SM-Sim owner David McGraw was just published in Stage Directions Magazine. The Data Crunchers of Theatre is how every successful stage manager is organized, but there are tools that can help us take our organization to a whole new level. Check out the online version of the article, along with other great pieces from the magazine dedicated to "The Art and Technology of Theatre." The article doesn't include hyperlinks, so we are listing some of them here:
For the past year, SM-Sim has distributed Standby Cue 101: An Introduction to Calling Live Performances through Artfilms and Insight Media. These major distributors offer DVD and Streaming versions of the training film for classroom, library, and public viewings. But what if you are not using the film for a course or in a library? What if you just want to watch it for yourself?
Enter Leaping Brain Labs, our newest partner! We now offer individual licenses through our own SM-Sim Video Store. You can download your personal copy of our film; in fact, your account allows you to download a copy for both your home computer and your laptop or even your iPad with the MOD Mobile app. The download is immediate and it works in the background so that you can start watching the film before the download is complete.
After two years in development, we are nearing the beta test phase for the Stage Manager Simulator. The past few weeks have been very exciting as Digia has issued the final release of Qt 5.0, which serves as the nervous system of our simulator. And while we were waiting on Qt to transfer from Nokia to Digia, the good folk at Carnegie Mellon have released their own update to the voice recognition component! So while we have been fine-tuning local versions of the software, we can now move to an open beta test of the simulator.
Our big unveiling of the Stage Manager Simulator will be at the USITT Stage Expo in Milwaukee, March 21-23.
We are proud to partner with InterAmerica Stage, Inc., who are providing two demo booths featuring their sound-dampening acoustic panels (IAS-25AV2). You won't need a sound booth to run the simulator in your classrooms and offices (a simple noise-cancelling microphone on a headset will do the trick), these booths will allow us to block out the background trade show noise and distractions.
When you stop by our USITT booth, you will be able to test the simulator on either a Mac or a PC. Conference attendees will also be able to sign up for a download code to test the simulator at home for free. If you cannot attend USITT this year, you will be able to request an invite to the beta the following week - we will be tracking how our bandwidth responds to multiple users downloading the software and the modules simultaneously.
We would like to thank everyone for the tremendous level of support over the past two years as we have been building and rebuilding a simulator that would make a stage manager proud!
Digia has released Qt 5.0 to beta and has offered a similar licensing agreement, so we are moving at full speed to launch a beta test of the Stage Manager Simulator in the next couple of months with a full-scale launch in early 2013. We already have two academic partners for the beta test but we would like to find a third group. This beta test would require a group of 5-20 stage managers with a single supervisor who can test the software for 3-5 hours and provide feedback on the experience. We will be testing the software itself, along with the sales and distribution channels. Stage managers will be asked to purchase a demo show (nominal fee to test the online sales) but will receive a significant discount if they wish to purchase the full module upon launch. Supervisors will be asked to test both the software and the reporting tools for approximately 5-7 hours. If you would like to participate in the beta test, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with Beta Test in the subject line.
This summer has been filled with many exciting advances for the Stage Manager Simulator and one very frustrating obstacle. Jadabri Interactive, which has done all of the programming for the simulator, has been adding features throughout the summer. But we have been waiting on the latest release of developer tools called Qt, created by Nokia. Qt 5.0 went into an Alpha development phase at the beginning of the year with plans to go into Beta by May. So we decided after the interest we generated at USITT at the end of March to incorporate version 5.0 as it offered several features we wanted and we didn't want to change so much of the programming architecture once we started distributing the simulator.
Unfortunately, the May deadline for the Beta release came and went, as did the June deadlines and the early July deadline. And, as part of the Alpha phase, certain elements are 'turned off' while they are being developed. One of those elements is video playback. As the hundreds of people who stopped at our USITT saw, the video playback in Qt 4.x worked great. But everything we have built since USITT is currently being delayed until the software at least moves to Beta phase. The good news for our fans is that we have not been idle - a lot of features we had planned to put on our "SM Simulator 2.0" are now part of the software.
We learned this weekend that the Finnish company Digia, which had earlier acquired part of Qt, has purchased all software rights from Nokia. It is now clear that the delays we have faced were business-related as it did not make sense for Nokia to launch a major revision just as the project was about to be sold. And the silver-lining is that Digia is very keen to make Qt attractive to programmers, as noted in this article. The other exciting news is that Digia would like to improve Qt's mobile device offerings. We are focused solely on releasing the simulator later this year, but who knows what version 2.0 might be offer for operating systems....
Within just a few weeks of Qt going into Beta, our simulator will go start its Alpha and Beta testing
The Stage Manager Simulator has a window frame that changes color as you perform well (or not well) at calling a show. We wanted to give immediate feedback without being too distracting. The booth window frame will start white and glow green if you are doing well, yellow if you are hit-and-miss, and red if you are doing poorly.
But sometimes a little hint of color isn't enough. So we built some audio error messages if you make mistakes on several cues in a row. We had a lot of fun coming up with potential feedback from disgruntled crew members and 'too helpful' ASMs. We even processed the error messages so there is that familiar headset tinny-ness and the smart remarks come through just the right ear (an informal survey of the office yielded that most of us place our headset over our right ear). Thanks go to Leigh'Ann Andrews for the audio work. Featured on the clip below is LeeAnn Yeckley (and, yes, we have a lot of stage managers named Leigh'Ann/LeeAnn at the University of Iowa).
We are still optimizing a few images for faster load times, but the new website is live! We hope you like the new look, but most of the changes were 'backstage' - we laid the foundation for e-commerce and the show module server connections. As we prepare to launch the Stage Manager Simulator later this summer, check back as we add features such as memberships in the coming weeks. We will announce these new features on our Twitter feed and ask questions of our stage management friends on Facebook.
Future work with one or more live entertainment corporations looks very promising, but the timeline is such that it won't impact our summer launch for academic programs and single users.
We also received our first royalty reports on STANDBY CUE 101 and we seem to be quite popular in Australia! If you are reading this from Australia, please send us an e-mail or post a comment. We would love to know if any Australian schools or training programs are using our work. If we have enough interest, it is possible to release an Australian vocabulary for the Stage Manager Simulator. It is not so much the accent as the different cue terminology that would make an Australian or British module useful. But it takes about two full days to prepare a module's vocabulary, so we want to make sure there is enough interest.
We post this entry even though most people won't read it for over a month. We have had two really good developments since USITT, but we need to be quiet about both.
At USITT, we met a representative from a major live entertainment corporation who is very interested in using the Stage Manager Simulator to train and evaluate employees. We are currently discussing building a custom simulator for a particular project, which could lead to other projects in the future. That is all we can say for now in a public forum.
The second development is much more simple - we are redesigning this website. We need to support memberships and e-commerce, so we need a more robust platform. But this blog won't transfer easily, which means that this entry will be hidden while we work on the new site.
First of all, the numbers: over 120 conference attendees tested our voice recognition software and our mailing list is nearing 700 people. We chose to use the noisy Stage Expo hall to test just how well the voice recognition software can understand voices. And it passed with flying colors! Two choices really boosted the voice recognition:
Use a headset with a noise-cancelling microphone. Noise cancellation at the hardware level really helps so that the software doesn't have to weed out all the background noise. We used a Logitech G35, but there are more affordable options as well.
In early tests, the simulator thought it heard all sorts of words because it was searching through the entire dictionary for matches. But as much as we like to think otherwise, we stage managers have a pretty limited vocabulary while we are calling cues. When we rewrote the voice recognition software to only hear calling terms, the accuracy percentage climbed to the low 90s. For USITT, we went one step further. We combined common words as single units of speech: "standby lights 101" was one word as far as the simulator was concerned, as well as "standby lights 102." Now that each 'word' had multiple syllables, the accuracy climbed above 95% even in a tradeshow hall the size of an airplane hanger.
Our second test, unbeknownst to the conference attendees, was to check the stability of the simulator if it was repeatedly restarted mid-simulation. Our lead programmer was concerned that, if the simulation was interrupted several times, it might need a full program report. In 120+ tests, we only needed to restart the full program fewer than ten times, and the load time for this program is quite short. Leighton was working on a load screen until we found that the simulator loaded faster than users could read the load screen. Great news all around!
We are putting the final touches on the latest build of the simulator to bring to USITT in Long Beach next week. The main user interface is complete, so now we are working on menu screens such as the login, options, and scoring pages. For a while, we were encountering a faint feathering effect on the video due to the voice recognition processing, but we have resolved that issue. Our next big challenge will be the server connections for downloading content and uploading scores. But initial tests indicate that we will be able to offer both the PC and Mac versions of the simulator at our summer launch.
In addition to seeking feedback on the simulator, we are also using the USITT conference to promote STANDBY CUE 101. To help reach new markets, ArtFilms is offering limited-time discount on almost their entire inventory to American colleges and universities. To access this special deal: