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Edutainment Show Control, Part 1

Mar 1, 2012 11:43 AM, WIth Bennett Liles

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OK, and you’ve got the audio playback in a number of spots that’s triggered by various means and how does all that work. Where did you hide the speakers?

Well, it’s actually fun. All of the different sounds; there’s only one—actually two—live actors. [There’s] one primary live actor in each tour and so obviously to make it seem as though you’re having a richer human experience without actually the humans, we’ve done some facsimiles of humans. The owner of the store is seen snoring in the corner at one point obviously hard at work. We have an audio animatronic butcher. They all need to have sound effects obviously. The snoring man has his dulcetones and the butcher has about a two-minute monolog that he is just rattling off about prices of meats in St. Augustine while he’s hitting a slab on the table, and we were able to conceal a lot of the speakers as body speakers into the crevices of the audio animatronics and then all the other speakers we just actually bought specialty Bose speakers that are desk-top size or smaller, and we were able to conceal them; they’re the width of a book and we were able to conceal one into a bookshelf that was then fauxed out. We have one placed in a specially built chamber under a shelf. None of the speakers inside of the installation are visible. [Timestamp: 8:03]

I guess you didn’t have too much of a problem with having to get in and out real fast. So how long did the installation go? How long did it take for you to get all of the stuff in, the holes drilled, the cables run, and speakers mounted, or was there a degree of experimentation to it?

There was a little bit of both; there was a sightseeing and scope out trip that happened last year and that was actually just a long weekend. All of the department heads as well as all the people on the tech end all met for a long weekend in St. Augustine when the building was still going up and the shelves was still prevalent and we were able to, at that point, see where everything was going to go. I then took a two-week sabbatical down there at the beginning of last year. The two weeks was simply to get the cabling done. And we really, I think, we may have been, in retrospect, a little too careful with it and maybe took a little too much time, but we definitely did not want to have any problems with it. So we took a solid two weeks for that and I went down about a month and a half later after the construction had been finished and then we plugged in on both ends. I did the programming, and we did about three or four days of major show testing with the actors before I flew back up to New York and that was another two-week trip. So I would say as far as business days goes, it was about a 17-day installation on my end; obviously [it was] several months on their end since they were dealing with the creation of a new building. [Timestamp: 9:23]

Well, with as many things as you have going in there and as reliable as it has to be, I would say that’s a pretty quick job to do all of that. You’ve got a lot of experience with this type of stuff with your freelance at What would you say is the most challenging aspect of creating a show like this? Is it the reliability or ironing out all the kinks in the interactivity? What’s the toughest part?

Absolutely. I think the two things that stick out whenever I’m working with Historic Tours of America is the first thing that has to be done is making sure that once the technician is gone, there is not a day-to-day catastrophe. That things are reliable. So that means having shutdown sequences, having reliable start-up sequences, and Alcorn’s software allows for very intelligent error maintenance, and it can basically send errors to my email address that I can debug remotely—simple things like that which take the pressure off of every time something crashes. Granted, we’ve never had a catastrophe, but we definitely want to put that framework into play. And the second thing which is actually fairly unique to HTA—the hardest part of designing—is incorporating the fact that there will be a live actor who is often different every day of the week because they employ a large number of cast members. And it’s an integrating and technological experience that the actor can feel comfortable with, but it’s giving the actor very subtle cues as to the length of time that their supposed to be doing in a certain room or letting them know when an effect is about to happen without letting the audience know the effect’s about to happen. It’s a very give-and-take relationship, and I started doing my career in doing lighting and sound design for a theater specifically where you have a live board op, and so I really have just moved over with HTA into thinking of it from the term of designing it like a live board op would and then turning it over to a very sympathetic computer system. I believe I’ve spoken to all the actors that work at Oldest Store and Perkins & Sons and Savannah, and I think they enjoy playing with technology and basically having it at their fingertips. [Timestamps: 11:36]

Yeah, I would think that once they get used to stepping on pressure pads and things like that at the right time, that would actually give them more of a sense of command and control over the whole show.

Absolutely. I think it was—to be honest—I think a financial decision years ago when they decided to do Perkins & Son, it was strictly a financial choice to preprogram it as show control rather than having a board op in a separate room. But it has turned out to, in giving the actor that amount of control, I think has empowered them in a very good way and I think it’s brought a lot to their performances. The best thing in a lot of the comment cards that come in praise the actors, which is great. This is definitely a situation where if the technology, especially the Oldest Store, if the technology is the star, then we’ve done something wrong. [Timestamp: 12:07]

That’s a very intriguing thing when you get all the show elements together and you have the actors themselves triggering events that in more traditional theater environment are being handled by tech people backstage that gets to be a very different animal as far as the whole feeling of it. Ryan, thanks so much for being here for part one from Historic Tours of America and the Oldest Store Museum in St. Augustine, Fla. And in part 2 we’ll get into the show setup and how the video system works and the animatronic butcher and some other things, so we’ll see you again in part 2.

Absolutely. I appreciate being here. Thanks.

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