Monday, May 3, 2021

STEAM and Will Power

In my spheres as an artist, educator and parent, I've been hearing more talk about the application of STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. STEAM has been a point of multidisciplinary integration for several years (you can read more about it here). If you've been reading my blog or following any point of my career, you're aware of my interest in collaboration, interdisciplinary work, and community building. As I sat and watched Alvernia University Theatre's production of "Will Power - Shakespeare Done Live!" in late April, it struck me that STEAM was inherently integrated into the performance and production process. 

(Side note - "Will Power - Shakespeare Done Live!" was an outdoor, weather permitting, theatre and dance performance. Sponsored by the Fine and Performing Arts Department, it highlighted some of Shakespeare's sonnets and famous scenes. The performances were also live-streamed to limit the in-person audience and to provide access to audience members outside of Alvernia's immediate community.)

Here's "Will Power" in an application of STEAM:

  • SCIENCE - "Will Power" was an outdoor performance at the end of April. 
    We needed to be aware of hourly weather patterns, changes and make production decisions based on those elements. For example, we needed to have an understanding of how the air temperature impacts the body and make necessary adjustments in real time to ensure safety and artistic integrity. It was very cold the first week of the run; very warm and rainy the second week. Decisions about costuming and location were adjusted in respect to the weather and scientific knowledge. We also needed to have knowledge of how different surfaces impact the body and apply that information to ensure safety and artistic integrity. Outdoors, we put dance floor tiles down on the brick pavers to create a smoother, safer surface for dancers. We changed some choreography to reduce the potential for injury from repeated jumps on the hard surface. 

  • TECHNOLOGY - The performances began at 7pm, when the sun was setting. This created a beautiful effect, but also required a knowledge of natural and artificial illumination in an outdoor space. We needed to also quickly make changes to performance delivery a few hours before the final performance because of rain (Shout out to Alvernia's performers and crew for responding to changing conditions so quickly - the show must, and did, go on!). Knowledge of the natural and artificial delivery of sound was also applied in incorporating the spoken word, pre-recorded music, and delivering the performance through a live-stream. Amplification of sound needed to be adjusted to accommodate the engineering of the different spaces of performance (outdoors and indoors). Technological knowledge of internet, live-streaming techniques, camera angles and projection, and the lag-time between the live-stream and in-person performances was also necessary to ensure an effective performance experience for audience members in person and at home. 
  • And, Alvernia's community of dancers joined me in continuing my research using Zoom as a choreographic tool. We created a Zoom-dance-for-the-camera that was pre-recorded and live-streamed during the performances. In addition to playing with lighting, sound, bandwidth, and movement, we incorporated text from Shakespeare as translated through American Sign Language. 

  • ENGINEERING. A performance exists in a space and incorporates created elements. 
  • "Will Power" needed design that 1) used materials and a design for indoor or outdoor use; 2) applied materials and a design that would last over time (several weeks of rehearsal and repeated performances); 3) incorporated materials and design that would allow for movement of actors and dancers that was sturdy enough to support the actors and scenes but light enough to be quickly moved for dance; and 4) materials and design that could be completed with limited resources (money, time, and labor). 

  • ART - This might seem obvious when analyzing STEAM through the lens of theatre, but let's 
    continue with the breakdown. First, the director(s) must decide on theme and material (this might be in conjunction with a larger theme or trend or not; our performances were scheduled around Shakespeare's birthday and outdoors on Earth Day). Casting is a nuanced and carefully deliberated process; as is the rehearsal and mentorship of the performers to understand and embody the material. Directors and performers research the intention of this material and critically apply this research to their performance. Incorporating both theatre and dance in this production was another challenge that required careful consideration and planning (Thank you, Dr. Nathan Thomas, Theatre Director, for including dance!). Then, we made adjustments to costuming based on the SCIENCE (the weather and ability of the body to move in certain patterns or fabrics). Performance delivery was based on TECHNOLOGY. The set design and movement around the set was determined by ENGINEERING. The casting and performance delivery was influence by MATH (read on). The artistry was a creative way to integrate all of these elements. 

  • MATH - How many people can you fit into a space, ensuring that everyone is 6ft apart? To 
    Dr. Thomas providing feedback.
    evaluate and plan for the maximum possible amount of audience members that can safely be in person, based on CDC guidelines, we need math. Prior to starting the process, we need to know how many total cast and crew numbers could be in the theatre based on safety guidelines (for rehearsals and the possibility to move the performance indoors due to weather/ SCIENCE) - this also impacted the ability to cast and rehearse performers. After performances (for Will Power and other performances), math is utilized to evaluate the audience numbers - in person and live-streamed. Audience evaluation also needs to take in account variables based on the SCIENCE (in our case, the weather) and TECHNOLOGY (internet bandwidth, accessibility, etc). Oftentimes, future programming and performances are determined based on the MATH data gathered. 
And then the whole process begins again for another performance! 

How else is STEAM applied in performance? 

How do you experience Art STEMming from one of the other disciplines? Or research in one of the other disciplines STEMing from Art?

Was there something else in STEAMing through "Will Power" that I missed? 

Thank you to the cast and crew of "Will Power - Shakespeare Done Live!"
Thank you to the Fine and Performing Arts Department for supporting the performances! 
Check out more about the cast, crew, and Fine and Performing Arts Department on Facebook and Instagram!

Missed the show? You can still watch a recording of the live-stream on Alvernia Theatre's YouTube Channel

Pictures taken by Chris Connelly.