Industry Update, Part Three: Technology in the Performing Arts

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Industry Update part 3Where is high-tech headed? Read the predictions.

Welcome to the finale in our three-part blog series on technology in the performing arts. We’ve saved the best for last: Where high-tech is headed.

Our expert panel will share their best educated guesses on the future of technology’s impact. (If you missed the first two blogs in this series, read “How high-tech is changing audience expectations” and “What high-tech tools are having the greatest impact?”)


Our Panel

This week’s panel again includes guest contributor Joshua Grossman. Josh is a principal at Schuler Shook, an internationally renowned theatre planning and architectural lighting design firm. Our other panelists include these members of the Wenger and J.R. Clancy performing arts team:

  • Mike Murphy, General Manager of Performing Arts
  • Edward Kaye, Performing Arts Specialist
  • Patrick Finn, Performing Arts Product Manager
  • Jim Crooks, Lighting Solutions Integrator


Q: Let’s get right to it. What are your predictions for how technology will further impact the performing arts? What’s next?

ED – For motorized and automated rigging hoists and their motion control systems, the increased safety and decreasing cost offered by technology is likely to result in increasing numbers of the systems specified for use in academic and professional production environments, as automation continues to develop. Also, look for more systems that facilitate the change of the visual and acoustical environments in the theatrical space with the simple touch of a button.

Editor’s NoteFacility Manager made this prediction in a 2015 article titled “Five Trends in Performing Arts Center Architectural Design” in reference to automated convertible floor systems:

This level of versatility can allow venues to rent their theatres for two, and even three, events per day. Imagine running a children’s play with the theatre seating in the morning, an art exhibit on a flat floor during the afternoon, and finally, a jazz show with cabaret seating that very same evening. The possibilities are ever expanding.

JIM – I predict there will be more intertwined technologies (lighting, rigging, acoustic shells, active acoustics, staging, seating). Also, I think there will be more of the larger and more sophisticated venues. For example, “mega churches” have taken the place of many neighborhood houses of worship.

MIKE – I see more automated rigging or a combination with manual rigging, and active acoustic systems. I actually think active acoustics is still in its infancy in the performing arts space. Also, whether it’s a new-build or renovation, there will be more early design collaboration to maximizing venue versatility.

PATRICK – In terms of rigging, manual will continue to dominate the touring venues and motorized rigging will take over educational venues. More and more productions at every level will incorporate stage automation.

JOSH – A lot of sophisticated venues want to hold on to manual rigging, because of its capability and flexibility, and because those venues have operators who can utilize the full range of functionality. Others want to simplify their operations and potentially reduce staff, so they want only automated rigging. There is also the perception among some that automation is inherently safer.

Here are Josh’s other predictions:

  • The soul of live performance is the connection created between people. But it’s getting harder and harder to make real human connections in real life. People’s sense of community is becoming less physical and tangible and much more virtual, and that will continue. This makes live performance simultaneously more important as a remaining shared physical experience and more endangered because there is a growing sense that virtual communal experiences are equivalent to actual communal experiences.
  • Trends of democratizing art tools [people no longer need to rely as much on special equipment to express themselves artistically or to disseminate their art] will increase and continue to affect performing arts in some way.
  • Manufacturers’ innovation will be around accessibility: finding ways to take technology and make it easier to use, more intuitive, and easier to understand. For example, the next innovation in stage technology controls will be ease of use and intuitive features, without sacrificing all the redundancies that ensure safety, reliability and usability. We’re not there yet. Editor’s Note: For specific product predictions, see the panelists’ comments in the previous blog, “What high-tech tools are having the greatest impact?”


Q: How will technology trends impact artists, audiences and owners?

MIKE – More than ever, to stay competitive, they’ll have to stay open to change and adapt to it.

ED – They must continually evolve with the changing times, just as they have throughout the history of the theatre. Theatre goers (and users) will continue to demand the incorporation of new technologies that allow them to experience the newest, most provocative productions required to challenge perception, arouse the emotions, stimulate thought and provoke their belief systems. This always has been – and will continue to be – the nature of the theatrical experience.

PATRICK – Technology will enable bigger effects with fewer people involved.


Q: How is Wenger and J.R. Clancy helping customers stay competitive and prepare for the predicted trends?

JIM – Our customers look to us for technology recommendations. Many want design/build solutions from a single, responsible vendor like Wenger and J.R. Clancy who are equipped to put things together and make it all work seamlessly.

ED – We already offer solutions in many areas of technology for theatrical spaces, like motorized rigging and active acoustics. But we’re also highly focused on new product development and anticipating the direction that things are moving, rather than just embracing proven solutions from the past. Our team of experts intends to keep working closely with the performing arts community to keep our fingers on the pulse of the industry. [Editor’s Note – Congratulations to Wenger Senior Mechanical Engineer Dan Culhane. USITT has named him the new incoming USITT president.)

MIKE – We’ll continue to provide custom products and adapt different delivery methods on projects.


What’s Next?

Adapting to change can be hard, and the pace of technological innovation in the performing arts can make anyone feel like Sisyphus. There are also realities, like budgets and return-on-investment. Josh Grossman gives those challenges some perspective.

“Despite technology, the saving grace of live theatre will always be that it can offer an intimate connection with real people, and that resonates.”

Visit Wenger to see how one company can help your venues resonate with viewers today and into the future, using the broadest array of innovative, high-quality products and services for your performing arts spaces.

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