CCM Idea Lab shares collaborative storytelling during the pandemic

Students and faculty from across the college work together to create innovative multimedia projects

Faculty and students at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music collaborate on innovative multimedia projects in the CCM Idea Lab. The cross disciplinary class explores technical, artistic and philosophical questions to create short performance pieces that showcase the work of students and faculty from CCM Lighting Design and Technology, Sound Design and Technology, Technical Production, Stage Management, Dance, Acting, Voice, Musical Theatre and Media Production.

The CCM Idea Lab is made possible with support of UC Faculty Forward and has released seven multimedia projects during the spring semester. Two new projects, "Born Undone" and "Turning 2" were recently released at the end of the semester. Watch the CCM Idea Lab videos and learn more about the individual projects below.

“The fundamental nature of CCM Idea Lab is collaboration and experimentation,” says Lighting Design and Technology Professor Sharon Huizinga. “Trying new technology in a high pressure, large production environment is daunting. In these small, contained projects we are able to try things that we are 70 or 80 percent sure will work, but not 100 percent sure.”

We all knew the limitations and challenges brought on [by the pandemic], but as artists we all wanted to express ourselves in a creative environment. That made this collaboration one of the best experiences in my career.

Donald Hancock, CCM Media Production Professor

An actor on stage is reflected in the digital screen in the background.

CCM Idea Lab: "I Rise" explores perspective, featuring live camera interaction between the videographer and the actors on stage.

Huizinga began planning the CCM Idea Lab in May 2020. She was inspired by Night Fall, a virtual reality ballet done by the Dutch National Ballet. The ballet was shot with a 360-degree camera and Huizinga decided to explore how CCM could implement this technique into its curriculum and performances.

“We were all reeling from the onset of COVID-19 and wondering how we were going to continue creating and teaching, and this sparked a conversation about new technology and new possibilities,” she adds.

She formed a group with CCM professors Stirling Shelton (Technical Production), Matt Tibbs (Sound Design and Technology), Amy Johnson (Voice), Vince DeGeorge (Musical Theatre and Opera) and Susan Felder (Acting). They did a series of small experiments over the summer using new projection and media equipment.

“What was so fantastic about working in the CCM Idea Lab is that we started each project with a question," DeGeorge says. "Without a clear end-goal in sight we brought this question to the entire Idea Lab group and began the brainstorming process together. This type of cross-disciplinary collaboration and experimentation was a completely new experience for the Musical Theatre freshmen who were members of the lab. I watch as our students went from being confused and overwhelmed to being excited and fully invested in the entire creative process.  What an incredible educational experience this has been for all our students.” 

Additional faculty members Richard Hess (Acting) and Donald Hancock (Media Production) later joined the CCM Idea Lab group to help create the projects. The CCM Idea Lab class officially launched in fall 2020, exploring various ways of storytelling in the time of COVID-19. The five completed projects each explore different themes like memory, perspective, multiplicity and engagement.

It has been such an artistically fulfilling process to have the luxury of time and desire — from both students and faculty — to be allowed to experiment, to create and to appreciate new performance art forms. Working alongside student and faculty designers, technicians, engineers and performance artists in an empty to theater to make art has been the highlight of this school year.

Stirling Shelton, Professor and Head of Technical Production Program at CCM

A student performs on stage.

CCM Idea Lab's "“Lucia di Lammermoor” explores multiplicity, featuring a performance by CCM student Andi Tulipana, soprano.

“We shot these short pieces during the pandemic, which I feel brought out the best in everyone involved,” Hancock says. “We all knew the limitations and challenges brought on, but as artists we all wanted to express ourselves in a creative environment. That made this collaboration one of the best experiences in my career.”

Faculty and students collaborated on the series of safe, socially distanced performances that used a variety of technologies, including 360-degree cameras, in-ear monitors, live motion tracking and projection. Performance faculty directed students in short works of musical theatre, opera, dance and acting. Design and Technology faculty oversaw the creation of remote and in-person spaces that met social distancing requirements by using specialized cameras, microphones, projectors and other technology. Professors and students from CCM Media Production shot and edited the recordings of each work.

“I must applaud my colleagues, Richard Hess, Vince DeGeorge, Amy Johnson, Stirling Shelton, Shauna Steele and Sharon Huizinga for creating an inclusive environment for faculty and students to share and try something,” Hancock adds. “What this space provided was an intentional opportunity for collaboration utilizing the amazing talents within CCM. I'm proud of the work we accomplished, and I look forward to growing the lab moving forward.”

Watch the CCM Idea Lab videos on YouTube and learn more about each project below.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/kMwR0OQokPM?rel=0

“It’s Good to See You Again” is an exploration of memory. Who owns memory? Do the other people in our memories own them as much as we do?  What happens when we try and hang on to a memory?  What happens to ourselves when we clutch to a past experience? What is the fear and reward of letting go?

The project features real time actor-media playback interaction. The production team wanted to experiment with getting an actor’s physical movements on stage to trigger certain video playback behaviors. They used a Kinect camera and touch designer to program certain movements to trigger playing back, stopping and starting, and fast-forwarding through the memory videos.

Acting and Directing Team:

  • Richard Hess, Acting and Directing Faculty Advisor
  • Lucas Prizant, Acting student
  • Duncan Weinland, Acting student
  • Olivia Buss, Acting student
  • Annie Jacques, Acting student
  • Cameron Nalley, Acting student
  • Jason Pavlovich, Acting student
  • Kayla Temshiv, Acting student

Theatre Design and Production Team:

  • Sharon Huizinga, Theater Design and Production Faculty Advisor
  • Jason Bowden, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Ethan Fleek, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Zach Ivans, Sound Design and Technology student
  • Ian MacIntosh, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Andrew Stewart, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Corbin White, Sound Design and Technology student
  • Sedona Isch, Technical Production student
  • Justin Levine, Technical Production student
  • Monica Walker, Technical Production student

Media Production Team:

  • Donald Hancock, Media Production Faculty Advisor
  • Jered Jackson, Media Production student
  • Paul Fierst, Media Production student
  • Clark Comstock, Media Production student
  • Tyler Parker, Media Production student
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/yzu6Zd1lE3U?rel=0

“I Rise” is an exploration of perspective. What happens when we see one thing with our eyes and another thing via an interpreter and a screen? In this case, a live camera operator shows us the stage in black and white. We realize how our perspective is very dependent on where we are viewing a particular situation from, and how much reality and what we see can diverge according to how we are able to see it.

This project features live camera interaction that integrates a camera operator as a character into the storytelling. The very act of observation changes the outcome; Do we look at the camera feed or do we look at the live person? Or, do we look at the camera operator?  The production team used touch designer to create the live capture and black and white filter. Actors perform an excerpt of Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise.

Acting and Directing Team:

  • Richard Hess, Acting and Directing Faculty Advisor
  • Leonard Peterson, Acting student
  • Amanda Nelson, Acting student
  • Frankie Chuter, Acting student
  • Rin Wallace, Acting student
  • Sydney Miles, Acting student
  • Carlee Coulehan, Acting student

Theatre Design and Production Team:

  • Sharon Huizinga, Theater Design and Production Faculty Advisor
  • Hannah Gruneisen, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Natalia Carlson, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Justin Levine, Technical Production student
  • Monica Walker, Technical Production student
  • Sedona Isch, Technical Production student
  • Ethan Fleek, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Mallory Bruno, Stage Management student
  • Vishal Sharma, Lighting Design and Technology student

Media Production Team:

  • Donald Hancock, Media Production Faculty Advisor
  • Clark Comstock, Media Production student
  • Paul Fierst, Media Production student
  • Eric Richmond, Media Production student
  • Tyler Parker, Media Production student
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/MfmcFPTA3ag?rel=0

This project features a performance of “Il Dolce Suono” (also known as the “mad scene”) from Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor. It explores multiplicity. We all contain multiplicity — we have an angry self, a contented self, a judgmental self, a kind self and more.  This universe of multiplicity is largely hidden from each other — we see only a part of others and not the vast internal landscape.  In this “mad scene” from Lucia di Lammermoor the production team makes multiplicity audible and visible as Lucia goes through waves of losing control and partially regaining it — experiencing trauma, regret, fear and a final internal implosion.

The project features multiple live video inputs with various filters. The production team wanted to experiment with having a live input camera filter Lucia’s image in multiple ways, increasing in complexity and occurrence and finally exploding into pixilation. They used Isadora by troikatronix for programming and playback. The project also features a single person lift.

Performance Team:

  • Amy Johnson, Voice Faculty Advisor
  • Andi Tulipana, student soprano

Theatre Design and Production Team:

  • Sharon Huizinga, Theater Design and Production Faculty Advisor
  • Natalia Carlson, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Corbin White, Sound Design and Technology student
  • Zach Ivans, Sound Design and Technolog student
  • Vishal Sharma, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Ethan Fleek, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Monica Walker, Technical Production student
  • Sedona Isch, Technical Production student
  • Justin Levine, Technical Production student
  • Mallory Bruno, Stage Management student

Media Production Team:

  • Donald Hancock, Media Production Faculty Advisor
  • Clark Comstock, Media Production student
  • Paul Fierst, Media Production student
  • Eric Richmond, Media Production student
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/xieWFw-hty4?rel=0

“Gold” started with a conversation around engagement and connection. We are used to having an audience to engage with and the loss is palpable. The production team wanted to explore creating an environment where that connection could be explored in different ways — by seeing the connection between musicians, by using a 360 camera to put a viewer in the middle of the performance, and by creating an enclosed environment that was like a bubble of connectedness with a small group.

The production team wanted to create an immersive experience for an audience on the other side of a screen, to allow them to sit in the middle of a cozy, warm circle of musicians and feel connected.  They enclosed the circle of the Cohen Family Studio Theater by building replicas of the existing columns and by hanging golden lighting in a circle above the performers' heads. "Gold" has two versions; a VR experience and a multi-camera shoot with a curated point-of-view. The performance features Fergus O'Farrell's "Gold” from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's musical Once.

Performance Team:

  • Vince DeGeorge, Musical Theatre Faculty Advisor
  • Jeffery Cornelius, Musical Theatre student
  • Nate Jones, Musical Theatre student
  • Nick Pattarini, Musical Theatre student
  • Annalise Prentiss, Musical Theatre student
  • Grace Rusnica, Musical Theatre student

Theatre Design and Production Team:

  • Sharon Huizinga, Theater Design and Production Faculty Advisor
  • Jason Bowden, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Natalia Carlson, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Maya Hughes, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Haruka Iihoshi, Sound Design and Technology student
  • Sedona Isch, Technical Production student
  • Justin Levine, Technical Production student
  • Ian Macintosh, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Monica Walker, Technical Production student
  • Mallory Bruno, Stage Management student

Media Production Team:

  • Donald Hancock, Media Production Faculty Advisor
  • Clark Comstock, Media Production student
  • Tyler Parker, Media Production student
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/P9Md2jEdLBU?rel=0

"Born Undone" is an exploration of intimacy and personal story. This personal story hinges on letters; it's emotional, intimate and delicate. The creative team wanted to move everything to a very small scale, using moving boxes as projection surfaces, using a human body for projection, and using a macro camera lens to look extremely closely at things we do not usually look so closely at. The writing from the letters was turned into a font and used to create projected writing on boxes and bodies. The audio is also intended to give the viewer an experience of being 1 inch away from the performer.

Theatre Design and Production Team:

  • Sharon Huizinga, Theater Design and Production Faculty Advisor
  • Ian MacIntosh, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Jason Bowden, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Sedona Isch, Technical Production student
  • Monica Walker, Technical Production student
  • Justin Levine, Technical Production student
  • Haruka Iihoshi, Sound Design and Technology student

Performance Team:

  • Vince DeGeorge, Musical Theatre Faculty Advisor
  • Carino Florio, Musical Theatre student
  • Sofie Flores, Musical Theatre student

Media Production Team:

  • Donald Hancock, Media Production Faculty Advisor
  • Paul Fierst, Media Production student
  • Tommy Rochester, Media Production student
  • Clark Comstock, Media Production student
  • Sophia Smith, Media Production student
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/D6nzpUpAkEU?rel=0

"Turning 2" is an exploration of consciousness and technology. This project was based around the desire to build a physical system that could move a 3D object in space in a controllable and cued way. From there, the creative team evolved the idea of having a being that exists in an unknown location for vast amounts of time, and we see that being interact with a human, but we're never entirely sure of the nature of these two entities. The production team created the movements of the head, and then asked the dancer to improvise movement in response. The creative team wanted to tell a story of long passages of time, to create a sense that there could be 100 years or 5000 years in between each scene. They also wanted to follow a dancer with projection imagery, which was done live. Music was performed live, and mixed with the sounds of the winches driving the movement of the head.

Performance Team:

  • Amanda Kenner, Dance student

Theatre Design and Production Team:

  • Sharon Huizinga, Theatre Design and Production Faculty Advisor
  • Jason Bowden, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • McKenna Brennan, Technical Production student 
  • Natalia Carlson, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Maya Eberhardt, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Nick Hunley, Theatre Design and Production student
  • Haruka Iihoshi, Sound Design and Technology student
  • Thomas Iodice, Technical Production student
  • Sedona Isch, Technical Production student
  • Justin Levine, Technical Production student
  • Ian MacIntosh, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Grace Mayo, Technical Production student
  • Claire Michels, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Kelsey Qualters, Stage Management student
  • Syndey Riddle, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Eli Suarez, Lighting Design and Technology student
  • Janay Sukkarieh, Theatre Design and Production student
  • Logan Vanderpool, Theatre Design and Production student
  • Monica Walker, Technical Production student

Media Production Team

  • Donald Hancock, Media Production Faculty Advisor
  • Clark Comstock, Media Production student
  • Tyler Parker, Media Production student
  • Tommy Rochester, Media Production student
  • Sophia Smith, Media Production student

Featured image at the top: An image from the shoot of CCM Idea Lab's "Gold" project.