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Live Show Control for Entertainment, Part 2

Jul 24, 2012 11:12 AM, With Bennett Liles


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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

Savannah, Ga., is an old town with lots of ghost stories and parties on River Street. The Ghosts and Gravestones tour takes visitors right to the Perkins and Sons Chandlery where Ryan McCurdy has set up an interactive extravaganza with live actors, rain, lighting, and even a scampering animatronic cat. He’s here to tell us how he got it all done, coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Ryan McCurdy, it’s great to have you back with me for part two, and we’re talking about the Perkins and Sons Experience in Savannah on Historic Tours of America. Savannah is a really rocking town, so if you’ve got a show put together it has to be interesting because people come down to River Street ready for just about anything. Tell me a little about the show setup. It looks like you’ve got a lot of things going on right from when people walk in the door.

Ryan McCurdy: Well, yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that people come to Savannah expecting anything so we wanted to give them as much of everything that we could. It’s still the only attraction of its type in Savannah that uses technology with history, but I think the best part of it is that we are telling real stories with a real live actor and so we’re not putting you in a 3D theater with 3D glasses. We’re actually giving you a slice of history just sweeping it a little bit with the effects which is Historic Tours goal. The script is in WinScript, which is Alcorn McBride’s scripting software. It’s got thousands of lines of script mostly from the perspective of the DMX machine. We wanted hard and fast DMX control so we got a DMX machine, we have a lot of lights and space doing a lot of different things so there’s a lot of on’s and off’s and value changes and it’s very fluid, it’s very easy to control but because it’s a haunted quote, unquote venue we—obviously lights flicker, things unexpectedly happen with the lights so as far the DMX machine is running through a ton of dimmers, electronics, AS-40D dimmers which are controlling individual lights and instruments. It’s broken into sequences, each sequence, the actors are taught that the sequences have different lengths, they get to see what the sequences are before they start learning the script so they’re learning the text script and tech script hand in hand which is great. As far as that we also have our recess script, our end of night script, we have a back ground music script, if someone needs to use the space for a private function there’s an hour and a half of background music that can play if you’re using the space in a non-traditional way. There’s the venue demo and the DMX test. The venue demo to show off what the space does in two minutes—the DMX test if you really just need to check all of the channels if something’s not happening and you want to go through the channels one by one. But it’s broken into sequences, WinScript uses sequences like an Excel spreadsheet. You just build rows and rows and rows and name the sequences and then you build Alpha script inside of each of those. So in any given one of those you have a series of DMX commands, you have commands with the V4 as far as talking to the rest of its peripherals and then you have some specialty stuff the reset for instance, putting a hard and fast LCD script up to make sure that the operator knows what’s going on or letting the operator know what is wrong with what peripheral. As far as I know we don’t ever have to use those but they’re definitely in there if the need arises. [Timestamp: 3:33]

Yeah, that must be interesting getting different actors working on the same in general script, each with their own sort of style and pacing and coordinating all of these triggered effects because they’re really running the show.

They are. In fact, I think in part one we talked about the cotton elevator dropping and obviously that’s a very specific special effect. If it were to happen out of control of the actor, it could happen randomly throughout the show, I think it wouldn’t have as much of an emphasis as it does when the actor steps forward looks at the audience, says the man fell from 60ft. and when he landed on the ground and we drop the cotton elevator. So when he’s leaning forward he’s just misdirecting them because he’s going towards a button that he has on the stage to drop the cotton elevator, but the great thing is you have five actors that are working in any given night and sometimes they alternate tour to tour to tour and we’ve given them the control of the special effects—more so than even if they had a board op. We’re giving the actor complete control and the great thing about that is none of them abuse it. You just get really interesting variations on the script. [Timestamp: 4:45]

Tell me about some of the other 4D elements. You’ve got some rain that sprays down on cue?

Well, what’s funny is that’s—we do have rain. We’ve got thunder and lightning. It seems I have every ghost story in Savannah. I lived there myself for eight years before we built Perkins & Sons and have since moved to New York. You’re in for it because all of the ghost stories involve thunder and lighting and a storm, and so it’s no exception on this tour. We decided we could take the chance that it’s raining outside in the tour out there or we could force a storm and make sure everyone gets the same experience. So we’ve got thunder and lightning and then in a complete blackout we have a rain effect and we actually, with no more than you buy at Home Depot, just a ton of cabling and a ton of cutters and splitters and then a DMX sprinkler control, which those things do exist, thank goodness. We are basically irrigating the entire audience. We make sure every seat gets at least a little bit of a splash and it’s in complete black, which of course lets people’s imagination run wild, but I’m proud of saying that it’s the only guaranteed storm in Savannah. [Timestamp: 5:45]



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