Themed Entertainment Engineer

-Curtain Call - Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama Client Project-

Curtain Call Trailer.mp4

Project Overview

I worked on an interdisciplinary graduate student team of 5 with a client at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama to design, construct, install, and strike an interactive theater lobby installation in the Purnell Center for the Arts for 600+ total theater-goers. Our interactive installation complemented the entire run of their production of Lear (2010), an avante-garde play that explores the themes of guilt and family through the lens of both King Lear and Sesame Street.

Our installation immersed guests in a “storm of voices,” incorporating directional audio speakers, dynamic lighting, interactive props, podiums and plaques with hidden UV writing, and hanging storm cloud and umbrella set pieces in reference to the iconic storm from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Five stations, each representing a character from the play, offered guests insights into each of the character's inner thoughts. 

Before the show, our installation set the stage with a King Lear storm theme, featuring storm sounds and flashing dark clouds with lightning. At each station, guests standing under umbrellas experienced directional speakers revealing the internal thoughts of the characters. The directional speaker technology aimed to create an emotional connection with the guests as characters' whispers reverberated in the guests' ears, feeling like the guests' own internal thoughts. UV lights synchronized with lightning effects unveiled hidden messages on pedestals, delving into each character's mental state, relationships, and reputations, emphasizing the theme of "internal vs external." After experiencing our installation, guests were more prepared to face the complex emotions of the show. 

After the show, our interactive installation transformed to reflect the finale's tone, embracing more of the Sesame Street elements of the show. The atmosphere shifted to rainbow lights and sounds of birds chirping, departing from storm-related visuals and audio. The directional audio stations transitioned to feature repeated lines from the show's conclusion.

Overall, our audio/visual landscape served to enhance the thematic and emotional elements of the show while also immersing the guests in the world of Lear.

I was the concept designer and hardware engineer for the team. I designed, created concept art, and pitched the client-approved concept. I helped build, theme, mount, and install the directional speakers inside of the umbrellas. I edited site blueprints and planned the installation and electrical wiring of our show set elements. I led the installation efforts of the umbrellas/directional speakers in the space. Finally, I edited together our final team website on WordPress with a home page, team page, media page, and weekly blogs. I was a leader for our team blogs, creating over 200 pages of content with detailed paragraphs and pictures documenting our project's progress throughout the semester.

Concept Design

As the team's Concept Designer, I did a lot of work on blue sky concept design for our immersive, interactive theater lobby installation. I pitched 11/15 of the team’s original concepts and I was able to develop several concepts for the team that had very positive reception. 

I created and pitched the original concept that the client approved and that developed into our final installation!

In the original concept, several umbrellas and clouds with props/LED strips for rain would hang throughout the lobby. The umbrellas would be sound dome directional speakers. When guests stood underneath them, they would hear quotes from the play. They would also have the ability to directly interact with the installation by answering personal vulnerable questions.

My concept art for my original installation concept and pitch. Many elements carried through to the final installation including the umbrellas, storm clouds, directional speakers, and quotes from the play. 

My favorite part of the concept was the directional speakers. I was inspired to use directional speakers for our installation after seeing them used in a themed entertainment experience when I interned at Level99! I also was inspired by a Holoplot directional speaker demonstration that I attended while interning at Universal Creative.

Level99 Wavelength Soundscape with directional speaker dome technology

Holoplot speaker technology

Ultimately, my team loved this concept and it was approved by our instructors and client!

I believe that this concept had such a positive response for several reasons:

As a concept designer, I also contributed the most ideas for our team name and helped to develop the final name, Curtain Call! I also worked with our artist to pitch many different potential designs for our team logo.

Site Research

I performed research at the Purnell Lobby site with my team and on my own to prepare for our installation.

My team and I going to see the first show of the season

My team and I went to the first production of the season and researched how CMU dramaturgs were presently doing lobby installations. We also stayed before and after the show to see how audiences react and interact with these installations. We found that the installations were usually simpler and had very limited audience engagement. Most people showed up shortly before the show and went right to their seats, left right after, and never engaged with the installations. From this research, we knew that we would need to design our installation very intentionally to attract the audience's attention.

I also did research of my own on site. I studied sound levels in the lobby, where people tend to enter and exit the lobby, where people tend to stand in the lobby,  and crowd sizes at different times. This research helped us to design our experience to be intuitive and fit with the natural behaviors of people in the lobby.

Directional Speakers and Umbrellas

Originally, I suggested that we use dome speakers for our installation. I was familiar with them from Level99 and they already kind of looked like umbrellas. However, after ordering and testing with some of these style of directional speakers, we found issues with the weight and appearance. Therefore, we switched to building our own directional speakers using kits. These new directional speakers were much smaller and lighter, which allowed us for more flexibility in installation and theming around the speakers with actual umbrellas.

These directional speakers could be mounted directly into the inside of an umbrella. I sourced several large umbrellas that would fit multiple people underneath at once and began testing with the speakers!


Testing directional speakers in a large room with a crowd. We were still able to hear the audio pretty well under the umbrella even with the large crowd nearby! In fact, the crowd noise actually helped with the directional effect of the speakers. The crowd noise helped hide any audio leaking out from the umbrella and made the impact of hearing the audio only under the umbrella stronger.

Testing directional speakers on site! We were able to test from the actual height and in the actual space with a crowd! This was our first time testing the speakers in the space so we were happy to find that the speakers easily reached guests below!

Our first "vertical slice" playtest including umbrellas, directional speakers, clouds, podiums, and props.

"Vertical slice" playtest of clouds with built-in sound reactive LED lights. With the ability to adjust the sensitivity, we found that the sound reactive nature of the clouds worked well for guests below! However, the clouds felt too small to fill up the space and feel like a storm, so our teammate in charge of the clouds worked to enlarge these clouds and create additional larger clouds!

Initial playtests were very positive! The technology was mostly working as expected and many naive guests immediately understood how to interact with the installation. Guests, both alone and in groups, would stand under the umbrellas listening to the audio and interacting with the pedestals and props. We were pleased to see that the installation attracted the guests' attention! Overall, playtesters loved the technology and concept for the installation. They were excited to see the final product. 

The most common critical feedback we received was that the audio was a little unclear and hard to understand. This was a limitation of the quality of the speakers we were using. Therefore, we had to think creatively about how to work around this. To address this feedback, our team ultimately shifted to whisper audio instead of full volume speaking audio. The whispers were easier to understand through the speakers in the final installation. Additionally, this actually worked better for our installation! The whispers fit better with the emotional tone we were working to establish and the theme of secret internal thoughts. 

The "vertical slice" playtest was also a valuable learning experience for installation strategies. Initially, I planned to hang up everything in the installation with fishing line. However, with this first installation, I quickly learned that the fishing line was difficult to work with and would tangle very easily. To address this challenge, I shifted to a combination of fishing line and metal wire. This combination was much easier to manage and still achieved the desired "floating" effect for the guests below! This playtest also helped us to test the best height for the umbrellas with respect to visuals and speaker distance! Finally, I left the installation hanging for several days and did not notice any sagging in the installation from the weight of the objects over time, so I felt confident moving forward with this strategy for our final install.

Playtest Day

For the ETC Playtest Day, my team and I set up clouds and two complete stations of our installation including umbrellas, directional speakers, pedestals, and props. We playtested with 12 different groups for a total of 44 playtesters in only one day!

We found that guests were intrigued by the installation. They stayed engaged and were excited to visit the multiple different stations. They listened to the lines delivered by the directional speakers and interacted with the props. Again, the most common critical feedback was that the audio could be difficult to understand. We continued to refine this for our final install! Our work at playtest day confirmed the viability of our concept and proved that we were on the right track!

Physical Assembly of Final Directional Speakers and Umbrellas

I worked to prepare the directional speakers for the final installation. I trimmed, stripped, and tinned the wires to the final lengths, soldered the wires onto the speakers, mounted the directional speakers onto cardboard housings, added strain relief knots in the wires, and covered cardboard housings in black tape for a more discrete appearance.

After assembling each directional speaker, I tested them and used a sound level reader to be sure that all of the speakers were producing the same expected volume.

I then mounted each of the directional speakers inside the each of the five umbrellas.

UV Lighting

Our installation had four UV flood lights that would flash as "lightning" in the storm and reveal hidden messages written in UV ink on the pedestals. I worked with my team to test the lights on site and to research their dimming capabilities so the "lightning" effect could slowly fade away in the installation.

Site Install

I helped lead the installation efforts for the project. I went to the Purnell Lobby and compared the architectural plan with the actual physical space. I marked up the blueprint with all of the major features in the lobby, clarified any unclear notation on the blueprint, and took photo documentation of the different features throughout the lobby. I also marked on the blueprint the location, type, and total count of every available outlet near the Purnell Lobby on both the first and second floors for reference. I took photo documentation of each of the available outlets as well. I measured distances in the lobby to help estimate the lengths of wire needed for electrical components like the directional speakers and clouds with LEDs built in.

Site blueprint that I marked up with major features and outlet locations

With this information, I created an installation floor plan and wiring diagram.

My final installation floor plan and wiring diagram

Final electrical wire length measurements for the installation

While creating these initial installation plans, I worked closely with the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama facilities coordinator. We discussed how previous dramaturgy installations were installed in the lobby, advice for our installation, and safety and facility standards/requirements for our install.

The logistics of the physical installation were a considerable challenge for our team. The architecture of the lobby and high ceilings made mounting complicated as we wanted much of our installation to be hanging vs floor mounted. Additionally, due to scheduling constraints with the CMU School of Drama, we only had one day to install the entire installation in the space. We also were not able to close the lobby off during our installation, so we had to work around active crowds all day. I spent a lot of time planning the installation layout ahead of time and thinking creatively about the most efficient installation strategies. Ultimately, I used clear fishing line and metal wire mounted on the second floor balcony railings to hang the umbrellas/directional speakers. The clear fishing lines stretched across the second floor of the lobby, attaching to the balcony railings on either end of the lobby. Metal wire attached to the umbrellas to bring them down vertically to an appropriate height for guests. Finally, the umbrellas/metal wire hooked onto the clear fishing line with hooks. These hooks had an additional secondary clear fishing line attached, which allowed us to pull the umbrellas along the first clear fishing line. In this way, we could easily position the umbrellas horizontally in the lobby. This also allowed us to easily pull umbrellas over to the balcony and out of the space easily and without need for a ladder in case of an issue with the speakers. Overall, we were able to mount everything relatively simply, quickly, and with minimal need for a ladder/lift/Genie. This installation strategy of mounting from the second floor balcony and hanging pieces across the lobby also helped us achieve a stunning "floating" visual effect.


Site install time lapse


Throughout the course of the project, we gave presentations to our faculty and peers about our progress and we received feedback.


In our "halves" presentation halfway through the semester, we presented our installation concept, the work we have done so far, and our plans for the rest of the semester! 

Our "halves" presentation halfway through the semester

Our full 15-minute "halves" presentation halfway through the semester with 5 minutes of faculty/peer Q&A

In our faculty feedback report for our "halves" presentation, we met or exceeded expectations in most categories. We received positive feedback regarding our energy, preparedness, and clarity! Most of the concerns were regarding the challenges of a tight deadline and install, which are concerns that we understood as a team and expected the faculty to bring up.


In our final presentation at the end of the semester, we presented our final installation, the audience reception, and lessons learned.

Our full 15-minute final presentation at the end of the semester with 5 minutes of faculty/peer Q&A


I edited together our final team website on WordPress with a home page, team page, media page, and weekly blogs. I was a leader for our team blogs, creating over 200 pages of content with detailed paragraphs and pictures documenting our project's progress throughout the semester! Please view our full project website for all information on our project including weekly team blogs:

Feb 12, 2024: This page is currently under construction. Please check back soon for more information!

Please view our full project website for all information on our project including weekly team blogs:


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