The Theatrical Inventors from Perth Theatre Company share their process
WORDS: SAMUEL FRY
Continued from Part Two…
Did you find any of your technologies particularly challenging to use?
T: A really important thing to mention is the way that we operate the lighting. That was a bit of a new experiment. We designed the show to be very tour-able. We bring with us all our own lights and all our own projectors. So that we can just come in to a venue, link to the sound and set all our own stuff up. So, the first time we did it, we controlled the lights by a MIDI, by the relays and by Qlab. That was a lot of time spent researching, a lot of time spent working out how we can operate lights by MIDI signals to a special MIDI box that dad created. That was just over a year ago. Since then we have evolved that system. Now we actually run the show off an Arduino, a very popular recent type of hobby computer. They are really great. They are fantastic. It is an open sourced hobby computer with a lot of modifications. They are designed to educate students or hobbyists about computers. They are a very basic micro compressor. You can have an almost limitless kind of input or output. There are lots of different forums and materials online which show you how to do it. Lots of things that show you how to update it.
Is this a bit like a Raspberry Pi?
T: Yes, a little bit like a Raspberry Pi. But actually simpler, easier to use and more versatile. These are about $30 and the shields are about $15 on top of that. Basically it was a real good find.
So how do you use the Arduino?
T: Both Chris and I have a Wii remote which is connected to the computer. So when I press the “A” button, my computer hears that and is running in QLab, which is a cueing software programme for theatre, and that will play the next cue. That could be audio or animation. Or, that could be a MIDI cue which tells the Arduino box, that is connected by a USB cable to MIDI, to fade a particular control value. Then we have Category 5 cables that run to our lighting trees. We have a little box on our lighting trees that has different inputs that goes to the lights. That is a little box that my dad put together so that the lights fade according to the Category 5 cables signals that are plugged into the Arduino box. So, that’s how we run the lights for this show.
Technology is constantly shifting. Is there anything else you would like to experiment with in the future?
T: The technology on this front is moving very quickly. Like hobby computers are becoming very popular. As well as LED light technologies; every week it seems like there are leaps and bounds. We use LED lights in the show. If we were to make the show again now we would have much better lights than what we are currently using.
Then for another show we were working on recently, a live scale interactive show where the audience will interact a lot with the set, we are looking at having an Arduino in each room. So, they can be triggered by pretty much anything. For example, when someone walks into the room you can have a motion sensor which sets off the lighting or an audio cue. Or, say you open a drawer, all the lights start to dim and the light in the drawer starts to glow. This will be very sympathetic to what the audience are actually doing. You can really set up a real life, computer game experience by embedding all this technology into a room. So, we are very excited about the Arduino technology. It is serving us very well at the moment. So, the next theatre show that we are working on, we’re are experimenting using it with DMX lights so we can have even fewer lights and get very specific with the colour tones. This will be operated by the performers on stage. So, we just press a button on the Wii remote and the computer tells the Arduino and the Arduino tells the light exactly what to do. So, it is really integrated into the performance itself.
Finally, what else have you seen here in Edinburgh? What would you recommend anything in particular?
C: Mr R. Everything around this is interesting. There are lots of cool stuff.
T: Chatting to him, he is a real Theatrical Inventor. I guess I would call myself a bit of a Theatrical Inventor too. I think it is a matter of us geeking out for technology and gadgets. There are some real creative potential in some of those technologies. Plus they also offer simpler solutions.
A: I haven’t been able to see too much as I have another show.
C: There is also a show called Missing by Gecko which is pretty good. There is just so much here.
This interview took place on Thursday 22 August 2013 at the Underbelly, Edinburgh. For more information on Perth Theatre Company’s “It’s Dark Outside” visit their website.