Archive for Thursday, March 4, 1999

UNIVERSITY THEATRE GEARING UP FOR FIRST WEB TELECAST

March 4, 1999

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Kansas University theater technicians are planning to broadcast "The Way of the World" over the World Wide Web.

The Kansas University theater department has a reputation for technical surprises, and its latest project is no exception.

Past productions have included virtual settings that required audience members to use such devices as 3-D glasses, but for the upcoming play "The Way of the World," some audience members will not even have to leave the house.

That's because the play will be broadcast over the World Wide Web. Those wishing to view the show merely have to type in www.ukans.edu/@mreaney.com.

While the play will be performed Friday-Sunday and March 11-13 in Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall, the times of the Webcasts will vary. A schedule will be posted on the Web site.

The transmission is the brainchild of Mark Reaney, associate professor of theater and film and an instructor in the technical design department.

"I've seen some rock concerts on the Web, but I have not run across live theater productions," Reaney said.

A Web transmission is just the latest venture for the department, which is developing a national reputation for cutting-edge technical feats.

KU designers have placed virtual reality set pieces and props into past productions, but this is the first year that Webcasting has been utilized.

Reaney and graduate student Nate Hughes have been working on the premise throughout the year. They recently did an unpublicized trial broadcast of University Theatre's production of William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure."

For being so high-tech, Reaney is pretty low-key about the whole thing.

"Once you've done it one time you know what to do," he said. "So it becomes a matter of just tweaking the settings.

"Nate is a wizard at network storage. So we're just tinkering around. We're not in a big rush."

To broadcast "The Way of the World," Reaney and Hughes first decided whether to use single or multiple video and audio signals. The video material is run through a computer with an encoder that can translate it from video to a computer datastream. The information is then relayed to a second computer that is connected to a Web server.

In explaining the process, Reaney pointed out that the main issue was deciding the quality of the broadcast. Better quality means more information must be forced through the computer, making a transmission more difficult.

"What it comes down to is `What can you live with in terms of quality?' It's all trial and error," Reaney said.

The technicians acknowledge that Webcasts currently lag behind TV transmissions, and they hope to keep potential problems at bay by putting a limit on the number of people who can log on to the production.

"Virtual reality seating will be limited," Reaney said with a laugh.

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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