Tag Archives: qlab

What Can Drama Bring to Computer Science?

Yesterday, a bunch of Greg Wilson’s grad students had dinner at his place.  We got to meet his wife, his daughter, and eat some pretty amazing food.  It also gave his new grad students an opportunity to say an official “hello”, and introduce themselves to everybody else.

After introducing myself as having had an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Drama, somebody made some remark about what an interesting combination that is. Greg replied by saying something like “That’s why I chose him”, and told a story about how one of the best programmers he ever knew was originally training to become a Rabbi, and got into Computer Science because he was working on some translations of ancient texts.

This got me thinking.  When I started focusing on both Drama and Computer Science, I remember always finding ways where Computer Science could help Drama.  I can easily rattle off a bunch of examples:

  • Better, more flexible sound cueing software (QLab is nice, but I think we can go deeper)
  • Communication tools for production teams, to help coordinate stage managers, directors, production managers, etc
  • Interfaces for movement artists to communicate with computers with their bodies in real-time, which in turn can drive things like sound/lighting cues, or other stage effects
  • Tools for doing cool, advanced projections – check out Lighttwist for example
  • Programming environments / domain specific languages for production crews who have to program lighting, sound, and video cues.  We used Isadora at the UCDP, which is like PureData with more of a GUI.  But…again…maybe we could do better.

So, while I was at the UCDP, all of these ideas rattled around in my head. I’ve now come to the realization that this has been completely one-sided.

So let’s switch it around – what can Drama bring to Computer Science?

The easy one is presentation/communication skills.  A CS student might be brilliant, but that doesn’t mean they can present or communicate.  And if an idea can’t be communicated, it’s worthless.

But what else?  Any ideas?  I’m going to think about this for a bit, and I’ll see if I can come up with any more.

UPDATE: So here’s what I found…

Sound in Theatre

I’ve been doing sound work in theatres since high school, and I’ve run into some pretty interesting software over the years.  I’ve used audio editing tools like Sound Forge, Audacity, Audition, SoundBooth, etc.  I’ve composed music in Cubase, Sony ACID Pro, FruityLoops, Apple Logic Express.  The list goes on.

But once the music is composed, and the sounds are all edited, how do you play them back during a performance?

The old way was to play them through a CD player; you’d burn all your sounds and music to disc, and then track through.  God help you if you had to do a cross-fade on an actor cue though, because that would mean having two CD players, cuing them up simultaneously, and doing a manual cross-fade on the mixer.

There are better ways to do this.

In fact (and my boss, UCDP Tech Director Peter Freund would agree with me on this), there seems to be a trend nowadays to put more emphasis in programming and preparation, and to make playback mostly automated.  It’s true for lights (lighting boards are pre-programmed with cues, and then the lighting operator just hits the ‘GO’ button to go through each transition), and it’s now true for sound.

Check out this piece of software. It’s called QLab.  And it’s free!  This is what we use at the UCDP.

But there’s a small problem:  it’s only for Macs.  Which blows.

Actually, it really blows.  As a modern web-developer, I take cross-platform applications for granted.  Sure, IE may quirk out, but we can usually work around that (thanks jQuery!  Prototype!).  QLab, however, is Mac software, and that’s all she wrote.  It’s really kind of heartbreaking.

If I had the time, and if someone would pay me, I’d look into writing an open-source cross-platform QLab clone.  In Java, maybe.  There’s probably a ton of issues doing cross-platform sound work, but Audacity did it – why can’t I?

Just a thought.

Oh, and yes, there is a free piece of playback software for Windows called Multiplay that’s alright, but I find QLab a bit more flexible.