Week 13- Softs Hits Hard

This week was our soft opening, and a huge amount of crunch went into getting us ready for faculty feedback on Wednesday and Thursday. We achieved a ton of things very quickly, so let’s get into it!

Dragon Puppet

Firstly, we had to focus on the dragon puppet. We stuck to our hard deadline of Tuesday for the puppet, and were able to achieve it!

The first thing we had to do was attach the bottom jaw to the top jaw. We used zip ties and cardboard tubes to create the attachment, and thin PVC pipes, zip ties, and glue to attach the puppeteer’s controls. We found that the jaw was staying in the open position whenever the puppeteer was not engaging the controls, so to help with fatigue, we added springs originally intended for the eyelids to the jaws. 

Next, we permanently attached the eyes. Not all glues will adhere to the type of plastic used for the eyeballs, so we had to experiment and landed on cyanoacrylate, or Superglue. Since we were using the stronger springs on the jaw, we needed a new lightweight solution to help the eyes stay in the open position unless the puppeteer intervened, and landed on rubber bands attached to a pull cord. Once the eyes were attached, we could adhere the eye socket covers made last week with hot glue, and cover the glue lines by sculpting brows and cheeks with foam clay. Everything needed one last coat of iridescent paint, and then the eyes were done! 

We then cut holes in the skull for horns, reinforced the gap between the holes and the horns with foam, and attached the horns and the lights underneath them. They stayed in place fairly well, but we reinforced them with glue and clear packing tape. We also added the lights inside the skull for the eyes at this point.

At this point, the dragon was ready to be permanently attached to the pipe and drape system. We were using ETC’s pipe and drape, so we did not have to wait for the vendor to arrive. We used paracord to hang her- two points on the dragon, and two on the puppeteer’s harness.

The weight of the puppet is suspended from the pipe, but since she is quite front heavy, whenever the puppeteer is not in the harness, her nose needs to be supported. Luckily our recycling bin is the perfect height.

Finally, it was time to attach the fog machine. In testing it with Dave Purta, we found that regardless of what type of hose was used, positioning a hose horizontally led to liquid leaking from the hose and building up in the dragon’s mouth over time. Since we could not remedy this problem, we extended the tiles covering the floor to cover the entire puppeteering space plus 2 feet. We found that for safety, we had to insulate the hose with an extra layer of foam, so that the puppeteer would be safe from the high temperatures. 

Room Setup

With the dragon done, it was time for us to shift our focus to setting up the final set pieces for our room. We were given the date of Tuesday for the pipe and drape to arrive, but it actually arrived Monday. In retrospect, even though it threw off our schedule, it was a blessing in disguise, because spending two days dressing the room before softs was a huge amount of crunch, and I don’t think we could have been well rested enough for softs if we only had one day for everything.

It was at this point that we had to remove all unused furniture from our room. We were able to store most of it in the fab room and the POV project room, our whiteboard in Ricardo Washington’s office, and our chairs in Jessica Hammer’s office. Thank you to all the faculty and staff who have reached out to us since Halves to help us make this plan!

Louise Cutter came four evenings this week to help with set dressing. She ended up using our extra paracord to hang Halloween fabric in the Dragon Temple areas, to cover up the walls of our project room in the dragon temple area. For the tutorial cave area, she used brown paper, adhered to cardboard, not our wall, for maximum stickiness. In the dark, it looks more gray than brown, like cave walls!

One challenge yet to be mastered is the placement of the three elemental touchpoints. They need to be on pedestals near the show elements, so the guests see them more clearly, but that will require us to redo some cable management. So in order to get everything up and running for softs, the touchpoints are hanging from the pipe and drape adjacent to the control center.

Puzzle Wheel

The puzzle wheel was textured with Monster Mud (5 parts joint compound to 1 part latex paint) on Tuesday, giving it time to fully dry overnight before Softs. On Wednesday evening, Kat dry brushed it so that the texture fully came alive. We are very pleased with the result, and Kat has discovered a love for Scenic Painting through this process!

Post-show Setup

While the visiting faculty office and one interview room have been allocated to us for our post-show for weeks now, we were struggling to find a third room, because our original plan of room 2319 is now being used for the festival livestream. Luckily, Shirley Saldamarco had an excellent idea- we could use Jessica Hammer’s office, just across the hall from our project room. With her new lab, the Center for Transformational Play soon to open, Jessica Hammer has not been in her ETC office for most of the semester. She was very receptive to our idea, and in exchange for us using that space, we helped her plan how to clean her office after her time away. 

We were able to have this office set up as a post-show room for Softs. Janice Metz allocated some extra black pipe and drape for us from the vendor, and we set it up in there, along with a monitor and the Raspberry Pi module to demonstrate the baby dragons hatching animation. We decided to use monitors instead of our mini projectors because it would be quite difficult to set up these projectors, projection screens, and the touchpoints in a way that makes sense with the pipe and drape setup. Additionally, projectors require more frequent checking to make sure they have not been bumped or run out of battery, and we will be stretched thin as is at festival. While we do think the videos would look great when projected, we are satisfied that the main point of the post-show, the dragon scale interaction, is still communicated. The pipe and drape wasn’t quite ready for softs, but the faculty understood the effect!


Because we missed an email sent during IAAPA about a slightly different structure of Softs this year, we had to arrange our own times for faculty to walk through. Those ended up being on Wednesday and Thursday, and we saw a total of 7 faculty members. We told them ahead of time that several things were yet to be done, mainly the touchpoint placements in the tutorial, a larger canvas print for the riddle, and audio for the dragon roaring at the end of the experience. 

Most feedback was very positive- Mike Christel said our experience was powerful, and Ricardo Washington complimented our dragon by saying his daughter might be frightened of it! We did get two important suggestions, though. Firstly, Brenda Harger discussed how the actor and puppeteer can create a natural ending moment for the attraction with no extra tech work- the dragon just has to fall asleep, finally at peace with her eggs. This is a wonderful suggestion and we began rehearsing it on Wednesday to show the next group of faculty on Thursday.

The other important suggestion was from Dave Culyba, our faculty consultant, regarding the puzzle. Firstly, he suggested that the actor take the dragon scales from the guests at the end of the puzzle, so that the guests are only focused on the eggs and don’t have a moment of confusion in the final scene as to whether the dragon wants her eggs or scales. This is also very easy to implement. 

But Dave also pointed out that guests may be confused by the link between the symbols on the puzzle and the eggs, and the link between the type of magic used and the egg cages. He suggested to improve our lighting design by using LED strips running from the top of the puzzle to each egg, to show that the wheel is used to select one of the three eggs to perform magic on. This is something we could theoretically implement, but is a lot of wiring and soldering work for Nolan. 

Instead, we can change the design so that the work is distributed between Cleo and Ivy, by creating projections of light running between the wheel and the eggs. This is absolutely a stretch goal, and we may not meet it, but since we already have mini projectors, it is worth a try. One thing we are worried about with this is that we do not have time to playtest its effectiveness or potential confusion. So we will absolutely be keeping the puzzle program as-is as a backup, since we know that guests can complete the puzzle and enjoy doing it.

Actor recruitment 

In parallel to all of the work that went into Softs, our actor recruitment went into overdrive. With only one week left, six actors necessary, and people dropping out left and right, we expanded our search. Kat’s partner Abi recruited from Steel City Improv Theater and local improv group chats, and that landed us one experienced improv actor, Quinn. Two others, Shirley Saldamarco’s granddaughter Martina and her friend Kaia, are similarly very experienced as actors. 

For the remaining slots, we were having a lot of trouble finding experienced people, so we looked to people we know personally who have the ETC spirit of trying new things. This is how we recruited Lori’s friend Joey, and Kat’s friend Sarah, who are both eager to learn more about performing. Rounding out our cast, we found Marie, an ETC first year student interested in our project, who will have some free time during festival. We began rehearsing with those who could attend a rehearsal on Friday, and have planned times to meet up with others next week.

RFID touchpoints

After Softs, we focused Nolan and Lori’s time on the RFID touchpoints. Lori rearranged the fire cauldrons for a more natural flow, and we borrowed small office tables from Shirley Saldamarco and Jessica Hammer to serve as pedestals. 

Nolan focused on theming the RFID touchpoints. After experimenting with several materials, hardboard composite proved to be a good thickness for the RFID read distance to not be affected, while also giving us a nice color at a small budget. Nolan cut boxes on the ETC laser cutter, but found that the recommended vector drawing program has a bug when using inches as units of measurement. Therefore, the tabs on the boxes didn’t fit exactly together, and we had to cut them at TechSpark on main campus. Future project teams- cut out a test piece before you waste all your materials cutting things that won’t assemble!

We lit them from within with single color LEDs– red, blue, and green for fire, water, and air, and white for the puzzle touchpoint– and diffused the light with tissue paper.


We also wanted to be sure we were accounting for safety issues now rather than in our final push next week. Ivy created exit sign graphics, which Lori made into boxes lit from within with fairy lights. Similarly, Ivy created a warning sign to advise guests of the various special effects used that could trigger negative medical reactions. This will be printed on larger paper and hung from our door. 


Finally, we began work on the trailer video. Kat recorded a script and sent it to Ivy for visuals and Nolan for scoring. The video is due next Wednesday, so Ivy will prioritize that in the coming week. 

Goals for next week:

Next week is festival! We need to run a throughput test, set up the remaining two post show rooms, implement audio in the dragon scene, finish all set dressings, rehearse with actors, and complete any remaining tasks that we are sure to run into. On the night of festival, we need to be able to run our experience for four hours straight, and that will require a ton of planning and practice, but we are extremely excited for it and motivated to finish!


We went into crunch on the puppet and the room setup before Softs, and were able to host a nearly complete version of the experience. Two pieces of feedback from Brenda and Dave were easy to implement, while a lighting suggestion in the puzzle room from Dave may prove much harder, but we are going to try. Jessica Hammer’s office is now set up as one post show room, and we are putting the final touches together for Festival!