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UB students bring new light to botanical gardens

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UB students set up their light and soundscape in the Panama Cloud Forest greenhouse for the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens' Lumagination light and sound show. Photos: Douglas Levere

By SUE WUETCHER

Published February 3, 2017

Visitors to “Lumagination,” the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens’ annual light and sound show, will see a few new twists this year, courtesy of faculty and students from the Department of Theatre and Dance.

And in turn, these students from the department’s Design and Technology program are gaining valuable hands-on experience in site-specific design principles.

The UB team brings new technology and theatrical design to Lumagination via two contributions: two illuminated sculptures for the front lawn of the gardens, and a special light and soundscape for the Panama Cloud Forest greenhouse (Dome 11).

Taking part in Lumagination offers students the opportunity to “take their theater training and apply it to a community event,” says Lynne Koscielniak, associate professor of scenography and department chair. “The students conceive the project and see it through to fabrication and installation. It’s valuable experiential learning,” she says.

Animation photographs taken outside the Buffalo and Erie County botanical gardens during the Lumagination exposition

Students designed a light and soundscape that replicates a day in the rainforest, with the lighting constantly transitioning from the haze of sunrise to sunset to deep night. Photo: Douglas Levere

Koscielniak got the idea for the project after seeing last year’s edition of Lumagination. “I could tell the organizers approached the event with a theatrical sensibility,” she recalls. “I thought design and technology faculty could contribute our expertise while training students in site-specific work. It’s a great example of teaching through community engagement.”

A couple strolls down a path in the Panama Cloud Forest greenhouse. Photo: Douglas Levere

After chatting at a local garden show with a representative from Luminated Landscapes, the East Aurora company that produces Lumagination, she contacted company owner Phil Colarusso and a partnership was born. The UB team also worked closely with David Swarts, president and CEO of the botanical gardens, and Erin Grajek, associate vice president of marketing and visitor experience.

Koscielniak, who has taught lighting and set design for 15 years, points out that UB puts on eight theater and dance productions each year, and students are responsible for nearly all of the production design. But working on a production like Lumagination — which includes some work outside — allows students to learn how to set up equipment, make aesthetic choices, service a site and deal with the elements, like wind, rain and snow — issues they normally don’t have to tackle with indoor productions, she explains.

UB student Alison Weinberger designed this front lawn sculpture, titled "Palm." Photo: Douglas Levere

The front lawn light sculptures were designed by students in Koscielniak’s fall “Scene Design” course. As part of a class assignment, students wrote short dramatic narratives inspired by the history, architecture and plant life of the botanical gardens. Each student then was asked to design a sculptural element that a dancer might use on stage or that could stand alone as a piece of public art, says Koscielniak, who served as artistic supervisor for UB’s Lumagination projects.

From among the 20 concept models created by students in the class, two were selected to be transformed into large lawn sculptures: “Palm,” created by Alison Weinberger, a BFA student in theatre design and technology, and “Orchid,” created by Emily Powrie, a BA theatre major.

After their designs were selected, a student team drafted working drawings and submitted budget proposals. And students in the fall “Theatre Crafts” course taught by Dyan Burlingame, clinical assistant professor of scenography, researched materials and lighting components that would stand up to extreme weather conditions.

The concepts became sculptures under the direction of technical supervisor Jon Shimon, assistant professor of technology, who worked with members of UB’s student chapter of the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology to build the sculptures, fashion LED lighting components and install the sculptures on the lawn.

The rainforest is a destination for butterfly watchers, so students included a large butterfly in the exhibit. Photo: Douglas Levere

The UB team’s other Lumagination project — the light and soundscape for Dome 11, the Panama Cloud Forest — replicates a day in the rainforest, Koscielniak explains, with the lighting constantly transitioning from the haze of sunrise to sunset to deep night, while glowing, technicolor orbs evoke the wildlife of the region.

She says student researchers from the “Site Specific Independent Study” class discovered the rainforest is a destination for butterfly watchers, so students, under the direction of Gina Boccolucci, a sophomore BFA theatre design and technology major, built a large, wire-framed, fabric butterfly with stain glass components.

Students also designed an energy-efficient lighting system, programmed automated lighting, created appropriate lighting effects, adapted theatrical rigging techniques to a nontraditional space, edited sound, and designed and fabricated objects for the display that interact with light.

Animation of photographs taken inside the Botanical Gardens in the exhibit set up by UB students

A view of the changing lights from within the greenhouse. Photo: Douglas Levere

The greenhouse features “none of the infrastructure of a theater, so students have to understand this particular infrastructure and plan for how all the elements can come together,” Koscielniak says.

Students designed a completely LED lighting system for the greenhouse. Photo: Douglas Levere

Moreover, students rely on incandescent fixtures for productions at UB, so this project offers an opportunity to work with a completely LED lighting system, she says.

Students who worked on UB’s Lumagination displays are Gina Boccolucci, Alex Farley, Ariel Kregal, Katherine Metzler, Leo Tozzi, Alison Weinberger, Emily Powrie, Hayden Harter and Bethany Kasperek.

Koscielniak says she hopes UB’s involvement with Lumagination can grow and become an annual experiential learning opportunity for students.

Lumagination runs through Feb. 21 at the botanical gardens, 2655 South Park Ave. Hours are 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 6-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Visit the botanical gardens’ website for admission prices and more information.