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Summer Help

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Summer Help

New staff at Creative Conners

This week we welcomed two new additions to the staff here at Creative Conners, Jon Haupt and Kody Green. Jon is a graduatre student at UConn (and a student of Gareth’s automation class last semester) and Kody is an undergrad at Webster University and will be a senior next semester.

We have always been very busy during the summer and it will be great to have the extra help. Unfortunately, Jon and Kody will only be with us for the summer before heading back to school, but the extra sets of hands will be a welcome addition for a few months.


UConn Visits The Shop

The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop

This semester Gareth has been filling in for Jack Nardi, teaching the automation class at UConn while Jack’s on sabbatical. For this week’s class, Jack and the students visited our shop here in Warren, RI. Gareth gave them a tour of the facility, showed them some of the major tools used in fabricating our gear, and demonstrated some of the processes that we go through to turn bits and pieces into machinery and electronics.  When the tour was over, the class split up into teams and they set up and cued a Revolver, a Pushstick and a Curtain Call. Gareth said that the students enjoyed it very much, and there’s no substitute for hands-on teaching.

Gareth demonstrating the mill:

The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop


Royal demonstrating the Tormach CNC mill:

The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop


Royal and Gareth discussing the workflow of machine design:

The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop


Colleen and Erika working on a Pushstick deck winch, while Jack and Jason rig a Curtain Call traveler:

UConn class machines

It was a pleasure having the students and Jack visit our shop.


Gareth’s Book Recommendations for UConn

Book recommendation for Gareth's UConn gig

As part of my temporary teaching gig at UConn, I’m going to talk about some of the books and catalogs I keep close by at the shop. None of this is required reading for the class, just a list of my favorites in case anyone is looking for some light vacation reading. 😉

Here’ the list:

McMaster-Carr catalog. The McMaster website is awesome when you know what you need, but the paper catalog is still a better way to discover new hardware that you didn’t know you needed.

80/20 catalog. 80/20 is a line of extrusions, like a giant erector set. The name refers to the axiom that “80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.” It’s kind of like a Swiss Army knife, not great at anything but ‘good enough’ at many things.

College Physics, Serway & Faughn. This book was instrumental for me when designing the original Avista software and again just recently when I was working out the physics needed for the new Simulator in Spikemark 3. It’s embarrassing how little physics I need in my day-to-day work, pretty much just the first chapter or two of my high school physics book. Newtonian physics can take you a long way!

Pocket Reference. This little book is awesome. Besides all kinds of charts for machining and construction, there are some handy ‘life’ references, like earthquake intensities and the material required for each wedding anniversary. Very helpful.

Mechanical Design for the Stage, Alan Hendrickson. This is a great book, and if you’re looking to jump into stage machinery, there’s no better place to start. I wish I had this book when I was starting out, it really brings together the knowledge that was previously only found in several books.

Mechanical Design, Analysis and Synthesis, Erdman and Sandor. This book was my first ‘real’ mechanical design book and it opened my eyes to a bunch of new techniques for designing cool linkages and more interesting mechanical solutions to motion problems.

Simplified Design of Steel Structures, Parker & Ambrose. Great for specifying steel profiles in structures.

Advanced Mechanical Design, Erdman and Sandor. A follow-up to the first Mechanical Design. Also good, but I don’t reference it as much as the maroon book.

There’s lots of other books I go to when designing machines, but this is a great ‘short list’ for anyone interested in machine design.


Gareth’s UConn Teaching Gig

Today is a big day for me – I’m teaching my first college-level class! Last summer, I was contacted by Jack Nardi, Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut about teaching one of his classes while he’s on sabbatical. I thought it was a great idea – I can try something new, and spread the Gospel Of Automation, so I said yes. Today at 8:30 is the first class.

Officially, I’m an Adjunct Faculty Member teaching DRAM 5297-001: Investigation in Special Topics – Automation. There are 14 classes, starting on Jan 24 and ending on May 2nd. I’ve been told that the class size is between 8-12, composed of mostly 1st and 2nd year grad students with a couple of undergrads. For the class, I’m teaching a survey in the techniques of scenic automation, primarily focused on using electric motors since that is my forte. I don’t particularly like fluid power, so we won’t spend as much time on that stuff (but will obviously cover the basics of hydraulics and pneumatics).

I am developing my own curriculum based loosely on the format of our Stage Automation Workshops, covering the 6 steps of automating scenery, which are: Build, Constrain, Power, Measure, Automate, Cue.  I’ve used to outline the curriculum, so if you’re interested in the specifics, here’s a link:

I’m sure I will adjust this as I go along and figure out which ideas need more time, and which are remedial for the students. I want to keep a good mixture of lecture & hands-on experimentation. Luckily, at CCI we have access to a lot of bits and pieces of automation gear so I hope to give the students a chance to really try out some concepts in a safe environment where failure is both stress-free and educational.

I figure every good teacher has an overall goal for a class, so here’s what I came up with: I want students exiting the class to be ready to handle common automation tasks in a typical regional theatre environment without panic. I want students exiting the class to be able to design and construct the basic stage machines (turntable, winch, elevator). I want them to know what components and vendors to go to for help. I want them to be able to create a simple control system out of a catalog. And, I want them to develop a relationship with Creative Conners. 😉

Ian asked me what my personal goals were for interim teaching. I look forward to the opportunity to dig into non-Creative Conners solutions. Getting a chance to revisit various automation techniques that are not required to be commercially successful should be a lot of fun. Purely academic automation.

Finally, I’m interested to see how much incidental knowledge I can share. One of the reasons that I hope to perform an equal amount of scripted lecture, and unscripted experimentation is so the students and I get a chance to discuss troubleshooting techniques and tools, as well as brainstorming on solutions for either in-class experiments or their production work.

I’ll keep everyone up-to-date on how it’s going. So wish me luck, and, uh, Go Huskies!



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