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WMU production first to use advanced technology onstage

April 7, 2007

KALAMAZOO--An upcoming theatrical production at Western Michigan University will push the limits of performing arts by harnessing stereoscopic 3-D projections, motion capture, computer-generated imagery and other technologies used in films, computer games and theme parks.

WMU's production of Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" marks the culmination of a yearlong research project to test and expand the ways in which interactive technology can be applied to live theatre and dance. Last February, project director Kevin Abbott and a team of collaborators from WMU's College of Fine Arts and Office of Information Technology were awarded a $289,448 Digital Media in the Performing Arts Innovation Grant to turn a "truly transformational" idea into an onstage reality.

As a multimedia specialist, Abbott was extremely familiar with the technologies used to create special effects and a sense of reality in the fictional worlds of film, IMAX and computer gaming. He wondered if these same technologies could be used to transform live theatre. Abbott and his team got to work, and after a year that was both grueling and exciting, he says the end result is the first theatre production ever to use live motion-captured characters and the first to present all of the imagery using live stereoscopic 3-D projections.

The audience of "Doctor Faustus" at WMU will witness an on-set motion-capture performer "puppeting" dozens of larger-than-life characters. Digital technology allows for the creation of such magical characters as Mephistopheles, whose 20-foot wingspan dominates the stage. It also adds a 30-character animated troupe, to perform alongside the "real" chorus in the opening act.

"The use of digital technology is not right for every production," Abbott says. "But with a storyline like 'Doctor Faustus,' full of so many magical creatures and supernatural events, it can be used to enrich the experience and transport the audience in a different way."

An Elizabethan drama, "Doctor Faustus" is about a scientist who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the knowledge of the world. It is thought by some to be an iconic tale of the breakdown that can occur when a person chooses material gains over spiritual integrity. "Doctor Faustus" is showing at WMU's Shaw Theatre Thursday, April 12, through Sunday, April 22. Tickets are available at (269) 387-6222 or www.wmich.edu/theatre.

Online "Behind the Scenes" video for Doctor Faustus

For more information and to view graphics, photos and videos from the set of "Doctor Faustus," visit the www.wmich.edu/digitalmedia/projects/dr-faustus.

Related article [more about the performances]
"Doctor Faustus" conjures up high-tech spirits

Media contact: Tonya Hernandez, (269) 387-8400, tonya.hernandez@wmich.edu

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