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Live Show Control for Entertainment, Part 2

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

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And you’ve got the Alcorn McBride V4 system running the whole show so who maintains that? Say, what happens if you have a power failure? How long does it take to get it all back up and running?

Sure, HTA does have site carpenter and a site maintenance team that took over the reins from me after the design was done, and they have all been trained by me on the V4 and how everything works—a wonderful team. In the event of a power failure there’s actually a bigger problem, which is that if this building goes out all of River Street, pretty much goes out based on where the transformers are. The tour itself would be rerouted for safety concerns, so we actually saved a lot of money not having to get a specialized generator for the space because the tour itself is rerouted in the event of a power outage. Now if there was a power outage and when it comes back up we could start the tour in about 30 seconds. The only thing that would need to happen is if one manual reset. We keep the cotton elevator on a manual reset just for safety sake; it’s winched back into position manually by the actor rather than being computer controlled, which was a choice that we did actively make. So the only thing that you have to do is winch that cotton elevator back into position, let it catch the hydraulic and the magnet, and then basically step back. The system, the V4, resets within about 10 seconds, runs a quick 30-second audio test, and the trolley could be pulling up in the next minute and you would be ready to go. [Timestamp: 7:09]

OK, you have the DMX machine for lighting and you have lightning effects and so forth. How do you use the Megaflash 800W strobe? Is that what you use for the lighting?

It’s a combination of using it for lightning and using it as sort of a freak out effect because each two strobes—we have one on each side of the space; they cover a lot of ground and we looked long and hard. Megaflash turned out to be the best supplier. They have incredible longevity, the lamps do. The throw is huge and the control of frame to frame is tremendous, so yeah, we use those sparingly. Obviously you don’t want to overdo any particular effect, but we use those especially in combination with two industrial strength fans to give another 4D element that even before they get wet they get the sensation that air is starting to move in an uncomfortable fashion and definitely it’s moving faster and harder than the air conditioning. Which is one thing we did have to mix with is it was an unintentional 4D effect that obviously the space had to be air conditioned because the space gets to be 104 or 105 in Savannah in the summer. So I love it when people come in they and say oh it’s so nice and cold and then they sit down and they feel great and then when the fans start they actually start feeling the hairs on their arm moving; people start to freak out, which I love. [Timestamp: 8:32]

It has to be a lot of fun working on something like that. How does the initial testing go on a system like this? At what point do you bring the actors in? After you have all the wiring connected and the effects tested?

Right, the actors came in very early. The first person from the creative end to come in was from the MOD, who also was our scriptwriter and our script supervisor. He was there right from the beginning. He saw us just loading the basics in and he started walking around the room getting the feel for it from that sensibility. He was with us as we started plugging everything in and testing it out—started working on the stories from there. The actors were in probably about a month and a half in and they had a good two to three weeks of just running it with us. We would demonstrate something for them and then let them give their theatrical flair to it, and obviously there were rehearsals that went better than others. This is a very unique type of experience of which I do not know of many that are like this. I have definitely seen 3D films all over the country and I’ve definitely seen where you just have a 4D show which is completely computer controlled but no actor, but the two things together are very rare. So we had rehearsals where we weren’t sure whether this thing was going to work and then I remember one rehearsal where it just clicked; we didn’t see the actors hitting the buttons any more as much as we were looking for them, and the fun of that, just the huge round of applause that we got at the end was very, very fulfilling. It’s definitely fun to build any one of these types of attractions, but man when you add a live actor to it, it gets in people’s faces and the scaring them to death and then you get to rain on them. It’s great. [Timestamp: 10:02]

And you’ve even got an animatronic cat running through the place in the middle of the show?

There’s a animatronic cat at one point that flies across a shelf and knocks some cans over, and we have had people that they see that cat and they are looking around saying, “Where’s that cat? Where’s that cat?” I mean they are, because we create the cat and then its presence is felt. It plays—it runs across a piano, it knocks a picture frame over, it’s presence is there and yet at one point I said, “You guys want ticklers; do you want to have it run through the audience?” and the honest answer was it’s not a haunted house and we can’t overwhelm our audience. We have families come in and they are getting so freaked out by the idea that a cat might run by their feet that we don’t actually have to do it they do it for themselves. [Timestamp: 10:47]

Yeah, it’s like being the man behind the curtain with all of the levers and buttons to make all these surprises happen. So what’s coming up? What do you have coming up next for Historic Tours of America? Have you got any projects in the works?

Well, we’re very proud to announce they’ve opened a brand new attraction up in Boston, which I did early consulting work on and helped design the initial show control aspects for. It’s the Boston Tea Party ships and experience. It’s a combination of real tall ships that have been built by hand in an marina and then floated to the sight of the museum as well as a museum experience with holograms and talking portraits like we have at the oldest show experience which I know is on this podcast previously. Just a combination of a number of wonderful effects and of course live actors as is Historic Tours best claim to fame. In addition a lot of things brewing, maybe in Savannah, maybe in St. Augustine, there’s some great ideas floating around. Unfortunately we’re not to the point where I can announce what any of them are yet, but I think we’re very excited. I am hoping to go down there in about a month and completely redo an audio animatronic figure, so hey—St. Augustine in the summer ain’t no slouch job; it’s a good way to go. [Timestamp: 12:01]

Really, and having lots of fun doing this in places like Savannah and St. Augustine. I can imagine what a great time it is and all of the ideas you get just from working on the show. Thanks for telling us about it. Ryan McCurdy of Historic Tours of America and the Perkins and Sons Experience right there on River Street in Savannah. Good luck on the projects coming up.

Thank you very much. Hopefully we’ll build something good and I’ll be talking to you again in a little bit.

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