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Lee Kennedy illuminates computerized stage lighting

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R. Lee Kennedy
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R. Lee Kennedy, here working on automated lighting in Culbreth Theatre, says students learn the technical aspects more quickly through hands-on practice with Web-based, interactive software.

Lee Kennedy illuminates computerized stage lighting

By Jane Ford

The house lights dim, the stage lights go up and the technical magic of theater begins. With the push of a button, a 13-minute automated show fills the theater with a continuously changing dance of lights, color, movement, music and sounds.

The demonstration was created by R. Lee Kennedy, associate professor of lighting design in the Department of Drama, shows students in his undergraduate lighting course how to orchestrate theater lights to control their intensity, focus, patterns and colors, and to direct the movement of robotic lights.

"Lighting is all about the experience of light in three dimensions in real time," said Kennedy. And the experience is powerful.

With a Teaching + Technology Initiative fellowship, Kennedy developed an automated lighting studio, a Web-based computer interface that brings together instructional media and computerized lighting control. It enables his students to focus on lighting design and critical thinking. A practical advantage is that the program bypasses the time-consuming task of manually setting up lights.

Kennedy's Web-based instructional material is "cutting-edge, or at least bleeding-edge," he said. "It's the first project I'm aware of that closes the gap between traditional computer-based instructional technology and stage lighting performance technology."

His innovative joining of applications combines a fixed array of remotely controlled, automated lighting instruments, an ordinary personal computer and free lighting control software. Students use a simple Web browser to bridge the technical theory of theater lighting and the practical manipulation of lights in the studio. In fact, students with no lighting experience can have immediate hands-on interactivity using only basic Web navigating skills.

"The learning curve is accelerated," Kennedy said. "The students are able to experiment and develop projects that are much more sophisticated than with traditional classroom instruction."

Another advantage is that students can work off-line. The lighting software uses a standard file format that can readily be transferred over networks, stored on floppy disks, e-mailed as attachments or embedded in Web pages. The portability allows instruction, as well as work on assignments and projects, to take place both in and out of the studio.

The automated lighting studio also reduces Kennedy's time-consuming class preparation and in-class setup. The automated lights are installed in a standard configuration that allows him to pre-program interactive lectures and demonstrations. More time is available for student work and one-on-one instruction.

This article is reprinted from the first issue of U.Va.'s new Arts magazine.



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