Ohio State University Uses BlackTrax in Sensory-Modified Production

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the Ohio State University’s latest media-intensive production. Each semester, the Department of Theater designates a single production to explore the significant incorporation of new media into live performance. For the most recent production, BlackTrax real-time tracking is used. Mark Haddon’s well-known and loved novel is in good hands with Simon Stephens’ creative transformation into a two-act play. Audiences are completely immersed in the vivid and mystifying experience.

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

The Olivier and Tony award-winning play follows a teenage mathematical genius, who sees the world in a wondrously unique way. He sets out to solve a neighborhood mystery about a dead dog and ends up on a thrilling journey of discovery about his family and his future. One of the main themes of this production is the belief that we can empathize with people more when we learn how we all process the world. In this specific case, we directly confront how the character of Christopher experiences his world, and how the characters intimately tied to Christopher are in turn impacted by his experience.

Kevin McClatchy, director of the production and associate professor in the Department of Theatre, also directs Ohio State’s Shakespeare and Autism Project. This is a collaborative research effort between the Wexner Medical Center’s Nisonger Center and the Department of Theatre. The project aims to improve the communication skills of children with autism through drama games, based on the texts of William Shakespeare.

Enter BlackTrax

BlackTrax’s introduction came to Ohio State University by way of two people. The first person, James Lewis, a video specialist, on tour with Cirque’s Crystal, which toured to Nationwide Arena in Columbus in late January 2019. The second person is Michael Hesmond, who is a freelance LD and programmer, also a friend of James, and for the 2018-2019 school year, was over-hired for the OSU theatre season.

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

“Michael Hesmond contacted us here at BlackTrax asking how Ohio State University could acquire a system for a Proof of Concept project. He was waiting for the right project to use it on. When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came up in discussion, it seemed like the perfect fit and we wanted to support Ohio State University. CAST Software lent OSU a full BlackTrax system for this production.” – Dekkar Densham, BlackTrax Sales Specialist

Michael served as the Production Electrician for Curious Incident. Michael had worked with BlackTrax equipment for a recent Marvel tour. James gave the group an extended backstage tour following the show (Crystal) and spent a bit of time talking about BlackTrax and the interaction with both physical and digital light.

“We saw the Crystal set-up, and Michael explained a bit about the stringers and beacons and how they are used. I got to thinking about light and the ways I could isolate and highlight the lead character – Christopher. Alex Oliszewski and I had “what if” conversations about how “his” light and “my” light could work together to help visually express elements of the play’s storyline, and how BlackTrax was a type of extension of Christopher’s world and the complicated relationship with it and with his parents. When BlackTrax negotiations were completed, we were comfortable expanding the use of the system to another character, Christopher’s mother, Judy.” – Mary Tarantino

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

While BlackTrax is well-suited to large performance venues, it stood out specifically for this production because it could both serve to tell the story of the show AND increase the versatility of the other equipment available.

“The wide-ranging capabilities of the BlackTrax technology — with both lighting and media design — afforded us tremendous storytelling opportunities, giving me an embarrassment of riches to choose from as director. We were able to fulfill our goal of immersing the audience in every moment of Christopher’s experience in ways we previously couldn’t have attempted.  BlackTrax gave Alex and Mary the opportunity to push their imaginative artistry further and further.  As a result, our collaborative experience had a freedom and excitement that resonated deeply in the work on stage and for each of us as artists.” Kevin McClatchy, Director of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The ability to create a 1:1 relationship between dynamic lights and dynamic real-time generated media led to a wonderful spectacle, and, an ability to weave lighting and media closely in the scenes where the performers’ movement was the key focus. The collaboratively generated environment was able to flow and breathe with the performers directly.

The System Used On-Site

QTY Product
1 Server
1 Controller Kit
6 BT Sensor (1.3 MP)
4 Beacon
1 Beacon Charging Station
1 Pack of Stringers
1 Calibration Kit


Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

“Technically, the various elements of the production mesh seamlessly. A stage floor and background divided into grids allows for both a sense of rigidity and one of varied possibilities, with projections on both heightening the feelings Christopher experiences and often can’t directly convey.

What’s impressive is that these strong elements don’t overpower the more human side of the play. While they let us know what Christopher is feeling in strong bursts of feeling, they’re also reined in to allow his physical movements to communicate even more strongly.” – Margaret Quamme, Reporter for The Dispatch


Sensory Modification

To create theatre that is welcoming and accessible to all individuals in the community, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was modified for Sensory Friendliness. Modifications to the performance include a lower sound level, a reduction of lighting that flashes or points towards the audience, a minimization of bright projections and loud sound effects.

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

This is the first time that BlackTrax has been used in a sensory modified production so that all in the audience could enjoy the show in their own way, including those with Sensory Processing and Sensory Integration Disorders, ADHD and are on the autism spectrum. This opens the doors to those who may not have otherwise been able to see the show, without the sensory modifications.

During this performance, audience members are welcomed to move around the theatre, talk, make noise, or exit and re-enter the space.

“I did not make any changes to the overall BlackTrax system but did create a programming of the show for the lower sensory evening. Because I was using Isadora as my media server, I was able to very quickly, and methodically, slow down the speed, reduce the intensity, and re-map the placement of our content to tone down the visual impact. I also removed a few intentionally stressful moments of visual emphasis in the media design completely. 

For example, in the train station sequences where my co-designer Kelsey Gallagher and I had created a very fast paced series moving words and signs flying through the space; I reduced the speed of the movement and placed the content in a more isolated frame while also dropping the overall intensity of the projections.”  – Alex Oliszewski

For lighting design, the lighting console operator shut off the breakers for the strobe fixtures and hazers. No cues had to be modified – these elements just did not fire for those cues. For sound design, the overall volume was reduced.

The Future

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

Ohio State University’s Department of Theater has been engaged in planning and design development meetings for the last two years. The top conversation has been about integration of new technologies for the new theatre building. The Department has a plan to discuss BlackTrax technology as a part of the lighting and media equipment package for the new theater building, so that it is available for teaching research and training, and production use.

Students will benefit as other prior landmark technology that has made its way to theatre since the early 1990s:

1) The Source 4 lighting fixture

2) Moving lights and better moving light consoles

3) Media Servers

4) Reliable and good color rendering LED theatrical fixtures

5) BlackTrax Technology

Source 4s were developed for theatre. Moving lights certainly “came over” from concert tours. Media servers as well. Good LED’s are shared across entertainment and architectural lighting achievements. And now, BlackTrax comes to theatre after its proven successes in other entertainment arenas with the financial resources to test and deploy its features.

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

“I was aware of BlackTrax’s ability to allow the use of light in very isolated ways. However, I am convinced this system has a place in almost ANY production we would hope to produce. In the hands of a skilled designer, the artistic flexibility offered by the system changes the game to the point I believe it should be considered a new robust tool for motion tracking in performance design.” – Alex Oliszewski

The comment above, admittedly said, after working closely with the system and Mary, witnessing her ability to effectively create, sculpt and provide special light anywhere the performer may find themselves. This did not need dedicated fixtures or hampering the blocking process between the director and the performers into specific pre-recorded locations that would have been impossible in a short tech process.

“This ability to provide dynamic isolation both in lighting and media content transformed our small thrust Blackbox into such a dynamic visual environment that each scene and moment of the play was able to feel unique, polished, and far beyond the five or six lit acting areas one is typically able to offer a director for the staging of the performers.” – Alex Oliszewski 

This is a milestone in movement and tracking for performance, and it is crucial that students have an opportunity to explore it and have fundamental training to be competitive in the career market. It seems that this type of robust performance movement tracking is becoming the foundation for a new, dynamic, and visceral approach to lighting and media design.

In Conclusion

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time might seem like a normal school production from the outside. It is true, schools are expected to push the limits in technology and innovation. Yet, this production and its approach can be set apart from traditional shows with its socially conscious invitation to all.

Sadly, it is rare to hear of productions taking those with special needs in mind. In a reality where some adjust their ways to fit into this world as we know it, for once, someone adjusted the world as we know it to accommodate all people, welcome all people, and wholeheartedly include all people.

“Ohio State University evaluated feasibility to purchase a system and weighed out student benefit, seeing firsthand the possibilities that BlackTrax offers to productions and education system. BlackTrax showed support from start to finish. From installation, programming and finally, rehearsals. We look forward to working with OSU more in the future.” – Dekkar Densham, BlackTrax Sales Specialist

BlackTrax is excited about its partnership with Ohio State University and we look forward to seeing where this partnership will take us. On a technical front, we are thrilled to be reaching students before they enter the job market, opening their eyes to the possibilities in production. On a social front, we are proud that our product can be used to accommodate the needs of anyone, and any situation, presented.

BlackTrax not only integrates with other products, it integrates people too.


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More About CAST Group of Companies Inc.

Established in 1994, Toronto Canadian-based software and hardware developer, CAST Software is a member of the CAST Group of Companies Inc. CAST Software serves its core markets in entertainment production, special events and meetings.

CAST’s award-winning flagship software products are wysiwyg – lighting design and previsualization suite, and Vivien – Event Designer and the new real-time tracking technology, BlackTrax.

All products are designed and created in-house and supported by an established global distribution and re-seller network.