From the Cloud to The Wave

by Justin Lang

Colin Chauce, lighting and scenic designer for ELEKTRA at SUNY-Fredonia during focus. Chris Swinn, one of the master electricians on the show is on the ladder.
In the world of live events, it takes countless man-hours to produce the show well before the curtain rises on opening night. Teams of designers, technicians, directors, managers, producers and event staff are all required to turn out that two- to three-hour production. Because production staff can be working from different offices or locations around town and sometimes around the world, tracking and communicating with the entire production team, let alone your department, can be tricky.

Before the personal computer revolution, almost all paperwork was either hand-written or typed, duplicated on carbon copies, and distributed to the necessary persons. Most times, after a meeting or run-throughs, paperwork had to be updated: re-written or re-typed, and re-carbon copied—a time-consuming and ungreen way to do things.

Then along came the Internet. Communicating with fellow production team members (even from across the world) suddenly became quicker and a lot more efficient. With the click of a button, designers now e-mail their notes to the entire production staff to team members who update paperwork or schedule changes. Designers can now “Skype” in for a face-to-face meeting.

And progress still continues—one of the newest trends on the Internet involves “cloud” computing—keeping your data not on local computers, but on servers on the Internet where anyone can access, share or modify it. This approach could be a powerful tool for the production staff, allowing them—regardless of physical location—to stay in touch and share single versions of files, photos and schedules, letting anyone on the staff reference, update or comment on the correct version of files. One tool that gives production teams just this capability is Google’s latest creation, Google Wave.

Wavelengths
In May of 2009, Google launched a beta version Google Wave, an online communication and collaboration tool that operates in real-time. Think of it as a cross between instant messaging, chatting in a forum, e-mailing, posting to a bulletin board, and document editor all in one location. A wave is a conversation with multiple users discussing and collaborating on the specific topics and content. Users can reply any time, anywhere within the wave, as well as edit content created by another user within the wave. A wave isn’t limited just to words, either. Users can attach web pages, videos, photos, files—almost anything—to a wave to share with others.

For this reason, production teams will find Google Wave useful in their work. Using multiple waves, design staff, such as the director and stage manager, can track progress, discuss changes and go over rehearsal notes, all in real time.

For example, say the director changed the layout of set pieces at last night’s rehearsal. Rather than typing a detailed e-mail describing the changes to the design team, the stage manager can take a photo and place it with in a wave to accurately show what changes the director made.

In Action
Additional waves can be set up so only certain production staff members have access, such as the lighting designer and his master electrician and crew. Lighting and Scenic Designer Colin Chauche and his crew for SUNY-Fredonia’s department of theatre and dance production of Elektra did just this.

At the suggestion of Colin’s design professor, Todd Proffitt, the lighting crew established a wave to keep track of multiple versions of paperwork and plots, design notes, nightly to-do lists and other lighting-related notes. All screenshots/Figures are taken from their wave for Elektra.

Figure 1: The main screen of Google Wave
In Figure 1, you’ll notice that Google Wave looks very similar to Gmail or any other e-mail program on the market. On the top left is the navigation section of the page which contains your Google Wave inbox, folders and filters, to narrow your view of waves. Below the navigation is the contacts window, where you can quickly search through your contacts and add or create waves with selected contacts. Next to the navigation and contacts windows is your inbox. Just like an e-mail inbox, waves are listed and show which waves have new content or have been updated recently.

Figure 2: The inbox moved to the top of the screen
When you click on a wave, that wave is brought up in an additional window, just like opening up an e-mail to read its content. In Figure 2, I rearranged the contacts and inbox to be at the top of my page so that the entire wave for the lighting crew of Elektra is visible. I can still access other waves within my inbox by simply clicking back to the inbox.

Figure 3: Contacts in a wave
At the top of the Elektra lighting wave is a listing of the contacts that have access to view, add, edit or comment within the wave (Figure 3). This specific wave was setup as a private wave so only certain contacts were able to view it. At any time, additional contacts can be invited to the wave to participate and discuss the wave. There is also an option for a public wave where any Google Wave user can add or edit that public wave.

Figure 4: Files can be added to a wave so that all members can view and edit them.
At the beginning of the wave, Colin added paperwork and his plot for the lighting crew to review and ask questions. From Figure 4, we see that Colin added four files to the wave, two PDFs of his paperwork and his plot, and two copies of his paperwork and plot in their original format. When the files are attached in Google Wave, you can include a description of each of the documents and a version number. This is helpful for reviewing the wave for a specific version of the paperwork or plot that’s needed.

Figure 5: As tasks were completed the electricians could instantly update the punch list, so everyone knew the status.
Colin and his lighting crew also included to-do lists within the wave. At the beginning of the hang, Colin separated some of the key items he wanted done. So, when Chris Swinn and Scott Barton, Colin’s master electricians, completed tasks off the list, they went through and struck items off the list Colin originally started (Figure 5), allowing to see when tasks were completed, right in the same wave. Can e-mail do that? Only if you copy, paste and strike-out the list items and then re-send the e-mail.

Figure 6: The timeline feature in a wave lets people roll back to previous versions of documents, before mistakes have been introduced.
Another trick up Google Wave’s sleeve is the timeline view of the wave (Figure 6). Similar to skipping forward scene by scene in a DVD, Google Wave offers a timeline of the wave’s progression. Notice the “Play” bar at the top of the wave, under the contacts pictures? You can move forward and backwards to track how, when, and who added to the wave. This could be useful for tracking down mistakes made during the course of the wave, and reverting to an earlier version.

Figure 7: Conversation within Wave
With all the features of Google Wave, collaboration and communicating with team members is almost as if you were speaking to them in person. An idea or question can be asked within the wave and everyone can simply reply to the statement rather than creating a new comment that wouldn’t be attached to the original statement or question (Figure 7).

Google Wave certainly has the potential to be a powerful communication tool within the live event industry. And there are features that are still missing that would make Google Wave more useful, such as automatic notification when someone replies to a wave. Google Wave is still considered a beta project and is only open to invited users, but its expected to be formally launched to the public this September.

Justin Lang
Justin Lang is lead writer and editor of iSquint.net, an entertainment lighting and technology blog. Lang has more than 15 years of experience in the industry working as a salesman for an international lighting company and is also a well-respected freelance designer and photographer in the Washington, D.C. area.