University Theatre staff members present at a theatre technology conference

In 2020, like theatre departments in many colleges and universities, NC State’s University Theatre faced huge challenges in determining how to continue to engage students in safe and meaningful ways. Its response was “The Institute for Temporal Observation and Application.” The Institute featured a series of site-specific immersive locations, tasks and events created to allow participants to uncover a single narrative story spread across campus throughout the entire spring semester of 2022.

Three University Theatre staff members – Jayme Mellema, assistant director for scenic design, Patrick Mathis, assistant director for lighting and sound design, and Michael White, assistant technical director for productions – recently attended the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) Southeast Regional Conference to present two sessions on the lessons learned. The conference was held Sept. 15-17, 2022 in Asheville, North Carolina.

Mellema led a session titled “The Institute, or: How We Learned to Create a Live Action Video Game.” The premise: What if there was a secret department on campus studying time travel… and students have gone missing? Development began in 2020 and introduced students, as both creators and participants, to site-specific, interactive and immersive storytelling experiences.

Mathis led a session titled “The Institute: Themed Entertainment Design for a Reimagined Theatre Experience.” The University Theatre team of designers and technicians crafted a fully immersive experience composed of scenic, audio and video elements. This session explored the tech behind the immersive worlds of The Institute and the ways in which theatrical conventions were reimagined for audience interaction.

USITT was founded in 1960 as an organization to promote dialogue, research and learning among practitioners of theatre design and technology. Today, it has grown to approximately 4,000 members at all levels of their careers and has eagerly embraced new technologies in use across the spectrum of live entertainment.