Digital Arts and New Media: MFA: Collaboration, Innovation, Social Impact

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birth of stars (winter - fall 2014)

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Allen (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) 

James Bierman, DANM/Theater Arts

Michael M. Chemers, Theater Arts

Mark Krumholz, Astronomy & Astrophysics


Advances in computer power and telescope technology have revealed astonishing new information about the spectacular life cycles of stars. We propose to research and develop a presentation that will employ the theater in its most ancient and honored use – as a tool for teaching – to create a unique performance event, employing both live performance combined with “immersive projection” of enhanced computer simulations relying on, inspired by, and communicating the awesome data of this new field of scientific inquiry. We envision a projective environment that will be partially interactive, with computerized visual and sonic elements triggered and manipulated by the performers themselves. 


This project will be wholly collaborative and widely interdisciplinary from its conception to its execution. In Winter ’14, students involved in the project will engage with the faculty in an especially designed course combining comparative mythography (specifically focused on myths of origin from various cultures) with astrophysics and playwriting to create a detailed performance concept and script linking the data about the life cycles of stars to a narrative grounded in ancient human mythos and performance practices. In Spring ‘14, one team will continue to develop the story while another works, possibly in conjunction with Prof. David Cuthbert’s DANM course, to solve the problems of presenting a total immersion projection system. Finally in Fall ‘14, the students will build and execute the event in the Dark Lab.


The final result will be a performance that combines ancient mysticism with cutting-edge science, and live action with digital projection, to stage within the confines of the DARC building stories of births and deaths on the greatest conceivable scale.


As the project is conceived, graduate and undergraduate students from Theater Arts, DANM, and Physics will collaborate on research and script development, and will work together to develop a dramaturgy (a theoretical apparatus for the translation of scientific data into a performative event) that will be altered and enhanced throughout the process. Together they will develop and build costumes, learn and adapt ancient performance styles, and collaborate on developing projections and soundscapes. Students will also direct the assimilation of scientific data into teachable units and oversee the transformation of that information into artistic output, checking for accuracy according to the dramaturgy of the piece.


The project will also include a panel discussion, open to the community, of the major issues and insights of the process, featuring the project leaders and other members of the university community and the University of California Observatories.


In pursuit of this project, we would need particularly to identify a potential DANM student with a strong command of digital imaging technology. We would also need to create curved screens in the Dark Lab to receive projections, planetarium style.