April 2013

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April 2013

News & Notices

Excitement, Achievement, Awards: CMU Remakes Opening Night

Janet Gramza Communications Associate

Opening Night looked and felt different in 2013 thanks to help from creative students and faculty at Carnegie Mellon University.

Photo/Tom Thatcher, Ross Zentner

Opening Night of the Milwaukee 2013 Annual Conference & Stage Expo was more theatrical than ever – thanks to Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama staff and students who created a multimedia show.

USITT Fellows wanted to spice up the Conference kickoff at Milwaukee's Delta Center by making the Opening Night awards more about showing than telling and adding excitement to the usual speech, awards, and reception. Cindy Limauro, Fellow and professor of lighting design at CMU, approached colleagues with the challenge, and they accepted.

"We said, 'Hey, we can make this work in between the 16 other shows we are doing this semester,'" joked CMU Assistant Professor of Stage Management Tina Shackleford, who oversaw the project.

Ms. Shackleford, who chaired the Stage Management Mentoring project at the Conference, assigned 18 students to design an Opening Night multimedia production reflecting "The Bridge to Innovation," the subject of ETC VP Steve Terry's address. The production had to launch the conference and spotlight the work of 11 award winners – the nine winners of USITT's 2013 Young Designers & Technicians Awards, Rising Star Award winner Aaron Porter, and the winner of the Joel E. Rubin Founder's Award, rigging safety guru Tom Young.

The presentation showed "art intersecting with technology," displayed the YD&T winners' designs as they accepted their awards, and profiled CMU alum Mr. Young, who visited his old campus for an on-stage interview.

In the past, the Founder's Award winner was a secret until Opening Night, but USITT's Board of Directors changed that this year to allow all parties – especially the recipient – to prepare for the honor. Ms. Shackleford said Mr. Young had recently moved back to Pittsburgh, making it easy to include him in the production.

"It was so exciting for the students to have him come and sit on our stage," she said. "They really enjoyed hearing him speak about how the campus has changed and how technology has changed."

She said not all the students who worked on the project could be at the Conference; several were in rehearsals for on-campus productions that week.

"It's an interesting challenge to work on an event that you are not going to be able to see," she explained. "But it's definitely something they will encounter in the world – planning an event when you can't just walk into the space and say, 'Yes, that light here and this table there.'"

Another challenging task was to transform the Delta Center ballroom from a presentation to a party following the awards. The students used hanging fabric scenic pieces around the stage and dramatic lighting to "make the room look different" for the awards, then changed it up to create a more festive mood for the after-party.

Tina said the experience was good for all involved, and CMU is prepared to do it again if asked.

"Planning Opening Night as a separate event from the rest of the Conference does make it special," she said. "I think it was a great idea on all accounts, and I really applaud the Fellows for coming up with it and acting on it!"

Credits for the CMU/USITT Opening Night Production include:

  • Lighting -- Justin Keenan Miller and Andrew Schmedake
  • Media -- Dan Efros and Jordan Harrison
  • Management -- Christina Benvegnu, Jody A. Cohen, AJ Cook, Shannon Henley, Tyler Jacobson, Sophia Mysel, Tim Sutter, and Zoe Westbrook
  • Scenery -- Christine Lee, Holly O'Hara, and Joey Sarno
  • Sound -- Chris Rummel and Becca Stoll
  • Production Stage Manager -- Jess Bertollo
  • Faculty Advisors -- Cindy Limauro and Tina Shackleford