ME Students Create Motorized Circular Stage for Student Production

Students working on stage
Robert Reed, right, works to install a center hub that will make a motorized circular stage rotate. Also helping with the stage, which will be used for a student production later this month, are Isaac Becker, left, Caroline Whelan and (not pictured) Liam Martinez.

A rotating circular stage created by a team of mechanical engineering majors will add artful visual highlights this month to a production staged by Cal Poly music students.

RSVP, the Music Department’s student production ensemble, has staged a transmedia series for 23 seasons. This year’s production, “RSVP XXIII: Fatherland,” celebrates electroacoustic diversity, compositional risk and belonging.  To enhance the visual experience, music professor Antonio Barata called on the mechanical engineering department to build a motorized stage.  

Student Isaac Becker works on fitting part into the motorized circlular stage project

Four students accepted the task as their senior project.

“They started working on this in September,” said project advisor Lee McFarland, who recently previewed the work-in-progress outside the Bonderson Center.

This week, the students began assembling the stage, which features two motors, several wooden “leaves” and 40 casters, or wheels, that help the stage rotate.  Once the individual pieces were built, the challenge was to make sure they all fit for a smooth rotation.

“We just need to make (the parts) talk to each other,” student Robert Reed explained.

After the team placed a pipe-like hub in the center of the stage, Liam Martinez tested it for the first time, then let out a relieved chuckle.

“It spins!” he said.

Design and construction weren’t the only Learn by Doing factors the students had to consider.

“One of the big challenges was finding funding,” said Isaac Becker, noting that they had to seek grants for materials. “And then suddenly, someone was like, ‘You need to get a building permit.’”

ME students work on the Theatrical Turntable project.

The team, which also includes Caroline Whelan, managed to secure both grants and a permit for the stage, which will hold up to six people at a time.

Barata said the stage will be a centerpiece, advancing the show’s music and choreography.

“The turntable has a way of carving out a different and unique space, allowing us to actually have players on it, moving on and off, all suggesting different types of belonging,” Barata said.

The shows will take place at the PAC Pavilion on May 29 and 31 at 8 p.m. After that, the stage creators will break it down and re-assemble it at the June 1 Project Expo.

The Cal Poly College of Engineering understands there has been an enormous amount of turmoil and transition due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). As we continue offering support to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, we also continue providing critical updates as well as college highlights. Ours is a college full of creative and bright engineers and staff. For more information on COVID-19 visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For more information on how Cal Poly is responding to COVID-19, visit the Cal Poly Coronavirus website Coronavirus website.


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