DRAMA 101, INTRODUCTION TO THEATRE, MODULE 1 – Stage Automation Engineer

>>And run this first queue.>>Scenery moving.>>Use another queue.
This queue is going to close the two flippers.
And bring them back on.>>Hi, my name is Chuck Adamanus, and I’m a Stage Automation Engineer.
[MUSIC] Stage automation involves mechanizing and controlling scenery so
that it can run repeatedly, identically, show to show, night after night.
You know, conventionally scenery has either been flown in from above or pushed
on from the wings, and those are both things that were very easily done
manually by stage hand. So, by being able to automate items, we
can now use bigger scenery, and we can also do things that you just would not
have been able to do manually. So, my job mostly is to really figure out
from the creative team what is it that we want to do, and then to design the
machine and the controls that allow us to make that scenery do that effect.
This is a control system for Billy Elliot, the first national tour.
This part of our Hudson Scenic Automation System that we call HMC.
system’s set up to run all the effects for the show.
The typical process is we here at the shop will get the system set up,
basically ready for the operator to use in the theater.
Because of the complexity of all of this equipment, we want to be able to do as
much of the troubleshooting, proving out, debugging here in the shop.
You know, we’ve designed this equipment and we’ve used it for a long time.
But for every show, there’s always going to be subtle differences, things we do
custom. I think one of the biggest challenges for
Billy Elliot, you know, in all of the previous incarnations of that show, there
were several key scenic elements. The kitchen in Billy’s house that’s sort
of brought on stage through elevators in the floor.
And so, they came up with this idea of having these flip open walls and this
pallet to allow that same scenery, this mostly the little set of kitchen
furniture, to get it on and off stage that otherwise would of been coming up in
an elevator. So, this is the down, what we call the
downstage flipper wall. And this is actually the motor and gears
that caused that wall to be controlled by the automation system.
So, when I actually run queues, signals are sent down to this control box.
And in turn, that control box knows how to run this motor, which will actually
cause this flipping pallets to open and close throughout the show.
And then finally, this entire wall can come on and off stage, and we do that
through the use of tracks on the floor here.
Connected to those tracks are cables that we in turn have them connected to a winch
that’s built into the floor off stage, they can actually track that unit on and
off. Certainly, I think the origins of all
this, for me, goes back to, you know, as a kid.
You know, my mom and I actually came up to New York to see Broadway shows like
Les Mis and Phantom, which would have been some of the first big automated
shows. And it was always that wow, like how does
it all happened? Like, what is going on?
How do they make it work? I always thought I wanted to be an
architect and was studying architecture through school, but I actually was
working part-time at the theater. And sort of said, you know, wow, look.
Do you hear all these people that are sort of getting to do all the same sort
of creative things that I was feeling like, well, in architecture.
They actually got to go do it, you know, hands on, make it work.
And that was really interesting. So, ultimately, I decided to go back to
school to actually study that and went back and got a masters degree in
Technical Theater at Yale. And ultimately, at the end, it worked
out, that I was able to come here to Hudson and have since spent my time here.
You know, originally starting down on the floor building parts and systems for
shows. And then, as the years went on, ended up
in the Engineering Department and actually drawing, and now heading up that
automation group of people. For as many hours as I might spend in
front of a computer trying to make that all right, there are 10 or 12 people, if
not a 100 people on the top floor that are going to work many, many more hours
than I did to actually construct it, put it together, make it function.
and a lot of those people have been doing this for a lot longer than I have.
So, I’m dependent and reliant on their skills as craftsmen just be able to say,
we had ideas as okay, but can we do it this way.
Certainly Lion King is a, was a sort of crowning, you know, moment for Hudson,
first big automation system we ever did was the original Lion King for New York.
And, you know, Pride Rock doesn’t come up out of the stage for Lion King.
[MUSIC] It’s not the same show, it doesn’t really look that complicated at
the end of the day. And yet when it’s in the midst of all
these other scenic elements, and lit well, and has a full costumed cast in
front of it, it’s this incredibly magical thing that really does work for the show.
Some of the best automation in some of these shows is, is used very little.
It’s that one or two big moments. Without a doubt, I’d say the biggest
challenge of a project that I’ve been involved with was Chitty Chitty, Bang
Bang, when we did the flying car. [SOUND] And so, all of the machinery, all
of the wires, you know, all of this equipment that was under there holding
that car up kind of just perfectly melted away.
It had so much effort put into this one effect of the car flying out over the
audience. It was pretty remarkable.
Recently, the, it’s, with a doubt, the biggest change we’ve seen in, I think,
theater and certainly it affects all of the scenery is the use of video.
One of the last big projects we did, Dream Girls that’s currently on tour in
America, you know, has we have video panels are actually being moved with
automation. So, that’s the big change I think we’ll
see on automation in the future is that there’ll be a much, much more desire from
all the creative departments, be it video, or lighting, and audio and
everybody, to integrate those systems so that we could very seamlessly do things
that right now we can’t do. I could certainly be using all the same
equipment, same skills and everything, and be designing assembly lines for a
factory, or a way a package gets cartoned up.
the thing that’s wonderful about this is when you actually go to the theater and
you get to see one of these things, it really still, I, even I still can go and
have these moments of like, wow. Like, how does it all work?
And, and I know how it works. That’s what makes this work exciting, and
fun, and worth the long hours, and the long days, and the late nights because it
is exciting and it is sort of live and happening every night. [MUSIC][MUSIC][MUSIC].

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