(td)squared Goes Global

The (td)squared team loves getting on the road and going to the biggest conferences, seminars, and locations in theatre tech. Here, we report on what we find…

Thursday 10th, 2011 USITT Stage Expo

On Thursday the Stage Expo was opened and everyone flocked to the main conference floor to explore the maze of booths. The booths were run by theatre companies looking for new employees, theatre universities looking for potential new students and as well as technology companies looking to sell their products.

When I went on to the Expo floor the first thing I did was find the RC4 wireless dimming booth because in my preliminary research had led me to this company for three reasons.

1.       The product they offer seemed to be the most versatile in how it can be used on stage because it is so small it has many prop applications.

2.       The product they offered was cheaper than that what other wireless companies were offering, which were wireless dimming systems for larger size use as well as more expensive.

3.       Lastly the owner of the RC4 wireless dimming booth was the person that was presenting and running the session on wireless dimming there at the conference.

In speaking with the president of the company, James Smith, I learned some of the basics of how wireless dimming works in the basic stages and that it is a whole lot simpler than people may think. He showed me a few examples of his technology at work. He said if I still have questions or was confused about anything I could go to the website and there are videos there that take you through the basic process of how RC4 wireless dimming works.

The  main process is:

1.       Connect a Wireless DMX Transmitter to the board.

2.       The signal will be sent to the receiver(s).

3.       The receiver is connected with DMX cable to the dimmer ( where it can be further connected to other dimmers)

4.       The dimmer is connected to the light as well as connected to a power source (possibly a battery).

The only difference is that it seems that RC4 tech has a dimmer that receives the wireless signal on it own.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the Stage Expo, looking at all the cool new stuff, getting free swag and making new vital connections.

Wednesday 9th, 2011 USITT Conference

Upon arrival to Charlotte NC we checked into our hotel across the street from the convention center and then went straight to the conference to get checked in and to start attending sessions. I was very excited this day because that afternoon was the when my main session was meant to happen.

The session was on the use of wireless dimming and how it worked. I was very excited because this topic is relevant and possibly the only solution to an issue I am having on my university’s production of Sideman. We need to provide a power source to a turn table that only goes one way while still being able to control the power from the board as well as not letting any cables be visible.

The first session I attended ended up being a waste of my time. The session was called “Using Microcontrollers in Production: the little chip that can solve big problems”. It was all about how using microcontrollers can be very helpful and how cheap they are and how you can use them in automation, which is all true. For my purposes of researching wireless dimming it was not very helpful.

In the afternoon I went to the room for my session on wireless dimming and found that it had been postponed until Friday.

USITT Charlotte Day 4: FINALLY Talking with Cirque

Saturday morning I was finally able to talk with Cirque. I asked them a few questions and this is how they answered:


What kind of automation is essential to your productions/ the most useful?

  • Safe Automation is always essential and each show is different and therefore requires different automation

Is any of the automation you use affordable to a university?

  • Most automation we use is custom and can cost anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

How much maintenance does your automation require?

  • 10-12 hrs a week, friday morning inspections, and inspections every time we set it up or tear it down.

How are your productions so seamless without any interruptions from scene changes or shifts?

  • Automation.


Cirque also pointed me to Stage Technologies. Stage Technologies is a company from which Cirque buys some of its automation. Stage Technologies told me about their PC Wing, a compact training and programming desk. This desk is used to train students to use the latest automation applications. It is also can be used to provide in house instruction for staff in state-of-the-art technology. Trainees can work on the same control interface used in some of the live performance industry’s most popular control desks. (Paraphrased from PC Wing: compact training and programming desk handout.)

One of the Stage Technologies representatives pointed out an interesting way to create low budget “automation.”  He said if you don’t have a large budget then you could rig flats or scenery to a curtain traveller. I hope to implement this into a production in a future semester.


USITT Charlotte Day 3: Expo Floor & TOTEM

Friday morning I decided it was time to go talk to representatives from Cirque du Soleil in person. I had a lot of questions for them since the session titled, “Automation at Cirque du Soleil” only taught me that safety is the number one concern at any Cirque production.

Naturally when I went to speak with the person who knew the most about automation he was no where to be found. Therefore I went to talk to any of the other companies who were involved in automation.

During my wanderings I discovered:

  1. Daktronics (A Company which is involved in Automated Rigging)
  • Are located in Victor, NY which is about an hour from UB
  • Have a new “outsourced German system” which controls automated batons and can do many functions at the same time. If UB decided to buy this $100,000 system we would be the first to own this system. At $100,000 this thing is a steal!
  • They also have a $20, 000 system that has presets which work similar to sub masters on a lightng board
  • This system could bring one or all of your electrics down at once (and at variable speeds)-How Convenient!
  • You could also make a snow bag make snow fall and at the same time raise one drop and lower another.
  • And it’s touch screen…..


Totem was basically the evolution of man from start to finish shown through the medium of live spectacle. The show was everything the representatives of Cirque promised and more. The show included aerial acrobatics, insane trapeze work, phenomenal unicycle skills, and a story which brought it all together. Set changes used state of the art automation which allowed for smooth scene changes that did not hold up the production in any way. Ever time a new scene began you would say to yourself ” that’s cool but it would be cooler if you did something more insane” but then the acrobats would do something even cooler than you could imagine. My only regret is that I couldn’t see the show twice or go backstage.

USITT Charlotte: Day 1&2- 10 things I learned from you

  1. Micro controllers are a cost effective way to create and operate scenic automation. For just $13 you can purchase 1 micro controller capable of controlling a scenic element based on time, a measured distance, and even temperature if applicable.
  2. They operate can be programmed on the same principles that you would use to program a chase effect for holiday lights or stage lighting.
  3. The capabilities of S.A.M (Scenic Automated Mover)/ specs are:
    1. The ability to transport scenery on and off stage repeatedly during a production
    2. A maximum speed of 2.1 ft/sec when not bearing a load.
    3. It can move a maximum load of 700lbs effectively
    4. It weighs 400lbs
    5. Operates by following a wire beneath Marley/the stage floor
    6. It is not being marketed.
  4. Anyone can operate S.A.M. Programming and operating it is similar to recording cues on a lighting counsel and hitting the GO button.
  5. The cost if S.A.M was marketed would be more than $3000.
  6. Scenic automation always has a human operator even though the point of automation is to get rid of human intervention.
  7. Automation is dangerous and must be taken seriously especially since automation allows massive structures to move on and offstage rapidly, sometimes during blackouts.
  8. Cirque du Soleil deals with risks that arise from scenic automation  (such as open traps onstage and moving parts) by first eliminating all physical risk and then uses technology to make the automation safer.
    1. i.e. If an open trap is onstage Cirque would first put a railing around it to eliminate physical risk and then they would outfit acrobats who interact around and with the trap with harnesses and safety cables to make interactions safer.
  9. The 4 main points one should address when using scenic automation are
    1. Maintence
    2. Operator Training
    3. Documentation
    4. Risk Assessment

10. Cirque employees always make sure that before they fix or adjust automated equipment that everyone in the vicinity knows               that they are doing so. This is so no one attempts to operate the machine while they are adjusting it, which could cause a                 catastrophe.

(These 10 facts came from 2 sessions I went to, “Using Micro-controllers in Production” and “Automation 101”)

Friday March 10th, 2011-Ease on down the road

I realized, I completely forgot to mention the Expo in the last post. I’ll try to fit that in at the end of this one.

Friday came, and I had no sessions to really attend. I decided to spend my time exploring Charlotte. I set off with my iPod blasting music for the show im designing/teching over the summer-The Wiz-and took in the sites. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was walking, or where I was heading. I knew roughly what direction the hotel was in in relation to where I was, so I decided I was safe. While walking, I managed to get some inspiration for the show.

 I previously had designed a set that was much more childlike. Without going too far into the details, it was a very large toybox. But while exploring Charlotte, I started developing new ideas. I wanted something that seemed more futuristic, more industrial, but clean feeling; blues, whites, silvers.  Oz is supposed to be the antithesis of Kansas, or wherever Dorothy decides she is from today. Kansas needs to be hot, oppressive, dirty.

Below are a few pieces of inspiration I found while on my journey.

Tree on Trade Street

 -I loved the white blossoms. And I’m currently toying with the idea of a distorted tree painted blue, with silver accents, and white blossoms to be included in the set.

Structure I found outside Mimosa Grill

Different view of structure outside Mimosa Grill

While I was heading back to the hotel, I found this. I fell in love with the look of it almost instantly. I want my set to replicate that (Look, I’m stealin’ ideas. Thanks, Beg, Borrow, Steal). I still have to figure out exact dimensions, but I love the idea of a two level set that would take up much of the stage, with stairs leading down.  It would be very multi-purpose, and since I seem to lack a good crew every year, I won’t need to stress over shifting scenery.

Thursday March 10th, 2011-Beg, Borrow, Steal and Why My First Two Years at UB Might Not Have Been Pointless

On Thursday, there were two sessions that peaked my interest. The first was one tailored more towards those who serve as the entire design and technical staff for high school productions. I, however, work as the entire design and technical staff for a community theatre company over the summer, and thought, “Maybe this will apply”

The session essentially consisted of various instructors who have served as the entire design and technical staff at one point in their life. Their tricks and pointers were fantastic. They discussed how you need to beg, borrow and steal your ideas. One showed images of a proscenium arch she constructed out of paper. She also discussed the uses of paper, and how she has built entire sets out of paper. They discussed how by adding a piece of plywood, two step ladders can easily turn into a platform, as well how, allegedly, adding all paint colors together will give you a type of beige. I disagree with that, based on my own experience, but I digress.

The second session I attended was all about those who want an arts management degree, but don’t have a program at their school. UB does offer an MFA program for Arts Management, but no Bachelor’s program. I went, toying with the idea of my final goal getting a Masters in Arts Management. I went planning on asking various coursework they recommended. Allegedly, I was already doing fine.

My first 2 years at UB consisted of me pretending I wanted to be a lawyer. So, I took classes pertaining to that. Then I switched to theatre for a multitude of reasons that I do not have the time or energy to get into right now. When I told them about my previous stint as a legal studies major, they said that was perfect. One even mentioned that, with a law and theatre background, id be well on my way to practicing Entertainment Law. Now I just need to figure out if its what I want to do.

Wednesday March 9th, 2011-Why the fire marshall should be your friend

The first session I attended at the USITT Conference was titled, “The Proscenium Zone.” I thought it would be a broad overview of safety issues and regulations concerning the Proscenium Zone. I was half right. While the session focused heavily on safety issues pertaining to the Proscenium Zone, the session seemed to mainly focus on the fire curtain, and why the firemarshall needs to be your best friend.

First off, was anyone aware of the apparent regulation, prescribed by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration-the federal task force aimed at making the work place safer), that states that the fire curtain must be closed every night? Because well over half of the people in my session were not aware. Apparently it is there to prevent people from falling off the stage in the dark. I have checked the OSHA website, osha.gov, and im going to be honest, I can’t find it anywhere. 

When the fire marshall got mentioned, however, I was all ears. Having previously had an incident in High School where the fire marshall shut down the theatre for a short period of time for an infraction I can’t recall, I’m always attentive when it comes to fire marshalls. The panel, luckily consisted of a few theatre owners, who shared their experiences with the fire marshall. One mentioned, that they became so close to the fire marshall, that when their theatre was largely violating safety codes, the fire marshall ignored the infraction, and told the to fix it after the show.

Seeing in the dark


Painting with UV paint is not like painting with scenic paints. You must think of it as painting with light instead of paint.

  • Notes
    • Paint used by Professionals is usually Rosco Clear Color Paints.
    • Paint can be watered down an still is quite effective.
    • The use of light sensitive paint is very helpful when one needs to separate areas such as night and day.
    • Textural differences between UV paint and scenic paint can give away the “surprise” UV paint creates.
      • Solution: Hide texture upon texture to create an illusion
  • When you apply UV paint you should do it with incandescent lights and fluorescent lights off, UV lights on. This is obvious when you are painting with clear paint.
  • The more paint you layer the more intense or “punch” it will have.
  • UV backdrops and scenery can be used in conjunction with normal light fixtures as long as the normal fixtures are not lighting the UV elements and washing out the UV light. Scenery must be accommodated for the light which is being thrown onstage.
  • Types of UV Paint
    • Wildfire invisible
    • Rosco Clear Color
      • Both are moderately intense when lit with UV light
  • Wildfire Visible
    • Very intense and appears to glow well
  • Rosco worked better for professionals when diluted
  • Other types of paint that are not specifically UV paint do work. According to the pro’s at the seminar the paint needs to have the right amount of Nanameters in order to glow.
  • It is possible to make your own UV paint but in the long run it is not cost effective.
  • Actors can wear UV makeup
  • Types of UV Light Fixtures
    • Wildfire Lights were considered as a good light source by the panel but one panel member claimed he was able to cover a large stage with one Altman fixture.
    • Light Effect Types
      • Completely invisible: Going from a blank canvas under normal light to a Huge mural under UV light on the same canvas
      • Dual Image: Normal paint with invisible fluorescent paint over the top. On a canvas under normal light you can have a picture of a sand colored dessert and under UV light the dessert transforms into a Mountainous blue mural deep in Antartica ß—- SWEET
      • Single Image: A single picture enhanced by UV light
      • 3D: Audience members wear 3D glasses, warm colors are enhanced and pop out and cool colors recede.

Looking over notes from the best Lighting Seminar Ever!

Things I Learned:
> You need more than Vectorworks and WYSIWYG, get out and look around! Find out how light behaves for yourself!
>>Types of Lighting Design< If you thing a show is going to be a flop ask for maximum cash up front and minimal royalties. If you think a show will be a hit ask for minimal cash up front and maximum royalties.
>One of the main focuses of this type of lighting is energy efficient lights. Incandescent lights use too much power and are not worth using in the long run. >Your biggest worry is that you will get sued. An example of this is that you do not have enough light on an area that you designed and someone trips on a staircase because you do not have the area lit with the amount of light your design said it would have.
>Challenging due to the vast number of close-up shots.
Soap Opera
Game Shows
-Theme/ Specialty Parks
>Making attractions stand out and even more ominous.
-Music/ Entertainment
Rock Shows
-Restaurants/ Areas of Commerce