STEM education is becoming more important in today’s fast-paced technical world. But some kids may have a difficult time with traditional STEM classes especially when a student doesn’t think they’re a “math or science type.” One way to encourage an awareness of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is to look for activities that already attract many talented kids. In this case, AutomationDirect took its cue from the theater.

Combining STEM and Theater

Students and adults alike can be captivated by the performances in a live stage production. The set, scenery, and props all help to tell the story and draw the audience in. It’s these spectacular effects that can bring an automation education to theater students who never dreamed of being interested in engineering and technology.

Enclosure for Purdue Stage Lift no borderAt Purdue University, AutomationDirect products helped theater students fabricate a stage lift that, with a few safety modifications, allowed the actor who played the main character in their production of Medea to “fly” through the air. The Purdue theater department already owned a RibbonLift™ (a telescopic stage lift) but they knew it would take some shrewd engineering to make it safe enough to “fly” an actor on stage during the performance. The department also has its own PLC lab station with a CLICK® PLC from AutomationDirect that is used every semester to teach students how to automate all sorts of theater-related tasks. These automated tools plus the students’ hard work and imagination brought their stage production “to life” for the audience. And, working to create the effects helped students with an interest in the arts to also participate in an automation project that contributed to the success of their theater production.

The University of Arizona’s theater department also used automation for scenery movement and changes that visually enhanced their production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts I and II. The production needed a system capable of rapidly changing scenes as the dialogue quickly transitioned from location to location. To achieve this, the theater professor and scenic designer worked with students to devise a unique system that would easily be able to present different types of terrain and environments. Through the use of motors and computer controls, the technical crew was able to accurately move scenery and actors more efficiently – creating motion on stage that added to the overall production value of the play.

University of Arizona theater program

To further bring STEM educational ideas to students, AutomationDirect’s programmable logic controllers were featured in a training center hosted by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) at their annual Conference and Stage Expo. The training center was equipped with C-more Micro touch screens and both DirectLOGIC DL05 controllers and CLICK PLCs. USITT received help from the San Diego State University School of Theatre, Television, and Film—one of a handful of schools with a formal program in theatrical automation—to set up the training center at Stage Expo. At each of the stations, trainees were shown the ease of ladder logic and stage programming. Most participants were astounded at how easy it was to build a useful program with simple diagrams. The limited version of the DirectLOGIC software and the completely free CLICK software are both available for download from the AutomationDirect website. Having practical applications and animated devices as part of the training center made for a very exciting exhibit visited by scores of conference attendees.

PLC Analog Setup for STEM Education

“Inspiring students to become more involved in technology is at the core of AutomationDirect’s philosophy,” explained Rick Folea, Senior Technical Marketer for the company. “Whether it’s on the stage or directly through a science competition, AutomationDirect is always interested in supporting the benefits of providing STEM-based education at any level.”

At schools across the country, STEM education can help actors “fly” on stage or provide other spectacular effects to live productions. As a result, students learn the importance of technology in their overall education. These productions also bring together students with interests in acting, engineering, and technology who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with each other and experience the practical applications of a STEM education. Science, math, technology, engineering and theater students – cue the applause and take a bow!

*AutomationDirect would like to thank all the theater departments mentioned for sharing their photos.

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