As a relatively young department in an aesthetically conservative, remote college town, the Department of Performance Studies at Texas A&M University is building a culture of innovation through strategic facility development, a focus on students sharing work through public performance, and a commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration. The authors have embraced the celebrated strengths of their university in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by developing interdisciplinary experiences and inspiring facilities (through technology and curriculum grants). These experiences contribute to the university at large by demonstrating how technology can connect with the human element and how technology impacts human expression. The authors’ Music, Performance Studies, and Theatre Arts students benefit by joining the faculty in exploring the new and also rediscovering the traditional.
In PerfTech courses, student works focus on what we have come to call “technology-based performance” instead of “electronic music,” for example. Technology-based performance implies that the technology plays a substantial role in the performance: more than simply standing in for acoustic musicians or hand-painted sets. Student works seek structures that apply technology in such a way that the meaning of the work would completely change or fall apart if the technology were removed.
Whereas personal computers have largely caught up with university facilities, our department focuses on providing what would be difficult or costly for students to obtain on their own: cutting edge performance laboratories and live performance experiences that push the limits of equipment, facilities, and fellow performers, so that our graduates are accustomed to a forward-thinking mindset and innovative applications of technology. We hope that these experiences prepare them to innovate on their own when called for, to unflinchingly embrace unusual applications of technology when presented to them, and to rediscover traditional performance through new eyes.
Mainstage productions have been one forum for bringing music and theatre technology together including the use of video, projections, and media servers. Student design assistants were responsible for video content, design, and editing for the production of My Children! My Africa! (Donkor, 1989/2010), which included video throughout the entire production. This para-narrative informed and sometimes contested the dramatic action, as well as provided younger audience members with a visual experience of apartheid. The production of TH3 B3GGAR’S OP3RA (Piepenbrink & Pullen, 1728/2011) employed two Axon Media Servers with specialized theatrical content as well as original content developed by student and faculty designers. Using multiple projectors and the collage technology built into the media servers, designers were able to create full stage images with video and subtitles (Figure 1 and Figure 2).
Student Grant Gunderson as Turnkey physically rotating the central platform in TH3 B3GGAR’S OP3RA, directed by Dr. Kirsten Pullen. © 2011 Texas A&M University. Used with permission.