Wiring up the River Campus with state-of-the-art technology

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Although Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus isn't slated to open until July 2007, plans to pack it with high-tech gadgets and gizmos are well under way.

In fact, at the university's Department of Theater and Dance, which will be a major occupant of the new facility being built in downtown Cape Girardeau, high-tech lighting and sound systems destined for the River Campus are already in play.

"Many things bought so far for the River Campus are already in use at the Rose Theater," said department chairman Ken Stilson. "We'll move them over when the infrastructure is up."

Stilson said theater technology is changing as fast as other computer-generated technologies, especially in the areas of lighting, scenic and sound design. He said his department is already using advanced lighting-design equipment comparable to almost any other theater in the country.

"We're using a lot of moving-head instruments that are similar to what you see at rock concerts," he said. "They have different irises and can project different colored lights, and each is essentially a computer."

Stilson said the department has nine moving-head instruments, which are essentially highly mobile spot lights. They hang from the ceiling and can be raised, lowered and turned in any direction. They will be major players in theatrical productions at the River Campus.

"These moving-head instruments are very impressive," he said. "They cost about $5,000 each. In the old days, if you wanted to light certain areas or highly focus on one spot it would take up to six instruments to do it. Now, I can take one moveable lighting instrument and have it serve in different scenes. It's pretty cool."

Stilson said his department recently received advanced sound systems that are destined for the River Campus. He said they are "as sophisticated as you can find in any recording studio. We can do our own recording and mixing. All digitally done and digitally mastered. We're using them now."

One set of high-tech wizardry the Department of Theater and Dance is not yet using is computer-aided scenic-design equipment. Stilson said some faculty members are trained in the technology, but due to space limitations at Rose Theater, it can't be activated until the River Campus can accommodate it.

Stilson said the scenic-design equipment includes mouse pads that function as writing tablets. He said the scenic-design studio at the River Campus will have a bank of miniature computers that students and faculty will use to chart and pattern scenes for theatrical and dance productions.

"Technologically, we're advanced and just waiting for the potential of the River Campus," said Stilson. "And once there, we'll be upgrading equipment because the technology changes so fast."

The River Campus will also be the new home of the university's Regional History Museum. Museum director Stanley Grand said interactive media will play a large part of the learning experience. The 15,000 square feet of the museum will be divided by category. Grand said the section devoted to geology will have an interactive topographical map of land from St. Louis to the Bootheel. He said buttons can be pushed to activate fiber optics that highlight selected areas.

"If you want to know where Crowley's Ridge is, you push a button and the ridge is highlighted with a printed caption," he said.

Also in the geology section will be three booths each equipped with an Apple G5 power tower and two LCD, flat-screen monitors. Grand said the computers will be programmed with various interactive films.

"We're thinking of having a film that runs over both screens, or we can have someone shown talking on one screen and what they are talking about is shown on the other screen."

Grand said the interactive media at the museum is not super complex, but in the Crossroads of Empire section, there will be a portrait of Cape Girardeau founder Louis Lorimier and five buttons on a console. Visitors can stand under a sound dome, push a button and listen to Lorimier talk about life in the area in the late 1790s. Other buttons will access commentary from French explorer and priest Jacques Marquette, Indians of the Mississippian and Woodland tribes, and other historically prominent people.

A section devoted to the Civil War will feature push-button graphics and two-minute documentary films shown on high-definition LCD screens.

In the 35-seat orientation theater, visitors can view a 15-minute film shown in high definition and broadcast in surround-sound stereo.

"There will be a number of little videos scattered throughout the museum," said Grand, adding that the Beckwith Collection of centuries-old pottery will have an interactive computer base where visitors can access information about individual objects.

Grand said some videos will feature local historians who tell intriguing vignettes of the region's history. The films and audios are in production, and as the exhibits are built they will be stored in a climate-controlled environment until the River Campus opens.

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