Computers Bring Theater Department Into 21st Century

McComb, Tara/Mirror News/September 1996: 17

     The advancement of multi-media technology has been a mixed blessing for educators the world over. On the one hand, various computer programs would seem to offer students boundless outlets to information (especially through the Internet), as well as having the ability to capture a student’s interest on a wide variety of subjects. On the other hand, educators must bear the burden of learning how to apply such technology so that it is a tool and not just an attractive toy.

     Dr. George Popovich, Head of the HFCC Theater Department, not only has explored the idea of applying multi-media technology to his theater and film studies courses, but he is well on his way to putting it to practical application. He is confident that through the use of such tools, he will be greatly able to expand the resources and opportunities to theater and film studies students.

     Last semester, the MIRROR reported Popovich’s plan to obtain a grant from the HFCC Technology Investment Fund for the purchase of various computer programs and multi-media tools. Popovich has been allotted all the necessary funds and has purchased the equipment, much of which already has gone into use in some of his classes. Popovich has realized that computers lend themselves to the learning capacities of many of today’s students. “Most students have a visual literacy as opposed to a verbal one,” he stated. “In other words, they learn better and faster when concepts, ideas, and techniques are visualized.”

     Yet Popovich sees far more potential in the technology than in its ability to merely lure students. “Everyone thinks these are toys, but they’re not,” he stressed. “These are creative tools.” Popovich envisions that eventually the use of multi-media software in theater and film classes will further improve the quality of these courses, and in turn, improve the quality of theater productions.

     Using a set of VR goggles, Popovich can conduct a tour of a Greek theater for acting students. By combining this with CAD (Computer Aided Design), students can design sets for theatrical productions and later view the plans in Virtual Reality. Popovich also plans to use Adobe Photoshop software for makeup and costume design. By photographing an actor’s face and silhouette with a digital still camera and importing the image into a computer, it is possible to draw and paint makeup and costumes directly on the image.

     In addition to a digital still camera, Popovich has also purchased a digital video camera, which allows him to transfer video images directly to the computer. This sort of technology not only assists in theater and film production, but it is also equally useful for classroom instruction. “I can make videotapes of shows, demonstrations, exercises, and theater sites that I visit and acting techniques,” said Popovich, The real advantage in digital camera work is that there is no loss in quality when images are duplicated. “If it’s digital,” noted Popovich, “It’s immortal!” Digital video clips will be particularly helpful when Popovich compiles the HFCC Theater Archives, which will serve as a computerized record of past and future theater productions.

     The newly purchased tools and software will be equally useful inside the classroom as well as in production, By combining such programs as Adobe Persuasion, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere, Popovich is able to customize multimedia presentations for each class he teaches. While some of the new software is limited to classroom use, students will be able to tap resources from around the world. Obviously, this includes the Internet, from which students can pull any Shakespearian texts or attend Virtual tours of Stratford- Upon-Avon. In addition, video teleconferencing will be made available to students through a program called CU/SEE ME and give students the opportunity to speak and perform with actors from around the world. This technology will allow students to explore the theater universe without stepping outside of the classroom.

     At this point, Popovich is still familiarizing himself with much of the new material, and some of it has yet to be permanently installed. Presently he is mainly concerned with classroom applications.

     “Shows are important,” he stated, “but it is the classes that attract students and feed the shows.”

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