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A night at the theater doesn’t usually bring to mind issues of safety and working conditions, but Marquis Scholar Kim Corbett of Clifton, N.J., a graduate of Clifton H.S., is taking a close look at those for her senior honors project in mechanical engineering.

Corbett hopes to design an improved fall-protection system, the apparatus that stagehands must wear when working high up in the lights or otherwise climbing in the rafters to make sure the show goes on.

“In the theater, a lot of work takes place up there, including rigging equipment and operating spotlights, ” says Corbett, a theater minor.

She says the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires anyone employed more than six feet off the ground to wear the fall-protection system. In addition, there has to be a way to retrieve the person after a mishap without having to call the fire department.

Yet the full-body harness, which won’t let a person fall even if they flip over and hang upside down, is cumbersome and uncomfortable, and restricts stagehands’ freedom, says Corbett, who hopes to come up with a more workable model.

Her advisers in the project, entitled “Aesthetics and Regulations: Compromise in the American Theater,” are Steven M. Nesbit, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Michael C. O’Neill, director of theater.

“The design component is a major part of the project,” Corbett says. “But I’m also looking at safety in the theater in general. I’m interviewing alumni who are professionals in New York, as well as people at local theaters. I’m excited about this project because mechanical engineering and theater have been the focus of my undergraduate studies and extracurricular activities. The opportunity to overlap the two intrigues me and fits in with my career goals.”

She says she is in the preliminary research phase, pondering several theater spaces to come up with a fall-protection system that is adaptable to all of them and that also increases the freedom of both set and lighting design.

Corbett, who prefers the backstage to the limelight, tried her hand at acting this semester to get a more rounded view of theater work, playing Mrs. Baines in the Lafayette College Theater production of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara.

“In order to design, a set it’s important to understand how everybody works together,” says Corbett, who was also assistant director of the production.

Her experience in theater is extensive. Major Barbara was her 11th College Theater production in technical roles. She has also worked with Lafayette’s Marquis Players’ annual musical productions for charity for three years and has assisted with technical aspects of many professional performances at the Williams Center. Most recently, she ran backstage effects for Philadelphia dancer-choreographer Rennie Harris’ presentation of the “hip-hop opera” Rome and Jewels in October. She is currently working on the set design for Lafayette College Theater’s production of The Nativity on November 29-30 and December 1-2.

Corbett says Lafayette has enabled her to combine her areas of interest neatly. “I think the opportunities I have been given at Lafayette, especially in the theater program, are second to none,” she adds. “I have gotten hands-on experience that many students do not get until their final years in a theater major at other schools.

“Additionally, my opportunity to work with faculty from both departments, whenever I have a question, is phenomenal. They are very willing to listen and give attention to each student.”

Corbett is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, and the campus chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. As a Writing Associate in the College Writing Program, she is helping students in the First-Year Seminar “Distant Mirrors, Performing Selves,” taught by O’Neill. She is a tour guide for the admissions office and plays in the Pep Band, the flute ensemble, and the Concert Orchestra.

Categorized in: Academic News