Monday, July 22, 2013

Kate Lucibella: Automation and the Pacific

This past week I was lucky enough to spend some time with OSF automation programmer Jennifer Hanson and electrical designer Ryan Poethke.   Jennifer was kind enough to take me through the typical OSF automation training as well as a walk-through of the operating system as well as the physical pieces that are used on a regular basis.

The software and operating system are developed entirely in house so the program can be designed and tweaked to do exactly what is needed of it.  There were some similarities between the system we use at STC (Raynok) but for the most part it was a completely different way of looking at automation.  I found the OSF program to be very intuitive and very user friendly.  After only spending about a half hour with the program I found I could easily navigate around the menus and caught onto programming pretty quickly. Unlike the Raynok system, there aren't really any drop down menus but pop up menus that can move around the home screen that allow you to look at different axis’ and cues and all the information for each.  The biggest difference for me what once a cue executes, the program automatically advances to the next cue.  On a Raynok system you have to manually advance to the next cue.

So what happens if you have to rerun the cue you just took? There’s a button for that! Here’s a picture of the automation console: 

The “re-run-current” button allows you to retake the cue that was just executed.  In order to take any cue on the console you need to be holding down the “enable” button. So in order to execute a cue, you need to hold down the enable button and then push the “Go” button.  This safety makes it difficult for something to get pushed by accident. The console also allows you to stop a cue mid-progress (you do not have to hold down the “enable” button to stop a cue), go back to a previous cue with the “cue back” button (this does not execute a cue but sets up for the next execution), or in case of bad things happening; immediately stop everything with the “Emergency Stop” button.  E-stops also shut down communication to the drives (the brains of automation) so when operators walk away from the console, they can push the E-stop as a safety measure.

The only major advantage of the Raynok system over the OSF system was that Raynok allows for position based cuing.  OSF automation software only can do timing based cuing. Both of these cuing methods are used for autofollow cues, where multiple things happen within one cue.  For example, there is a lift and a sunroof.  The sunroof is open retracted into the deck and the lift is all the way up at deck level.  In the next automation cue the lift wants to move down to it’s storage position in the trap room and the sunroof wants to close.  In position based cuing you can tell the sunroof not to start closing until the lift has moved down to a specific measurement.  In timing based cuing you tell the sunroof not to start moving until x number of seconds have passed.  The advantage of position based cuing is that it has its own safety built in.  If something happens to the lift and the lift never reaches the assigned distance for the sunroof to start moving, the sunroof will not move.  In time based cuing, if something happens to the lift and it doesn’t move the sunroof will still try and move when it has reached x seconds that were written in the programming.  You can see why position based cuing is a big advantage.  OSF is working on developing position based cuing for their software as we speak.

A couple other interesting things about the OSF automation system.  Most of their systems are run off belts.  Rather than using cable or chain, most axis are belt driven.  The belts are ribbed and have steel running through them.  This basically eliminates any stretch and allows for much more accurate tuning and consistent cuing.  They also use sensor safeties to protect scenery and props from getting run over and destroyed.  If something breaks the line of the sensors, it automatically stops the system.  Within the software, there is a way to override the sensors manually in case one of them were to go out for some reason, the performance could continue, just without the safeties. 

Ok, that was a lot of info about automation.  They’re software and system are pretty amazing and I was very lucky to get a chance to talk to their entire automation department about various elements of the system. 

And just to balance it out, here’s a picture of the Pacific Ocean: 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Kate Lucibella: Tech, Crater Lake, the 4th of July, and San Francisco

Stagehand Kate Lucibella is participating in an A Ha! Artisan Exchange at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The last couple weeks have been busy.  I spent about a week and a half backstage for the tech of The Liquid Plain; a new work by Naomi Wallace.  It’s a beautiful piece that takes place during the years of the transatlantic slave trade.  It also has some of the best use of projections I’ve seen to date.  It was good to see that tech is tech wherever you go. There are some problems, some challenges, some very creative problem solving, and in the end, the product is exactly what it’s supposed to be.  Being a part of this world premier was a truly rewarding experience. 

I also discovered my new favorite piece of stage equipment.  The OSF stage crew calls it an “Uncle Buddy” and it’s used to pinch off linesets to keep them from running or slipping.  They work great on a double purchase lineset that has been rigged for a specific function and doesn’t operate within the fly rail.  For The Liquid Plain, a cage had to fly in and an actor had to get inside.  Since the system had been rigged for just this purpose, there was no brake on the operating lines so when the cage was flown into its proper height, the flyman would apply the “Uncle Buddy” to the lineset, which locked the ropes so the cage wouldn’t move once the actor got into it.  Here’s a picture of what it looks like when the lineset is locked off:

The biggest difference about tech at OSF was that other shows had to perform in the space as well.  So before we had finished teching the show, we needed to shift into another set.  Since these were the first shifts in and out of The Liquid Plain they took a bit more time and required a bit more trial and error.  Space had to be divvied up and the order of set pieces had to be established.  This is something I’ve never had to deal with in a tech process and it was really impressive too see how well the stage hands take all these things into account and make it work. 

Outside of tech, I got to see some pretty amazing things over the past two weeks.  I drove out to Crater Lake one day and I have to admit, it kind of takes your breath away.  The Rim Drive circles the lake but the entirety of the road isn’t open all year round so unfortunately I didn’t get to drive around the whole thing.  What was really crazy was that there were still many feet of snow on the ground. It was a beautiful, sunny 90 degree day and I stood next to a snow drift that was almost as tall as I was.  That’s not something you see every day.  Here’s a picture from one of the overlooks:


I also spent the 4th of July in Ashland and saw an awesome parade and pretty good firework display.  I also caught the live broadcast from DC and saw some familiar sights so it was kind of like having two 4th of Julys on two coasts.  Ashland explodes for the holiday.  People came into downtown the evening before and staked out space along the parade route with duct tape and signs.  What was cool to me was that these reservations were honored.  In DC, tape on the sidewalk wouldn’t mean anything, but that’s the difference between a big city and a small town.  What was also cool about Ashland on the 4th was that they set up a craft and food fair in Lithia Park where local vendors came out and set up booths.  It reminded me a bit of Eastern Market in DC.

I got a couple days in a row off so I took a road trip down to San Francisco to see some friends. On the way down I took a side trip out to Muir Beach and got to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  As someone who has lived on the East Coast her entire life, that was exciting. In San Francisco, if you’re ever in the Union Square area, there’s an awesome bar called John Foley’s Irish House that has dueling pianos in their downstairs bar.  It’s a cross between a comedy show and a talent show.  The two guys are amazingly talented and hysterically funny.  I didn’t get to see as much of San Francisco as I would have liked but Golden Gate Park is amazing and the city itself is a lot of fun.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to get back.  Unfortunately, my camera was stolen in Golden Gate Park so I don’t have any pictures from the Pacific Ocean or the city, but here’s one of the Golden Gate Bridge I took with my phone.  Don’t worry, my camera is insured!


It’s been a busy, productive, exciting week filled with new and also familiar experiences.  I’m having a great time in Ashland learning new things from OSF that I can take back to DC with me, and exploring the West Coast has been amazing. I hope the next few weeks will be as rewarding as these last weeks have been.



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Josh Kelly: My Last Week

I leave for home in just a few short days. I'm already looking forward to working with Chris and being her tour guide to DC. (Chris Carpenter is the OSF crafts artisan who will travel to DC early in 2014 for an exchange.) I plan on introducing her to the other crafts artisans and costume shops around town as well as the DC that tourists come to see. This past week I met Deb Dryden, costume designer and author of Fabric Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre. This text has been an essential guide for nearly every person who has become a theatrical painter/dyer. Of course we talked shop. She had just returned home from a surface design conference and had experimented with both e-textiles and computer printing onto everything from homemade paper to fabric to metal mesh. It was an honor and a highlight of the trip to meet her.

The prospect of using more technology in theatre production seems inevitable even though we work in a field where small batch, old school, artisan techniques remain the norm. Here in Ashland, water use is sometimes a concern, and the opportunity to find more ecologically responsible products is a priority. The investigation of safer products to use in an historically toxic work environment is imperative. Using computer printing techniques can allow a larger range of design options, often with a much faster production turnaround, and it allows for endless reproduction. I'm going to try to approach more projects with an eye towards technological advantage. Could this be better, faster, cheaper, or safer if I think around my normal process?

Thank you to Rachel Maize, Christine Smith-McNamara, Chris Carpenter, Caroline Dignes, Lene Price, Betsy Krausnick, and the entire costume shop for making me feel so welcome. I've had a marvelous time and highly recommend this exchange to others interested. I'm looking forward to being home with my family, friends, and shop, which is often one in the same.