carlfoxmarten: (Default)
I may have mentioned that I've been working on building a prop for a local theatre company on here, though not as much as I've talked about it on a forum I frequent. Anyway, progress on that has pretty much stopped due to several factors, mostly stemming from the fact that I don't have a base to work from and have to build the whole thing from scratch.

Anyway, this year's panto is Beauty and the Beast, and since my boss has started to refuse me Saturdays off, I'm not able to participate in the same way anymore. Apart from that, I'd also noticed that the script mentions a magic mirror. Many movie versions depict the magic mirror as glowing shinily when activated and used, so why not add some LEDs to the prop so it does some cool effects like that?

So I've been given the task, about two weeks ago, and now I'm almost done building the prop! =^.^=

Nearly instrumental was a lady at a higher-end secondhand store around here that helped me find a cheap kid's racquet made of plastic. A layer or two of tape on each side got rid of the annoying bounce sound from the plastic sheet in the middle, and foam board is doing very nicely for fleshing out the back side.

To use the mirror, you're supposed to "polish" it three times, then it flashes and shows you a glistening image of what you want to see.

To provide the lighting effects, I'm using NeoPixels, individually-addressed LEDs with the LED driver chips built right into them. See the article for more info. Anyway, what that allows me to do is to control the RGB colour of each LED independently of each other, but only use a single data line for an entire string, instead of having three separate control lines per LED.

Finally, to provide the brains of the operation and effects, I'm using a Pro Trinket, a tiny microcontroller by the same company as the NeoPixels, that uses the same software development toolkit as the very popular Arduino series of boards. They're very easy to write code for, all the way through to programming the board itself, as well as being fairly cheap to buy, running around $16CDN each.
(compare that to $40 and up for the official Arduino boards)

Power will be supplied by a cheap dollar store USB power bank, which provides a reliable 5V supply, which both the LEDs and control board needs. Plus, it's cheap, around three bucks. Pity I can't find any more for the moment, so as soon as I do, I'll be buying a whole bunch.

So far, I have a semicircle of wire with the LEDs spaced out around it that fits just inside the outer edge of the racquet, and a temporarily wired up microcontroller, with a program that is about 90% of the way to being what I understand we want thus far. Once I have it properly attached to the mirror frame, I'll be bringing it to the next rehearsal for more feedback.
carlfoxmarten: (default)
It's past 1am right now, so this is going to be brief.

Likely due to the major lack of sleep I'd managed to get during the run of The Mousetrap, I got a pretty major cold right afterwards.
It lasted for about a week, but now I'm still feeling the effects of it more than a week after that.
Mostly stuff in my throat and a bunch of coughing.

At least I'm not required to sing until about June, when auditions for the next panto will be.

I'm still coming up with a list of songs I'm considering for my audition.
Due to issues I've been having with my phone, however, the list keeps getting deleted and I have to start it over again.

Right now, I'm looking for a song about three minutes in length, with no long instrumental introduction (not like the early days of band music, where the singer got second billing – if at all – to the band, and had to come in for the second chorus), preferably no instrumental sections, and preferably with just one singer.

My plan for future auditions is to choose a different artist whose work I enjoy each year, to see just how versatile I can be.
My first audition was with Fred Astaire's The Piccolino, which I'd sung for several years before, so I knew how the song went very well.
The second audition was with Matt Dusk's The Theme from the Loaded Gun, song that has great drive in places, and I managed to improvise a sort of dance routine to go along with it. Got a round of applause for that one, too, so I must have done something right. =^.~=

We have just three weeks left in the month, and it doesn't sound like we've found another place to life just yet, though it sounds like there's one that might possibly work.
I'll have to wait until mom and dad make their decision, though I should probably make sure I start to pack up my stuff too...
carlfoxmarten: (default)
Well, that was quite fun! =^.^=
While it lasted, anyway...

The Mousetrap is now over, and I won't have anything directly theatre-related until June or July when the panto auditions are scheduled.
(I still have the magic wand to build, but that's not quite the same as working with theatre people on a regular basis)

Three weeks before the show began its run, the stage manager brought in another young guy and announced that he was the assistant stage manager.
Since the director had told me that she would encourage the SM to use me as the ASM, I was quite disappointed, until the SM corrected herself and said that was in addition to myself.
So, two ASMs, kinda relieved that it did happen.

Anyway, I was stationed stage-right (left side of the stage, audience-wise, for those not in the know), so I monitored almost everything backstage before and during each performance.
I was equipped with a "ClearCom" unit, which is a one-ear headset with a mic that allows most backstage staff to communicate, so I was able to let the SM know when we had all the actors ready to go, relay questions between actors and the SM, as well as the usual duty of making sure the actors had their props when they needed them.

My side of the stage also had the backstage PA mic, so I was tasked with letting the actors know how much time they had before the next Act, calling “Places”, etc.

The other ASM had a bit more work to do, which included moving to the back of the set to run the snow “machine” (really a grate full of a snow-like powder that dropped the “snow” when shaken), assist a couple of the actors with a quick-change between Day 1 and Day 2 of the play, and, I'm sure, several other tasks that I'm still unaware of.

It was a fun show, but being a drama, it was almost impossible to tell how much the audience liked it.
What little laughter there had been was related only to the very minor comedic moments, and even then not all of them, so the only person who was able to know first-hand how well the show went over with the audience is the people doing front-of-house.

The first act was where most of the behind-the-scenes action took place, making sure actors had their props and didn't have to walk the thirty or forty feet to get them before walking back onstage, but the second act was almost completely dead, owing to the fact that the first act was set-up and the second contained all the drama.
This meant that I could play around on my phone during the second act without needing to pay much if any attention to the play, aside from having one ear cocked to the dialogue to make sure I didn't miss the ending.
(it was too dark backstage to try doing any book reading or paper-based Sudoku or crosswords)

I'd definitely do something like this again should the opportunity arise.

Busy!...

Mar. 1st, 2015 01:46 am
carlfoxmarten: (default)
Final countdown to The Mousetrap in mid-March, so rehearsals are going into overdrive.
I'm still not entirely sure what I'll be doing, aside from "helping out" backstage.

The treasurer for the theatre company was in one day to watch a run-through, and I had been introduced by the director as the ASM (assistant stage manager), though I don't remember being asked just yet.
I'd been told that it's the stage manager's duty to select an ASM, but haven't heard anything officially since.

The set is about halfway done, it needs to be fully assembled where it is now so rehearsing can happen on it, then disassembled, moved and reassembled at the theatre, as well as any final painting that needs to be done.
All the props and costumes are (to my knowledge) complete, even down to the wristwatch that had been picked up for five dollars to go on Molly's wrist, whose band had been too large and had been shortened by our stage manager.
(she's apparently very skilled at many things, so I hope we don't lose her anytime soon!)

I'm still shaking my head at how much the actors were scrambling for lines, though.
We have two more weekends of rehearsals to go, and it looks like I will be helping the actors run lines when they're not needed during a run-through.

The last non-panto rehearsal I've seen was for the last run of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and that was basically the final rehearsal before it was moved into the theatre, so I wasn't privy to all the foibles of the actors as they initially stumbled through their lines, and was largely unfamiliar with any weak points before the show ran and I saw it for a whole week of evenings in a row.
carlfoxmarten: (default)
The same theatre company that I was with for the pantos is currently in rehearsals for Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, in preparation for a mid-March run.

No, I didn't get a role, but I am helping out in a useful way.
Our stage manager is currently busy (with classes and other shows), so I've been filling in to a small degree.
Thus far, and probably as far as it'll be, is being "on-book", which means I keep the actors from forgetting lines and prompt them when they ask.

It was a rather important task last week, when we had several actors trying to be "off-book" (not carrying their scripts with them) and really shouldn't have been.
Yesterday it wasn't such a big deal, as we were working on much smaller scenes in the script to get the overtones of nuance right, so they were able to remember their lines well enough through the sheer repetition we went through.

We'll see what happens in future rehearsals, as we get our stage manager back next Saturday, then she's away for the Sunday after that, and after that she's fully available.



Aside from all that, the production team is really big on "real" effects for shows like this.

For example, they wired up a classic doorbell in the style of what they'd have used back then, with the bell that's constantly rung while the button is pressed, and it'll be screwed to the back of the set where the front door is apparently set.
It even has a bit of a glow on the button so the actors can find it in the dark.

The telephone will also be somewhat remotely controlled, ringing its own bell when triggered, and getting cut off when the handset is lifted.

They also hope that they can wire the radio for sound, so the radio broadcasts will seem to come from it as well.
carlfoxmarten: (default)
Warning: Gets very technical, so beware!

So, the very first magic wand the theatre company I'm involved with had caused some electrical burns to its original operator due to malpractices by the original creator.
I think it might be fortunate that he's dead now, though I think it was more due to age than an accident with his contraptions.

The second version (that I'm aware of) was the one that our current fairy queen broke this year taking last year's decorations off it, so the third version was the one I fixed up and improved.

The fourth version, which this post is about, is one I've been asked to build to replace our old one.
The fifth version, and there will be one, will have even more features than V4, so we'll either be able to choose which features to enable, or which wand to use for each year after, depending on what features we want to use that year.

Very technical details are here... )
carlfoxmarten: (podium)
The theory behind my latest project is as follows:

An inexpensive fob (partially disassembled to save space) is hidden inside a prop gun. The trigger presses a given button on the fob, which sends a radio signal to a receiver.

In this case, the receiver is a rather generic device, intended to trigger almost anything with its relay (which can handle up to 10 amps) from garage doors to lighting. For our purposes here, it works just fine to pull an input line low.

The microcontrollers I've been testing with are all Arduino-compatible, so I'm able to take advantage of the dead-easy (for a programmer) development environment that is used for Arduino boards.
The first board I used was an Adafruit Trinket, a very small microcontroller with a miniscule five digital I/O pins, two of which I needed to use for the USB connection to the computer.
The second was a spare Arduino Leonardo that I have other designs on, though it works well enough for testing purposes.
(the nice thing about the process I'm using at this point is that it's all practically breadboarded, and everything can plug-in and unplug easily, so I haven't wasted any hardware doing testing just yet)

When the microcontroller detects that a relay has been activated, it acts as a generic USB keyboard and sends a key-pressed signal to the computer it's plugged into.
I spoke to the person who's in charge of running the sound-effects for the theatre company I'm involved with, and was told that two channels are the best option at the moment.
Anything more than two just gets confusing, and can be easily handled with gunshots mixed into an audio file and played in the background.

On the whole, it's a very simple process, but the programming for the microcontroller can be tricky if you haven't figured out how to separate the two channels effectively.
In that case, you must figure out how to handle press/release and key-down/key-up properly, and without putting the processor into a locked state while waiting for a release event.

I'm pretty sure I have enough code done to do a good enough job, I just need to do a more thorough testing.

Theoretically I should have enough of the project together to be able to demonstrate the project to my director friend so she can get a good idea of how it will perform, though there's still the issue of supplying power.

Under most conditions, I'd be able to draw all the power necessary from the USB cable.
Unfortunately, it only supplies 5V of power, and the wireless relays I'm using require a bare minimum of 9V, though the documentation states that it requires a 12V supply.

I'd like to stay well away from batteries for this, as they're going to have a hard enough time trying to find replacement 12V batteries for the fobs when they eventually run out, so I'll need to go with a "wall wart" style power adapter.
This also means that I need to find one of those things, along with a jack to plug it into...
carlfoxmarten: (podium)
It's actually quite fascinating knowing a theatre director. You get to learn all sorts of things, and get a bit of an "in" to see even more stuff.

For example, I was able to see what you might call a minimalist production of “Hound of the Baskervilles” that used three males actors and a two-sided fireplace, and was later invited to usher the same show at another venue.
(we joked about starting a new theatre company called Three Men and a Fireplace. It would work! Honest!)

Anyway, there were a few scenes where one of the actors had a small plastic gun they had to fire a series of shots from, but the shot sound effects were part of an audio file played through the sound system, so they had to synchronize their hand motions to the audio file, which didn't work very often.
(well, not to me, anyway)

So I decided that there ought to be a better way to do this.

I found out that they use a program to cue up all the sounds that make up the sound effects portion of the show into a sort of audio script.
It's triggered somewhat like PowerPoint, just keep pressing a key to trigger the effects.

You can also trigger particular effects via other keys on the keyboard if your script isn't actually a single linear progression.
This is important, because it makes what I'm trying to do possible.

I also found out that you can buy a hobbyist-oriented four-button key fob and wirelessly-activated relay.

Put these two thoughts together, and you get a key fob whose relay activates a key on the guts from a USB keyboard.

Now, while you can get USB keyboards pretty cheap nowadays, there is an issue with most of their circuit boards.

The pads used to connect the board to the key matrix do not actually accept solder.
In fact, the one board I'd tried actually had the hot solder roll around on top of it, and broke right back off easily after letting it cool and harden.

Second option was to use any of a multitude of microcontrollers, small very low-end computers that are (usually) easily programmed to do simple tasks.
Well, there aren't too many things simpler than pushing a button when an input changes, so it should work fine, right?

First test was with an Adafruit Trinket, a small ten-pin micro microcontroller that has three data pins and a bunch of power pins. Useful for small projects.
Plus I was able to have it emulate a USB keyboard! =^.^=

Unfortunately, I need about six I/O pins or so (might be up to eight, I'm not sure yet), so while it was great as a temporary test rig, it won't be useful in the long run.

Because the Trinket is compatible with Arduino microcontrollers (as are many microcontrollers nowadays, much to my relief), I'm currently mocking up some software on my recently-purchased Arduino Leonardo (one of their latest official boards) before I choose a smaller board to 'port it over to.

Ideally, I want to put as much of the parts as possible into a small plastic project case so it all looks fairly professional.
(with the added benefit of preventing connections from getting bumped)

Anyway, I'd tried to show my progress to my director friend, and she and her husband (who does the music and sound effects for her shows) are both quite happy about the possibilities.
Unfortunately, due to a faulty cable, I wasn't able to actually demonstrate the project to them, but I will have a working model to show them later.
(honest! =^.~=)

Theatre

Sep. 4th, 2014 04:24 pm
carlfoxmarten: (podium)
Just noticed that rehearsals for this year's pantomime starts next weekend!
=0.0=

This year we're doing Sleeping Beauty, and what surprises me about things is that our director has had to write the script from scratch as we haven't done it before...
(she's written enough scripts that we've almost been coasting on updated scripts the last few years)

Again, I'll be in the chorus, as I'm not confident enough to try a character role yet.
First read-through is next week, so while I've read the script (and even with the voices of several people involved in my head), I still need the director's guidance as to tone.
(plus the songs involved were not included in the first draft)

Further theatre stuff )

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Carl Foxmarten

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