Three University Drama Schools Win USITT Tech Expo

LED-powered fireflies by the University of Maryland, a rig for “flying” a 600-pound cage at Carnegie Mellon University, and an interactive video puppet from New York City College of Technology are the winning projects in USITT’s 2013 Tech Expo, the United States Institute for Theatre Technology announced.

USITT’s Tech Expo, held every other year, spotlights creative solutions to theatre production problems. USITT, the national association for backstage professionals, invites entries for a juried competition and a published exhibit catalog.

The top three projects are featured in USITT’s quarterly journal, and winning team members get $250 cash prizes, said USITT Tech Expo Chair Rob Kerby.

Kerby’s committee received 30-plus entries and selected 17 for inclusion in the 2013 catalog and display at USITT’s 2013 Annual Conference & Stage Expo last month in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The 2013 winners chosen at the conference are:

  • The “big-headed toddler,” an interactive video puppet that played the lost child in January’s world premiere of Erin Courtney’s play, The Service Road, at New York City College of Technology’s Voorhees Theatre. The puppet was designed by Cory Einbinder, adjunct professor at City Tech and artistic director of New York’s Adhesive Theater Project. The puppet’s face has a rear projection screen to display the expressions of an actor/puppeteer wearing a head-mounted camera.
  • Floating fireflies – a costume effect for a joint production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the University of Maryland’s  School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies and the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts Cory Einbinder demonstrates his “big-headed toddler” at the special exhibit of Tech Expo projects at the 2013 USITT Annual Conference & Stage Beijing. UMD’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center team of Jen Dasher, Lisa Burgess and Jon Shimon sewed tiny programmable LED lights into airy chiffon fairy costumes. The movement of the fabric and twinkling lights resembled dancing fireflies.
  • A “compensated” flying rig designed to move scenery for a Carnegie Mellon production of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. CMU School of Drama assistant professor of technical design Kevin Hinesand grad students Tom Strong, Matt Rohner and Ethan Weil constructed a closed-loop counterweight system with two independent axes to horizontally and vertically “fly” set pieces ranging in weight from Sweeney’s barber chair to a 600-pound cage and its contents.

Tech Expo advances USITT’s mission to enhance the knowledge and skills of its members and the performing arts design and technology community. USITT, founded in 1960, provides networking, education, and career advancement opportunities to its 4,000 members from the backstage industry.

Kerby said Tech Expo is proof that necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

“I applaud each and every entry for their creativity, ingenuity and ability to work under the constraints (of) time, money and manpower,” Kerby wrote in the 2013 Tech Expo catalog.

The catalog is itself a useful manual of creative approaches to stage production solutions. The 2013 catalog – and the 13 previous Tech Expo catalogs – can be purchased at

For more information on USITT, please visit For more on Tech Expo, go to