Near Future Tech for Stage Managers

by David J. McGraw
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Photo by Robin Webster.  Copyrighted, licensed for reuse.
You Are Now Leaving...The Future

The annual USITT conference wrapped up in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago and I had the pleasure of participating in two panels and attending several others. I also clearly did not budget enough time on the Stage Expo floor: three hours was not enough time to check out all of the latest technology and software advances. But there are two pieces of near-future tech that I didn’t see but I am convinced someone should invent for stage managers.

Bone Conduction Headsets

My favorite holiday gift this year was a pair of Trekz Titanium Headphones from Aftershokz, which top all other blue-tooth headphones by not requiring earbuds or even earphones. Instead, the headphones rest on your cheekbones in front of your ears and resonate through your bones to deliver high quality sound. While it might sound strange, they are incredible comfortable and don’t block any other sounds. It is as if I am listening to music in the background while still hearing all the conversations in the room. So imagine….

A stage manager’s headset using the same technology. You can hear your show while still being able to hear your director/designers/crew next to you. Moreover, you don’t have to pick which ear hears the headset feed and which hears the show feed. Plus, no more “swamp ear” after wearing cans for a 10 out of 12. My holiday headphones was wireless, but even a wired headset would be a huge step forward. This is clearly near future as several companies make bone conduction headphones, so it is merely a matter of adding a microphone and connecting it to intercom systems. Sign me up to buy the first pair!

HUD Calling Scripts

Several luxury automakers have started including HUD: head-up displays. Instead of looking down to the dashboard, important information can be projected onto the front windshield to keep the driver’s eyes on the road. In fact, there are now simple smartphone mirrors that can be used to project mapping software onto windshields. This technology is still new but imagine….

A digital calling script projected onto the booth window. Although digital calling scripts have been used for over a decade, they have yet to catch on in widespread use, partly because of the risks of relying on a digital display while calling cues, but also because they haven’t improved on the printed script that much. A HUD version could be the ‘killer app’ needed for SMs to adopt digital calling scripts. You can call a show in a booth and, instead of looking down at your script, you can see your script and cues on the window as you call the show. No more missing important moments while your head is bobbing up and down. Or adjusting your eyes from the bright white page to the dark stage during a scene shift.

Granted, many stage managers do not call from booths. But having called from at least a dozen booths, I can attest that the stage only takes up 50% or less of my view through the booth window. So if the lower half or even a third of the window was a HUD of the script, it would help me keep my eyes where they need to be: on the stage. And why stop at just the script? Add a couple of stopwatches and perhaps some data on cue progression from the light board. Cue the sci-fi stage manager music!

I cannot wait for USITT 2018!