Aidan Ware may be graduating from the BFA Technical Theatre program, but he’s already developed technology that may put himself out of a job.
As a theatre technician, Ware spent the last four years in the Department of Drama, learning to master lighting and sound effects to make actors and live performers look good. Most large-scale Broadway productions have hundreds of lighting cues, each one carefully planned with crew members like Ware operating complex switchboards and computers to trigger them at just the right moment.
But during his final year in the BFA Technical Theatre program, as the subject of his thesis project, Ware combined the motion capture technology of the Xbox® Kinect™ camera with the lighting and sound equipment of the UAlberta theatre spaces. The result: his setup made it possible for actors to automatically trigger lighting and sound cues with their own body movements, eliminating the need for an effects operator.
Ware presented three different applications of his technology:
The first was a stage with up to 15 different spaces recognized by the camera. As actors moved between the spaces, the lights would change.
The second dealt with sound. Actors would press “virtual buttons in space,” triggering different chords in a horn ensemble. By raising an arm, different chords would fire. By moving closer to the audience, a rumbling drone would get louder, and so on.
Finally, Ware developed a combination of both sound and lighting that did not rely on actors at all. Instead, the lighting cues would trigger when certain sounds were detected. For example, whenever the microphone would detect the sound of a kick drum, a matching lighting effect would go off.
Ware’s technology enables performers to stage their own productions, even without the resources to hire technicians. The creative possibilities are also exciting. “It would be cool to team up with a dancer and find a way of putting on an improvised, elastic performance,” he says. Although still very much an early stage prototype, Ware hopes to see it developed for use in a performance piece on any scale.
“It struck me that I would never be really happy unless I pursued a career doing what I really loved to do.”
Originally from the UK, Ware moved to Calgary in 1999 and attended junior high and high school at Master’s Academy & College, where his love for technical theatre began.
“I bugged the school’s IT guy to let me help him with some school productions, although I secretly wanted to help because I loved choosing the music that played before and after the shows,” he recalls. “I had playlist upon playlist of ‘perfect’ songs for every occasion, and was very proud of my 55,000 song iTunes® library. I eventually started skipping math class to set up and run sound for some elementary assemblies.”
After graduating high school, Ware took a year off to decide what he wanted to do next. Unsure whether he wanted to pursue a drama degree, he eventually changed direction from theatre as a career and was instead accepted into the marketing program at the University of Victoria.
But before entering the program, he went on a three-month trip to Ethiopia as a photojournalist for an NGO, HOPEthiopia. “I spent three months living in rural Ethiopia, away from all western civilization, and began to document the people living in the village and the work that the organization was doing. I saw how happy the people living there were, and it struck me that I would never be really happy unless I pursued a career doing what I really loved to do.”
So, with an hour of internet a week, costing him about $35 a session, Ware applied to the Technical Theatre Production program at UAlberta.
After scrambling to complete the application requirements (which included a phone interview he had to do from Heathrow Airport before catching a plane back to Canada), Ware was accepted into the BFA Technical Production stream, and he withdrew his application to the UVic business program.
“Four years later, it’s still one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Having now completed his BFA, Ware has started an 18-month residency at the Banff Centre, where he does lighting for all their shows. And after that’s done? “I would really like to be a lighting designer for a concert tour, travelling the world, lighting good music and doing what I love. That’s the dream, right?
“But honestly, if I can make a living working with good people, playing with some cool toys and doing what I love to do, I’ll be happy.”
See a video of Ware’s technology in action on Curious Arts.