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Automation and Education


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Hello Everyone!

We’re here to pick your brains once again.

We are doing a project at university looking at Automation in Theatre, and as part of this project we are looking at bringing equipment into Central as a learning and teaching tool to expand Central’s syllabus and enhance the shows we produce here.


As most of us will know, Automation is growing quickly within a theatre and you cannot see many of the big shows in town without Automation in it. I did a tally of 24 Musical Theatre shows in town and out of those 24, 16 have an Automation system installed. Universities teaching technical theatre claim to be training the next generation of theatre technicians and if Automation is becoming standard in theatre then surely universities should strive to teach it?


This is where you guys come in; we are looking for professional practitioner’s opinions on the use and learning of Automation within Education. We are very are that Automation is an ‘up and coming’ sector of our industry, with very little teaching happening in universities. Most of the learning happens on the job, without any real chance to try new ideas, and where automation is often treated as a problem solving tool, rather than a design tool.


Personally we feel, as Stephen Macluskie from RSAMD says,

“..that automation is around 10 years behind the development of intelligent lighting technology. When I went to college we had no intelligent lighting and the thought that one day it would be so common that schools would have moving lights was laughable. Today my students would be unemployable if they didn't know their way around intelligent lighting technologies and it doesn't take a giant leap of faith to map the same development to automation technologies.”

If you don’t know, Steve very successfully brought Automation to RSAMD and into his curriculum.


The main reasons we are looking at getting automation into Central are:

- To make all students aware of what automation is, its capabilities in both a technical and design context

- To develop skills in rigging, programming and operating including the necessary safety precautions/implications related to doing this.

- To introduce automation from the design stage rather than using it as a problem solving tool.

- To give students a chance to learn about automation in a safe environment where it is possible to try new ideas safely and easily.


But what are your thoughts?

Do you feel automation is a good skill to learn?

Do you think automation needs pushing as a design tool?

Do you think automation equipment is a worthwhile investment for a university?

Is automation still too new to learn as a general skill?


Any help, suggestions and opinions are greatly appreciated!

Aidan and Johnathan

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Hi Aiden and Jonathan.


My name is Anton Woodward and I have been designing and manufacturing automation systems for theatre since the late eighties. For the last thirteen years I have been working under my company name of AVW Controls Ltd and manufacture the Impressario automation system that has been used in many theatre and shows. Google 'avw controls' for details. Just lately however I have been providing a talk/lecture on stage automation for first/second year technical theatre students. Talk #1 is an introduction to give students a bit of background and Talk #2 is a bit more technical. If you're interested in pursuing automation and education I would welcome the chance to discuss it with you.


Kind regards



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  • 2 weeks later...

Here at Stage Technologies we wholeheartedly applaud your enthusiasm for bringing automation to more students. We are acutely aware that there are not enough trained theatre technicians with knowledge of the subject and, like AVW, we have been working hard to give introductory courses at the UK colleges. There is not only a lack of specialist automation engineers, but there is also a lack of exposure to our subject for stage managers, designers and directors, for example. We beleive you are absolutely right when you say: "Universities teaching technical theatre claim to be training the next generation of theatre technicians and if Automation is becoming standard in theatre then surely universities should strive to teach it?"


Stage Technologies has worked closely with Stephen Macluskie and RSAMD for example and they now have BigTow winches, an Illusionist control system and additional software on further computers providing an automation training environment for their students. This has been pioneering work and all of us in the automation industry hope that others will follow suit and increase the emphasis given to this area of expertise and theatre craft.


Stage Technologies has a number of training courses available. http://www.stagetech.com/training-registration for more information.

We would encourage anyone interested in learning more to contact us and register their interest.


In 2009 Stage Technologies organised the first UK Education Symposium on this subject which was hosted by the Centre for Excellence in Training in Theatre based at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Delegates attended from the Bristol Old Vic, RSAMD, Guildford School of Acting, Rose Bruford College, RADA and Guildhall amongst others. We beleive that this demonstrates their commitment to the subject and we hope that these institutions will be able to move forward as rapidly as they can to include more about automation content within their courses.


Nikki Scott, Stage Technologies

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Hi -


I am a freelance LD - working more in the corporate sector than theatre, but still cross the line now and then!!


Automation is another angle I would like to know more about / technology / control etc, but while someone above said that its about 10 years behind the lighting technology 'in common use' - that , IMHO, is largely down to the cost. using moving lights 10/15 years ago etc could easily be done - if you had the money to do it!!


Some schools now have moving lights in their rig - not only for practical reasons or teaching purpose, (regardless of the famous BR 'moving lights in schools debates!!'), but because they are affordable. Aside from the many other factors - its now within their budget to be able to buy moving lights and this would not particually have to have been built into a delevopment plan.


Automation on the other hand... Could you just phone up and purchase some hoists, the control hardware and whatever else is needed ( I dont know as yet - but id like to!). Im sure it would be a lot,lot more than the cost of a few movers!!


However, the good thing now is that - at this stage, while automation is mostly reserved for big-budget shows ( as were moving lights 10/15 years ago) this IS now the time for new techs to learn about the craft, use the software/hardware, so that when the cost does come down and its just as easy to buy a cyber-hoist as it is a MAC 700 to install in a school or village hall even- then it will take off. So companys and freelancers going into drama schools etc is a very positve one. Is there a current module on Automation on any syllabus?


From a design point of view id like to see automation used more, rather than just for operational purpose. The idea of a range of geometrically hung 3D shapes, moving around and changing position and oriantation is an image id like to bring to light! Maybe good for a contemp. dance show. ;)

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