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Joseph Paul Hill’s Thoughts on Technology Projects for College Theatre Classrooms

1. A student/youth rush and discounted ticket app for Broadway and Off-Broadway

Theatre teachers require their undergraduate students to see performances. There are many good websites that have information about discounted tickets for various Broadway theatres, but no website that takes into account both Broadway and Off-Broadway (or even the few significant Off-Off) theatre houses. Every venue and every show has different policies about discounted tickets, and frankly, it’s often difficult to find the information online. An app that compiled rush and discounted ticket information along with performance schedules of each major theatre could prove extremely beneficial for students of all levels seeking quality, affordable theatre in the city.

What would be even more useful than having all of this information available in one place would be the interactive functionality of a live map, like Waze. Students and other theatre-goers could share real-time information about various theatres and the status of rush tickets on any given morning. For example, I wake up at 7 o’clock on a Thursday morning and think about heading down to Studio 54 in the hopes of getting a rush ticket to Cabaret. I open up my rush ticket app and see that someone has already been by Studio 54 that morning and posted to the app that Cabaret is not offering rush tickets to the performance that night. However, there’s a message from someone at Gentlemen’s Guide that there are only two people currently in line for rush tickets at the Walter Kerr Theatre. I don’t have to waste my time traveling to a theatre that doesn’t have available discounted tickets.

Such an app would be a wonderful tool for theatre students who are required to see productions for class, but the app could also appeal to avid theatre-goers who weekly encounter the difficulties and unpleasantness of rushing shows.

2. Database (and discussion forum) of useful online educational videos

There are a plethora of videos available online, many on YouTube, that could be useful for instructors of any given subject, but when it comes to finding useful videos and/or clips, it seems that every instructor is on her or his own. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some way for instructors to share, categorize, tag, and comment about online videos that they have found useful. The ability to categorize and comment is key because it would allow teachers to discuss how or why a particular video is useful. For instance, some videos might provide succinct summaries of textbook reading, while others might be beneficial for providing social and historical context for a given event.

Although YouTube has an Education Channel, YouTube does not easily allow for users to comment about the usefulness of videos in education. In fact, any critical, insightful comments made about a video are likely to end up buried beneath uncritical, judgmental comments provided by everyday users.

Perhaps an even simpler (but still extremely useful) tool would be a database of video databases. This would be extremely useful for theatre in particular where types and styles of performance are more easily explained through video than text. Over the last twenty years there has been an exponential growth in the use of video to document and archive performances, and if such videos are available online, theatre instructors and their students should know where they are.

3. Play adaptation/translation commentary and analysis interface

There are many different ways to analyze a play text, but one of the most useful approaches is to compare a particular adaptation or translation of a script to its source material or source text. Of course there are many ways to annotate a document (although perhaps not an easy way for thirty students to simultaneously annotate the same document), but within theatre it would be useful to be able to annotate multiple documents in a side-by-side format.

As an example, I offer up Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. If teaching the play in a theatre class, it could be useful for students to practice thinking intertextually by creating parallels between The Comedy of Errors and its various source materials, such as Menaechmi and Amphitryon. Portions of these two plays by Plautus could be taken and parsed out next to corresponding (or disparate) portions of Shakespeare’s play to see how the Bard borrowed and adapted the works of his predecessors. Likewise, such an interface could be useful for having students apply certain theatrical theories to playtexts. The Comedy of Errors could be taught in relationship to Aristotle, Horace, and the 18th century neoclassicists, with students pulling quotations from neoclassical texts and placing them beside Shakespeare’s play in order to show how the work reflects and/or adheres to certain theatrical theories.

If such an interface could be used and edited in real time online (such as in a Google Doc), then students would be able to see the work of their classmates and comment upon others’ insights.

4. Web of people, places, and ideas

An interesting project over the course of a semester might be to have students create a web of relations and connections between the various playwrights, producers, designers, theorists, theatres, plays, artistic movements, etc. The objective of such a project would be to have students visualize the complexity of artistic tradition and inspiration.

A decision would have to be made about how the connections are displayed visually. Does it make sense to plot points on a world map and see how different artistic cultures interact, or does it make sense to assemble an asymmetrical web of names, titles, and terms that progress in time historically with the earliest words being closest to the center of the system and branching outwards with the progression of time? The visual representation will dictate the possibilities of the project. Connections could be made like points between lines, but connections could also be labeled. Ultimately the web is a challenge for the students, daring them to find connections between seemingly disparate items in the field, such as musical writers Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kathakali Indian dance-drama, and Torelli’s chariot and pole system. It could almost function like an academic re-imagining of 7 degrees of separation.

Overview of Assignments

This semester we will be working on three major assignments, with continuous blog writing throughout.

Provocations and responses: We will continue the practice of having several students write provocations on the blog on the reading/subject of the week, and carrying on a conversation on the blog in advance of class. Those who write provocations, will lead off the discussion of that reading in class. Because we meet a day earlier than in the past, we need the provocations to be up by Saturday  by 5PM, so that discussion can start Sunday, with enough time to bear fruit. Several of the provocation assignments will scaffold towards the three larger assignments below.

Project Abstracts/Short Proposals: Your midterm assignment is to create at least two different project proposals that each have at least two scope variations: one full and a reduced version.

Collaboration and Wikipedia:  Collaboratively write a Wikipedia article on one of the readings from last semester.

Final Project Proposal and Proof of Concept: Your final project is to turn in a proposal for a larger project, that includes a proof of concept. Your goal is to convince us that your proposal is relevant and productive AND that you can actually pull it off. The details will be discussed on when we discuss the short proposals, and will be due at the end of the semester. We will have three days of presentations, and the written proposal will be due during finals period.