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Faculty Member Cory Einbinder Wins Award for Video Puppet

Einbinder with Big-Headed Toddler video puppet.

Photo credit: John Huntington.

Cory Einbinder has parlayed his fascination with how puppets can interact with live performers by designing one that took top honors at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology’s 2013 Tech Expo recently held in Milwaukee, WI.

Einbinder, who has taught in City Tech’s Department of Entertainment Technology for the past seven years, was recognized for creating an interactive puppet featuring a video projector embedded in its head. That puppet had a major role in the City Tech/Adhesive Theater Project’s production of The Service Road.

The puppet’s face was designed with a rear projection screen to display the expressions of an actor/puppeteer wearing a head-mounted camera.  “I really wanted the puppeteer to be unencumbered by wires and have the freedom to move about the stage and for the display to be bright enough to compete with the stage lighting,” Einbinder explains. “Even one year ago, this would not have been possible, but with the advent of smaller, brighter, and battery powered projectors and cameras I was able overcome these issues.”

Properly harnessing the technology was a challenge for Einbinder. There couldn’t be a delay between the puppeteer's performance and what was displayed on the puppet's face — even a fraction of a second would have been distracting for the audience. Plus, his design had to allow the audience to be able to see this puppet's face from many angles.

Einbinder, artistic director and co-founder of Adhesive Theater Project, which commissioned The Service Road, discussed the idea of incorporating a video puppet into the show with playwright Erin Courtney before she had finished writing it. She created the character of “The Big Headed Toddler” with this in mind.

The Service Road takes place in Prospect Park during a violent storm of mythic proportions. The once peaceful service road where a nature guide gives tours turns strange and even savage as she attempts to find a lost child, played by the puppet. 

Einbinder, an adjunct assistant professor at City Tech, and his students built a prototype of the puppet that was used in the rehearsals, and Courtney was able to craft some dialogue around its performance. “This project was a great learning experience for me, my students and the playwright,” he notes.

Einbinder’s and the other Tech Expo entries are proof that necessity is indeed the mother of invention, according to Rob Kerby, the chairperson of the Tech Expo. “I applaud each and every entry for its creativity, ingenuity and ability to work under the constraints (of) time, money and manpower.”

Tech Expo advances USITT’s mission to enhance the knowledge and skills of its members and the performing arts design and technology community. USITT, founded in 1960, provides networking, education and career advancement opportunities to its 4,000 members from the backstage industry. Einbinder and the two other winning entrants received a cash prize.

In addition, Einbinder’s article describing the intricacies of the puppet has been published in The USITT 2013 Tech Expo Catalog and was reprinted in the Spring 2013 issue of Theatre Design and Technology.

Einbinder, 41, who describes himself as a third generation Brooklynite, grew up in Park Slope and Cobble Hill and has lived in Carroll Gardens for more than 12 years. He started out in the entertainment industry at the tender age of seven, appearing as a younger version of a character played by Eric Roberts in the movie The King of the Gypsies.

“This early exposure really set me off on a long career exploring many aspects of the entertainment industry — first as a performer, then as a director and choreographer, and continuing as a designer and producer,” he explains. “Since I've had the experience of playing so many different positions in this field, I believe my expertise lies in the ability to collaborate and to communicate ideas from multiple perspectives.”

In 1999, when he and his wife, Kalle Macrides, started the Adhesive Theater Project, Einbinder began using slide projectors with shadow puppets. “I loved how scale could be quickly distorted by moving closer to the light source and how the shadow puppets could interact with the live performers,” he says. “Over the years, my fascination with the theatricality of projections has increased.”

For Adhesive Theater Project’s production of Noir in 2009, Einbinder wanted to project video onto moving objects. “I developed a system using computer vision and MAX/MSP/Jitter software that allowed me to track performer-manipulated objects on stage and deliver video to those objects,” he says. His article describing the technique he devised, “Within a Frame,” was published in Live Design Magazine.

Einbinder, who earned a master’s degree from Brooklyn College's Performance and Interactive Media Arts (PIMA) program, plans to continue developing video systems that performers can affect, control or interact with.

“I firmly believe theater's uniqueness lies in its aliveness,” he adds. “When I design a production, I advocate it being as live as possible; just as live music and sounds are tenets of our theater company's aesthetic, so too do we want video to act as a live medium.”

06.11.13


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