Mobile technology transforms rehearsal process

August 6, 2010

With help from mobile technology, artists who once were considered triple threats as actors, singers and dancers now can add writer, producer and director to their résumé. Techno gadgets quickly are becoming more of a necessity than a distraction to artist entrepreneurs who constantly have to adapt their creative processes to advance their craft.

A group of ASU">">ASU Herberger Institute graduate students are offering a behind-the-scenes peek at the rehearsal process, which they now are digitally recording with the help of their cell phones – making the act of taking notes with a legal pad and a No. 2 pencil a thing of the past. Download Full Image

Enter Stjepan Rajko, who simply was fulfilling a class assignment for a School">">School of Dance "Performance & Technology" class about five years ago. The dance graduate student envisioned software that primarily was designed to help a choreographer working alone in a studio to play music and record rehearsal video (with playback) in response to voice commands.

“The idea began as a ‘mockumentary’ about a helpful software system that didn't yet exist,” Rajko said.

Three years later, Rajko was leading a cross-disciplinary, graduate-student team that designed a rough model, and developed the Rehearsal">">Rehearsal Assistant, a general-purpose audio recording Android app for a mobile phone that works in tandem with a computer. Rajko explained that its main element is that audible notes are time-stamped, and can be played back in conjunction with a video recording of a rehearsal. He believes the time-stamp feature enables performers to better understand the context and meaning of each note.

 “This is useful for a dance or theater rehearsal, but it can also be used for a rehearsal of a speech or presentation, or for sports practice,” Rajko said. “A journalist could use the system to annotate an event they are observing and then review it later. A researcher could use it to annotate an experiment as it unfolds.”

Since its release in spring 2009, the Rehearsal Assistant app has been downloaded nearly 60,000 times.

The app’s development process began with Rajko, who in early spring 2008, teamed up with Jessica Mumford, a fellow dance graduate student. Mumford and Rajko then approached Christopher Martinez, a graduate student in the Herberger Institute School">">School of Arts, Media and Engineering, to work on the app’s music and visual design. Martinez and his wife already were working with Mumford on her online and live performance work, titled “Case Study.”

“Rehearsal Assistant is an example of artists who are creating a tool for the arts,” Martinez said. “These tools also have broader social and cultural implications that are a result of their flexibility to be employed for art-making as well as for other uses. Our team’s passion is about facilitating and promoting the creative process both through works of art, as well as the development of tools that are used as part of the creative process.”

The team’s collaborative spirit on the Rehearsal Assistant tool not only helps its members exercise creative freedoms, and streamline and enhance rehearsal experiences, but further eliminates the perception that art and technology exist in disconnected universes.

“By merging art and technology practices together, we open doors to new ways of thinking about each discipline,” Mumford said. “Both art and technology require creative thinking, structure, awareness of the potential audience, flexibility, the ability to evolve and adapt. Even though computer science and engineering emphasize logic and structure, there is still creativity and imagination involved.”

The Rehearsal Assistant app is a concrete example that practices of art and technology are not separate, but their convergence is crucial to expanding cross-disciplinary collaboration. What began as a simple classroom assignment revolutionizes how Rehearsal Assistant users think about and approach their craft. User feedback is essential to the app’s advancement and is fueling the team’s enthusiasm.

“It has been wonderful to hear back from users and learn that they are excited about it and finding it useful,” Rajko said. “Once the system is robust enough to be tested and used on a broader scale, we will try to find local artists and researchers that are interested in using it, and work with them to make sure Rehearsal Assistant meets their needs. Our hope is that the system will help them make their process more effective.”

Wendy Craft

Marketing and communications manager, Business and Finance Communications Group


Professor's book featured on 'The Today Show'

August 8, 2010

Selected as August read for Al's Book Club

Sept">">Sept. 17 appearance on the Web

Books taught Jewell Parker Rhodes to hope for something better.  Book cover of Jewell Parker Rhodes new children's book, "Ninth Ward." Download Full Image

As a self-conscious little girl who “sometimes hid in the closet,” she found refuge in the stories on their pages. 

“I would read these stories of all these wonderful people and wonderful worlds,” said Rhodes, the Piper Endowed Chair and artistic director for global engagement at ASU's Virginia">">Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. “If I hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would’ve been able to imagine a future that went beyond the bounds of my small and segregated neighborhood.” 

Rhodes, now an award-winning author, offers a similar inspiration for children with her first novel for young readers, “Ninth">">Ninth Ward.” The book’s heroine is 12-year-old Lanesha, a New Orleans orphan who, despite “hope and a big heart,” is an outsider because of her ability to see spirits. Though her peers taunt her, Lanesha’s own spirit won’t be broken. “I don’t try to be invisible,” she said. “I’m not ashamed of me.” 

Much like Rhodes, Lanesha finds solace in academics, losing herself in math problems and new words. When her teacher defines “fortitude” as the “strength to endure,” Lanesha takes the phrase to heart, remembering the words when Hurricane Katrina hits days later. Through the ferocious storm and the ensuing levee disaster, Lanesha is pushed to come into her own as she takes charge of her survival, along with that of her caretaker, Mama Ya-Ya, and a neighbor boy, TaShon. 

“Lanesha is the character I would’ve loved reading about,” said Rhodes, who first felt Lanesha’s voice creeping into her head in 2008, as Hurricane Ike threatened the recovering city of New Orleans.

“I had always wanted to write a children’s book, but it wasn’t until this story came to me, until Lanesha came to me, that I knew what I wanted to talk about. I’ve been trying to grow up to be a children’s book writer," she added, laughing.

Modesty aside, Rhodes has accomplished a great deal. A professor in ASU’s Department">">Department of English in the College">">College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Rhodes’ honors include the Pen Oakland Award for Outstanding Writing, American Book Award, National Endowment of the Arts Award, Black Caucus of the American Library Award for Literary Excellence and two Arizona Book Awards. Her work has been published in Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey and the U.K. “Ninth Ward” will be her first book published in Korea. 

Rhodes penned the story in about three months, drawing on an already extensive knowledge of New Orleans and its history. The city continually resurfaces as a backdrop for her characters’ adventures, such as in her historical novel “Voodoo Dreams” and her popular mystery trilogy, comprised of novels “Voodoo Season,” “Yellow Moon,” and the forthcoming “Hurricane.” Rhodes describes New Orleans as “a magical, mystical place” with a mixed-heritage culture and a strong spiritual life. 

“Ninth Ward,” published by Little">">Little, Brown and Co. Books for Young Readers, will go on sale Aug. 16, roughly two weeks before the fifth anniversary of the Katrina disaster. Even before the book’s release, the Parents’ Choice Foundation chose “Ninth Ward” as a recipient of its Gold Award, declaring Lanesha’s journey “believable and beautiful.” The School Library Journal gave it a starred review, complimenting the “inventive storytelling and the author’s ability to bring history to life.” The story also received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and the American Library Association chose the book, designated for children ages 10 and older, for the August cover of Booklist magazine. And, the Today Show’s children’s book club — Al's">">Al's Book Club — selected “Ninth Ward” for its August read. 

Though appreciative of the formal recognition, Rhodes is most eager to see how young readers respond. 

“This is for the children who need a book that mirrors back to them how beautiful they are,” she said. “I wanted children who have to handle tough situations to be able to have a role model, to be able to say, ‘I can survive. I’m resilient.’ And, like Lanesha, ‘I love me.’”

Written by Maria Polletta (maria.polletta">">


Carol Hughes,">">


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences