri at about 7pm yesterday evening and finally checked into our hotel. After exploring the immediate surroundings around our hotel in gorgeous weather we found a little supermarket to buy dinner and settled down for the night. We woke early to register and set off for our first day at USITT. The Stage Expo floor opened at 11am and every one flooded through the doors and up the escalators. It was madness! Everyone rushed towards the stalls with free merchandise and with heavy bags of pens, flashlights and t-shirts we explored all the interesting gadgets and new technology that was available to us.
At 1.30 I tore myself away from the Stage Expo floor to attend a seminar session on “The Future of Theatre Minds in immersive Design; a conversation with 5D The Future of Immersive Design Conference”. This session was every bit as heavy as it sounds but an eye opening experience never the less. 5D is a philosophy, a way of thinking, of immersing yourself and the audience in a total narrative experience like no other. Its aims to create an alternate reality by using new technology in conjunction with old conventions. We have to be more in tune with the up and coming generations in order to progress in our art. Things change so fast and we need to keep up with the changes. It’s about interactivity and saying “Hay, I want to play”. In a nut shell it a about total design.
After this intense hour and a half, I came away with a contact and a possible job opportunity for the future. At this point I was already ready for bed and begrudgingly wondered into my next session on Automation 101. This was about moving scenery and the mechanics behind it. Very technical. Form this I took away that this technology was around to support the set and lighting designer as well as being able to run many things simultaneously.
Over all a very productive day and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week and the new interesting things I’m going to learn about. Tomorrow I hope to attend more sessions and explore the Stage Expo floor more.

New Directions in Theater

Day 1 in Kansas City was spent walking around the city and finding out where eating was a possibility. Day 2 in Kansas City was the opening day for the USITT convention. After registering we waited for about an hour for the Stage Expo to open. Once I got into the Stage Expo I was truly a little overwhelmed by the amount of new technology available to see. I spent most of my time in the Stage Expo finding out where all of the different displays were, and deciding where I would like to revisit as well as what companies I would like to talk to about what they are doing in the theatrical world.

I went to my first seminar today at 1:30, which was an extremely interesting discussion on the ideas of Immersive Design. This seminar discussed the importance of embracing technology and the wants of people from their entertainment. The panelists stressed how our generation is seeking entertainment that is interactive and creates an alternate reality that they can dive into; in order to work within these ideals of 5D and immersive design, technology plays an extremely important role. This seminar opened up ideas for job opportunities that theatrical designers may fit into, but may have not thought of because it is found within different fields.

At 5:00 I went to a seminar about The Art of Sound for Dance. I found this seminar very informative about how to answer many questions that I often over hear with in the world of dance. I was completely opened up to the ideas of using theatrical sound fxs to create sound for dance as well as the concept that Cunnigham and Cage use in their collaboration on dance shows of the sound and the dance being separate entities that when put together create a new and “magical” experience, as stated by Darron West. I also enjoyed Brad Berridge’s solution to making the monitors loud enough on the stage for the dancers without ruining the sound in the audience; his philosophy suggests starting levels on the stage and then working your way into the audience. Overall I am learning an extensive amount of information at USITT Kansas City.

USITT: An Eye Opening Experience Part 1

Hello Kansas City! My fellow UB Theatre & Dance students and I arrived yesterday afternoon and spent the evening exploring the city around the hotel.

Today the USITT Conference began. I registered and picked up my tag at 9:30 am then went and got coffee at the local market with some friends. At 11 am the Stage Expo Floor opened and it was a mass conflagration to reach the escalator to the floor in order to snatch all the free swag.

I spent much of the morning before my first session exploring the Stage Expo Floor. I met a man in a bunny suit and had my picture taken with him. Following this I made my way to the area of the floor that housed many booths looking for students interested in internships. Among my favorites were Cirque de Soleil, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and Disney. Sadly, Disney was not the one that wanted me. Disney said that they prefer taking on interns who are only focused in one area and nothing else. So unlike UB, versatility does not matter. Then I started talking to Steve from The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. I found the experience very rewarding and ended up giving him my resume and filling out an application for their internship. Later, I returned for a meeting and interview with him. It went really well and I hope something positive comes of it.

Following this I also went to two sessions. “Wanna Rock’n’Roll All Night” was a session that encompassed life on the road as a techie and a designer. It covered important details from hiring an accountant to what to know about your W-2 or 1099.

The second session I went to was “100 Years of Color in Stage Lighting.” Although this session was not what I thought it would be, I found it very interesting. The history of Rosco, a gel company goes back to the early 1900’s. The company began as a lamp dip company, coloring giant bulbs that were in streetlamps on the marquee. From there their industry as gel makers sky rocketed as WW1 began. Interestingly enough, types of gel that are no longer used within the entertainment industry are still produced and used for medical and light therapy research.

Overall today was a very exciting first day at USITT. I believe the entire week promises to be interesting and exciting. Soon enough you shall hear from me again.

Roger, Roger Breaker Nine… Over and Out!

First Day of USITT in Kansas CITY

Our trip started yesterday with two airplane rides and a thirty-minute bus ride to our hotel in Kansas City. We spent the evening exploring the new and beautiful city on the river, before getting some sleep for the busy day to come.
Today was the opening day of the fiftieth annual USITT National Conference; there was a lot of excitement in the air this morning as thousands of theatre technicians and students awaited the grand opening of the stage expo floor. Once the ribbon was cut the mad rush to the elevators up to the floor and the ensuing rush to the Syracuse Scenery and Stage Lighting booth for free velour handbags. After the initial rush was over I began to seriously explore some of the booths on the floor. I spoke to PJ Turpin of Morpheus Lights about a new form of color scroller that instead of using different saturation in the three gel strings, it had increasingly smaller holes in the strings to allow more white light through.
After a few hours on the floor it was time to go to my first session of the day, “Rock and Roll All Night” which turned out to be less of a session about the mechanics or design of concert lighting, and more of story time about the life on the road. While these stories were entertaining and humorous, they proved not very informative about someone interested in learning about concert lighting.
My next session of the day was called “Evolution or Immaculate Conception, the History of Lighting Control”. This was far more informative and interesting of a session compared to the first one, although they did not talk much about current control systems as they spent too much time talking about the older history of lighting control. We heard from the CEO and Product developer of Electronic Theatre Controls, as well as the creator and head programmer for Strand Lighting Company. The session focused on the first ever memory and two scene preset boards which the owner of Strand had built himself out of pinball machines in 1967.
The rest of the day was just dinner, blogging and making plans for the far busier tomorrow, which will begin at 8am with the Upstate New York Regional Section Meeting.

Blog oh one USITT Edition

This morning we arrived at the USITT convention center at 9am bright eyed and bushy tailed. We registered and received our badges and then departed for 10 minutes to the local supermarket where we picked up breakfast. I ate a burrito that was only okay. It was sausage, egg, and salsa. After we were satiated we headed back to the convention center where we waited for two hours for the trade floor to open. It was quite banal. The trade floor opened and streamers flew and all of our hearts soared as we bum rushed the Syracuse Scenery and Stage Lighting for a bag made out of velour – which is also used for drapery on stage.
After our initial pushing and grabbing, we browsed the expo floor for about two and a half hours at which point the people from the Disney costume internship told me that my resume was very well formatted, but to reapply next year as I was too young to take said internship. Kerri Leonard and I then took a picture with a giant bunny. Then we began an application process at Cirque du Soleil, which is for the most part fruitless as there are over 5000 people on the list for the internship.
Then we walked over to a booth for the Shakespeare Company of New Jersey where we received water-soluble tattoos and were scheduled for interviews almost immediately. My interview is tomorrow at 2:45pm. Wish me luck internet.
Then I went to my first session ever at 1:30pm. It was a session about ventilating hair. The name is quite deceiving. Ventilating hair is actually the process by which wigs are created. To create a wig it takes a professional over 80 hours. It is incredibly tedious and the technique is almost exactly the same as crocheting, but at different scales. You loop the fake hair and put a very tiny hook through a net (where the wig is attached to) and pull it through. Then you twist your hook and tie it back, and repeat, thousands of times.
After this I took a nap.
I woke up and went to the costume commission, which has been occurring since the very first USITT in 1960. The management was changing over, and I decided to consider a wig symposium over the summer. We also received an awesome website with thousands of images of different period costumes to use as reference images during design.
Then we went to a restaurant and had some of the worst service ever.
Now I’m blogging.
Peace kids.

USITT Regional Section Meeting

On May 2nd I attended my first ever USITT event, right at UB. What an experience it was! We started off the day drinking delicious SPoT Coffee and mingling with our friends and guests, and then traveled around the Center for the Arts for a day filled with workshops. I attended “On the Call,” “LEDs: Lighting Demonstration,” “Lighting Design for Dance,” “Sound Design: A Panel Discussion,” and “Fine Tuning Your Lighting Color Palette.” While each lecture that I attended was extremely well presented and informative, there were two that really stood out to me.

In “Lighting Design For Dance,” we were able to hear about the process and techniques of designing for a dance piece. Lynne Koscielniak, a professor and mentor for our department and an extremely talented lighting designer, gave an intruiging presentation which was heightened by the observation of a Configuration Dance rehearsal. Designing for dance is quite different than designing for a theatre piece, and Lynne’s knowledge of color, research, and designer/choreographer communication is so deep that this workshop made me very eager to design.

The other winning lecture for me was the Sounf Design discussion. As a Sound Designer and music student, the discussion that took place had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Rick and Katie Menke spoke about composition in Sound Design and the process of working with composers, and also about the true artistry in Sound Design. This along with other panel members’ insight into engineering gave me great ideas for the future, and I didn’t want the discussion to end!

These wonderful presentations were not the only thing that made it such a memorable day, however. There was the delicious food, there was the meeting about our trip to the 2011 Exhibition in Prague, and most importantly there was the atmosphere created by the people who attended. To be able to spend a day with friends learning about and discussing what we love most is a priceless experience, and I thank the UB staff, the Planning committee, the presenters, and all who attended for making it a success!

-Sara Elizabeth