April 2013

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April 2013

Conference & Stage Expo

Tech Expo 2013 – Do Try This at Home (Carefully)

Tech Expo drew fans to the 17 entries which were on exhibit at Stage Expo during the 2013 Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Photo/Barbara E.R. Lucas

From a confetti cannon to a trick sword to a person-lift to breakable jewelry made of soap, this year's Tech Expo submissions again proved that necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

The 17 entries that made it into the 2013 Tech Expo were all great examples of "the creativity, ingenuity and ability to work under constraints that all of us in USITT are all too familiar with: time, money, and manpower," wrote Tech Expo Chair Rob Kerby of Northern Kentucky University's Department of Theatre and Dance.

Of the 17, three were chosen at the Conference to receive cash prizes sponsored by USITT, University of Delaware REP/PTTP, and RC4 Wireless. The winning projects are:

  • A Video Puppet for the World Premiere Production of Erin Courtney's The Service Road, by Cory Einbinder of New York City College of Technology (CUNY). Cory designed an interactive video puppet to play the "big headed toddler," a possibly imaginary character operated by an onstage puppeteer.
  • To Float Like a Firefly: LEDS that Don't Affect Fabric Drape, by Jen Dasher, Lisa Burgess and Jon Shimon of the University of Maryland. The trio found a new product, lightweight programmable LED sequins, and devised ways to attach them to chiffon costumes for the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • A Compensated Scenery Flying Rig, by Tom Strong, Kevin Hines, Matt Rohner and Ethan Weil of Carnegie Mellon University. The CMU team devised a rigging system to "fly" a 600-pound scenic element on and off stage for a production of Sweeney Todd.

Tech Expo is held every other year and culminates with an exhibit and final judging at that year's USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo. This year's was the 14th biennial Tech Expo; the next will be in 2015.

The process involves a committee of 15 to 20 people, who pore through dozens of entries and choose the most innovative and unique for inclusion in that year's Tech Expo catalog and Stage Expo display.

The largest entry in this year's display was the Will-Burt Ribbon Lift (usually used to lift scenery or lights) that a Purdue Theatre crew modified to lift a person -- Medea ascending during her final monologue.

Another popular entry was the confetti cannon that Otterbein University built using steel plumbing pipe, a solenoid valve, and a Dixie cup. "Big important disclaimer," the author, Gregory Bell, wrote in the Tech Expo catalog. "Do not build this confetti cannon's pressure chamber from PVC pipe!"

Rob noted the Tech Expo catalogs often come in handy when a technical director is faced with a problem to be solved on the fly.

As Tim Combs of the Theatre School at DePaul University wrote in his entry on Cartmaster Casters, "It never fails that directors and designers ask for scenery to do multiple things that conflict with the laws of physics."

The 2013 Tech Expo catalog– as well as past catalogs -- are available for sale at USITT's online store. For more information about Tech Expo, click here.