Penn State turns to BlackTrax in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Penn State University harnesses the creative capabilities of BlackTrax real-time tracking during a stage rendition of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

In October 2021, Penn State University welcomed audience members to see Simon Stephen’s adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, directed by Rick Lombardo with sensory-friendly performances at the Playhouse Theatre on the University Park campus using BlackTrax real-time tracking.

The Tony Award-winning play is about 15-year-old Christopher, who has an extraordinary brain. Two sensory-friendly performances provided a welcoming space for all patrons with or without neurodivergent needs.

The characters in this production uniquely portray that neurodivergence is when a person’s brain does not function in a way that is considered “typical.” In telling this story about a neurodivergent character, Penn State has been helped along the way by various consultants and experts who helped deepen their understanding of various aspects of the experience of autistic people and their families. Choosing this show originated from their Season Planning Committee. Staff and students form this committee and submit anonymous show proposals for the semester.

Special considerations for the Curious Incident included sensory supports, lower sound level, strobe light reduction, designated quiet areas, and a welcoming, judgement-free, family environment. BlackTrax was given the task of highlighting main characters of the production.

Lighting Designer, Kyle Shearer, first met with BlackTrax Trainer, Nic Lau at the USITT virtual conference in early 2021 and inquired about getting a system for the Penn State production. From there the two worked out details through zoom meetings and emails. Penn State received an educational loaner.

Lighting Designer, Kyle Shearer picked up the story: “I think going outside the box and pushing the limits of what we do in theatre is healthy in an educational environment. Pushing myself to learn an entirely new control system on my first collegiate design proved to be difficult yet rewarding. The networking and programming knowledge I picked up from this experience will be useful in future endeavours. I also have a feeling BlackTrax will show up in more and more productions over time and working with it will give us all a leg up in the future.”

Penn State University’s Head of Lighting Design Programme, William Kenyon first saw BlackTrax in action at a Weeknd concert. Curious about what was happening with a calibration wand before the show, William hunted down an electrician to ask what kind of motion-capture system was being used. Soon after, a BlackTrax system was in his possession for he and his students to use in the production of The Curious Incident.

“I was initially surprised at how complex the system is, but it seems that the students were able to train up on the system quickly with four excellent Zoom sessions from the BlackTrax trainer,” Kenyon said. “Seeing the students take the lead on specifying, installing, calibrating, troubleshooting, and running the system. Despite its complexity, it seems that they were trained very well, as they ended up being primarily responsible for the whole thing, due to staffing challenges in the school. It’s one more arrow in their quiver of experiences and will hopefully be something that will really stand out on resumes when they go looking for work.”

The core production team featured Lighting Designer, Kyle Shearer; Head of Penn State University’s Lighting Design Programme, William Kenyon; Lead BlackTrax Programmer, Valentine Pesola; Assistant Production Electrician, Mason LoPiccolo; BlackTrax Trainer, Nic Lau and BlackTrax Technician, Emilie Trimbee.