Digital Performance Lab designed to keep creatives in Arizona

June 26, 2015

Arizona is suffering a drain of young artists and creative designers leaving for more arts-friendly areas. But a Phoenix-based ensemble is hoping to invigorate the local small-theater landscape with cutting-edge technology for the stage and a dynamic place to showcase their talents.

To get there, they’ll need to find funding and financial support from the community. Orange Theatre Digital Performance Lab Matthew Watkins (on stage, second from left), artistic director of Orange Theatre – a residency led by ASU alumni – takes questions after the demonstration of Orange Theatre's Digital Performance Lab technology on June 25 at the Lyceum Theatre on ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by: Courtney Pedroza/ASU News Download Full Image

Phoenix’s Orange Theatre is a residency led by ASU alumni that brings together digital media designers, developers and actors to collaborate on the creation of new, interactive technologies for the stage and performing arts.

“One of the reasons we formed is because we have a lot of experience in digital media and the theater but very little financial support from the community,” said Matthew Watkins, Orange Theatre’s artistic director and a 2010 ASU graduate. “It’s the reason why a lot of people end up leaving Phoenix.”

Watkins said that although Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the country, Arizona is 50th when it comes to arts funding. He said he has seen talented Valley-based artists leave for well-paying jobs in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and London.  

Made up of seven ASU alumni and two artists in residency, Orange Theatre recently launched a new initiative called the Digital Performance Lab to attract and retain young creatives to do exciting work without leaving the state.

After the Arizona Commission on the Arts put its Art Tank initiative on hold, Orange Theatre is asking the public for funding to support its programming and ideas. In January, Orange Theatre received a $10,000 prize from the Art Tank but now needs additional funding to bring its “revolutionary” wireless 3-D tracking system to market.

“With funding we could easily do this in three to six months,” Watkins said. “Without funding, considerably longer.”

On June 25, members of the ensemble held a free public demonstration of their work at ASU’s Lyceum Theatre on the Tempe campus. Actors and designers demonstrated a network of portable, matchbook-size wireless sensors that allows instant triggering of complex lighting, sound and media cues and creates a more interactive and exciting theater experience for actors and audience members alike.

The system would allow for a less expensive stage tech setup, which would benefit small theaters that often have smaller budgets. For example, high-quality projections of scene backgrounds could take the place of a physical set that must be built and painted, and a less instrusive microphone assembly would allow for better sound.

“This technology adds another paintbrush to use as a tool to execute a design,” said Ian Shelanskey, an Interdisciplinary Digital Media and Performance graduate student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“Custom technology in theater will be as cutting-edge as Computer-Aided Design was to architecture. It can make a presentation really come to life.”

It also adds a little spice to an actor’s performance, according to Katrina Donaldson, who along with Carrie Fee and William Crook performed a scene from Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” as part of the demonstration.

“I’m excited for all of the possibilities this system can bring to a production,” Donaldson said. “A small movement by me on stage could trigger a tidal wave of chaos, and having that secret knowledge makes it kind of fun.”

The company plans to make the software and hardware developed in the Digital Performance Lab available to other independent performing-arts groups at an affordable price.

Future plans for the lab include an education program that teaches best practices for actor-designer collaboration and a digital performance resource library based in Phoenix. Pending other future funding, the company hopes to make the residency an annual program.

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU powers up with Green Sports Alliance

June 26, 2015

The maroon and gold will be adding an honorary green stripe to its school colors in a show of sustainable solidarity.

The Pac-12 Conference has announced that it has officially joined the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), making it the first collegiate sports conference to count all its members – including Arizona State University – as GSA participants. The Pac-12 Conference announced June 29 that it has officially joined the Green Sports Alliance, and is the first collegiate sports conference to count all its members as GSA participants. Photo by: Thomas Perez/Arizona State University Download Full Image

As members of the GSA, the conference and university athletics programs have committed to measure their environmental performance, develop strategies and goals to reduce their footprint, monitor progress and engage fans and community in the process. Most significantly, the Pac-12 and its members will support one another, and additional GSA members, in their sports greening efforts.

ASU’s Recycle and Solid Waste Manager Alana Levine said the partnership is significant and will help the university achieve its ultimate goal of zero-waste status.

“The alliance creates a platform for every university in the Pac-12 to share information with each other, which we can apply here at ASU,” Levine said. “Joining the alliance means we can also put our competitive natures to use and create opportunities to challenge each other.”

The zero waste principle aims for the diversion and aversion of more than 90 percent of trash away from the landfill. Diversion techniques include blue bin recycling, green bin composting and reusing or repurposing; and the avoidance of non-recyclable and non-compostable materials.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average American generates 4.38 pounds of trash every day, of which 1.51 pounds is recyclable and compostable.  In 2013, Americans recovered over 64.7 million tons of waste through recycling, and over 22 tons through composting.

From zero-waste stadiums, to solar powered arenas, to robust-student and faculty-led initiatives, ASU and the Pac-12 are genuine leaders in college sports greening. Spurred by their common membership in the GSA, Pac-12 universities also recently completed the inaugural Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge where rivals competed in athletic events for men’s basketball, women’s basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, soccer, softball and baseball.

Sporting events at ASU have specifically been targeted as a place to educate students and the community on how to become more sustainable. More than 51,000 people were in attendance at last year’s Game Day Recycling Challenge, when the Sun Devils took on Washington State in the final home football game of the season. That day more than 67,000 pounds of waste was collected at Sun Devil Stadium with almost 52,000 pounds of it being recycled.

“It’s very rare to find a red trash receptacle at any of our sporting events,” said Peter Wozniak, manager of ASU’s athletic facilities. “We really do try and lead by example.” Wozniak added that in addition to using LED lighting and providing recycle bins at their sports facilities, ASU purchases sustainable cleaning supplies and encourages food suppliers to use recyclable products.

“We still have a long way to go where we need to be, but we’ve also come a long way from when we first started.”

Since launching nationally in March of 2011, the Green Sports Alliance has grown from six teams from six leagues to nearly 300 teams, venues and university from 20 leagues in 14 countries. Currently, 30 NCAA affiliated universities are members of the alliance.

Reporter , ASU Now