The recent multimedia performance of Frankenstein 2029 challenged the notion of what it means to be human in a world made increasingly cold by technology.
But a team of five computer science students discovered while developing a mobile website to enhance the audience experience that without imagination, technology is merely hardware.
It’s about the client, says team leader Ellen Galperin ’15 (Warminster, Pa.), who along with her fellow computer science majors Anthony Baker ’15 (Kensington, N.H.), Kien Hoang ’15 (Hanoi, Vietnam), Raymond Macharia ’15 (Nairobi, Kenya), and Louis Wheeler ’15 (Easton, Pa.) developed the site to enable guests to read actors’ bios, learn about the performance, venues, and characters, and find stage locations. Chun Wai Liew, associate professor of computer science, is the team’s adviser.
The four-night run of Frankenstein 2029 ended April 25 and was an immersive visual arts and multimedia experience based on Mary Shelley’s gothic novel. More than 80 students, faculty, staff, and alumni fused their expertise in neuroscience, art, chemistry, computer science, engineering, English, and theater to bring the production to life.
Galperin and her team worked closely with students in the Making Theater: Frankenstein 2029 course, co-taught by Frankenstein 2029 creators Ed Kerns, Clapp Professor of Art, and Suzanne Westfall, professor of English/theater and director of the arts.
“We talked about what they wanted Frankenstein 2029 to be and how the site would fit in with that,” explains Galperin. “That definitely influenced how we made the site because what drove our design is the intention of use and how the ‘client’ envisions it. It was so interesting and fun to work with theater and art students. This is such a huge project, so we talked to people in many departments.”
The computer science group also visited the various performance venues at the Williams Arts Campus on Third Street and learned about the schedule and other information related to a stage production before devising a technical plan. Most of them had never been involved in theater before, so there was a lot of learning to do. They also had to communicate their technical plans to the theater students so they understood the possibilities and limitations of a mobile website.
Tailored for users to access on their phones, the site was crucial as the performance was self-guided. Visitors could choose how they viewed the production. They could also have followed a particular character like the Creature or Victor Neurotech (actors moved among venues) or explore the venue itself, which remained “alive” after the actors left.
“The Computer Science Department has always been good at providing students with real projects that require people skills, extensive planning, testing, and some ingenuity and work,” says Galperin, who will take that experience with her as a software developer for Chicago-based consulting firm ThoughtWorks. “Just like real development, we had to do everything from the back-end database to the front-end user interface and manage all the minor details that go into a project.”