The Theatron Module Guide to Good Practice: a manual for teachers

By Peter G.F. Eversmann
Department of Theatre Studies
Universiteit van Amsterdam

CONTENTS

Introduction

Part 1 – The Theatron Module as an educational tool

1.What is the THEATRON project? 1.1 Objective 1.2 Why the Theatron Module? Problems in studying theatre history 1.3 Features and functionalities
2. Didactic aspects 2.1 Educational goals and environment 2.2 Content 2.3 Educational approach of the THEATRON Project 2.3.1 A general model of teaching and learning 2.3.2 Teaching with the Theatron Module 2.3.3 Example
3. Conclusion: future developments

Part 2 – The Theatron Module

1. Warning – the current status of the Theatron Module
2. Using the Theatron Module 2.1 Requirements 2.2 Start up 2.2.1 Connecting to the Theatron site 2.2.2 Choosing a theatre to explore 2.3 The Theatron Module interface
3. Tips and Tricks


Introduction

This manual is meant for (university) teachers who want to make use of the Theatron Module in their classes. As will be explained later, Theatron is conceived in the first place for students at university level and hence this manual is mainly directed at those who lecture at universities in the field of theatre studies (especially: theatre history). This is not to say though, that the Theatron application couldn't be of use in other situations where theatre history is being taught – secondary education, acting schools, courses for the general public, etc. – but one should be aware that in those cases certain built-in characteristics of the project will probably not come into play[1]. This holds especially true for those aspects of the educational approach that are geared towards teaching students to do (scholarly) research (cf. p.7). In these cases then the teachers should use Theatron imaginatively and try to make use of the application in such a way that it best suits their needs and conforms to their educational goals.

However, also these teachers will benefit from a knowledge of the background of the THEATRON Project and the educational principles behind it. It will help them better to understand the specific features and the structure of the Theatron Module interface and in this way they will probably find it easier to integrate the module in their specific educational circumstances.

Therefore this manual is divided into two parts. In the first part the educational philosophy behind the Project is explained and tied to the characteristics and structure and interface of the Module. The initial paragraphs sketch the objectives of the project, relate some of the reasons why it was developed and discuss its particular functionalities. After that the main focus is on the didactic aspects involved. Developing an interactive module for theatre departments at universities means that one has to cater to specific educational goals and that one must bear in mind that the project will be used in a rather specific academic environment. Both aspects influence the way the content material is structured and determine also the potentialities for didactic use of the module. With regard to a further description of that use a general model for teaching and learning will be introduced and the different elements of Theatron are then related to that model. The part ends with an example of the kind of discovery learning that is envisioned by the Project. Finally, in the conclusion, some observations are given as to the usefulness of the approach – looking ahead also at possible developments in the future.

While the first part mainly deals with the educational use of the Module, the second part of this manual is more instructional and focuses on handling the application itself. After an initial warning on the current beta-status of the project the start up and user interface of the Module are described. The layout of the screen is explained and there is a short description of the functionality of each of the buttons. Some tips on how to actually use Theatron (and on how to circumvent some of its shortcomings) conclude this part.

Part 1 – The Theatron Module as an educational tool

1. What is the THEATRON Project?

1.1 Objective

The THEATRON Project[2] has developed an educational multimedia application geared towards the history of European theatre building making extensive use of 3-dimensional computer models of historical and contemporary venues. In short, the Theatron Module puts (historical) theatres in the computer in such a way that users can virtually walk through the theatres in real time and can ask for all kinds of information pertaining to specific characteristics of these venues. Using the program should ideally be something like doing a virtual interactive exploration of a theatre with all kinds of explanations, historical material and references to other theatres at hand. The project was originally envisioned by the theatre departments of the University of Warwick and the Universiteit van Amsterdam which accounts for the fact that the target group for the prototype of the module are students at the higher education level.

1.2 Why the Theatron Module? Problems in studying theatre history

The origin of the project in an academic environment not only lies at the heart of the whole educational approach of the application (see below) but it also bears directly on the reasons for developing this program. As every lecturer in a theatre department can tell: teaching theatre and its history is a tricky business because the object of study is a fleeting one. The multimedia event that a theatrical performance is, ceases to exist once the curtain falls and the applause has died down. What remains of a performance—at best—are traces in history: a text, a directors notebook, a picture of a set, the written recollections of an onlooker, some costumes, etc. What also remains is the theatrical environment itself in which this complex, multimedial event took place. An environment moreover that is highly instrumental in shaping the synthesis of all the theatrical elements and in determining the experience of the performers and their audience.

However, also this theatre structure is not immutable; it does not last. The theatres of the ancient world are lying in ruins, of Shakespeare's Globe only some tiny archaeological fragments from the foundations have been recently uncovered, what some of the theatres in the Italian Renaissance looked like we can only guess at, and even those structures that have survived were often substantially remodelled over the centuries.

Nevertheless, teachers in theatre departments want to instil in their students a sense of what performances in the past were like. They want these students to develop a mental image—as accurate as possible—of what the theatrical event looked like and what it might have meant to a contemporary audience. In short, teaching theatre history is about having one's pupils put together all the fragments back into a coherent and three-dimensional whole. However, this is difficult using traditional means. Anyone who has ever tried to read an architectural ground plan and cross-section will probably agree that it is hard to form a reliable image of the building depicted – never mind if one has to fill in this image with a set, actors in costume, an audience, a particular lighting and sound, etc. Of course, a reconstructive drawing, a painting, a photo or a filmic impression will do better, but even then one often can not get a good sense of how a theatre is structured and might have functioned for both actors and audiences.

Therefore probably the best thing to do would be to take the students of theatre history on an extensive travelling tour all over Europe, visiting the old theatres, exploring them from top to bottom, getting the 'feel' of them, contextualising them with other evidence from the period and comparing them with each other. However this is fairly costly, highly impractical and often—in the case of theatres that don't exist anymore—downright impossible.

It is precisely with these problems in mind that the Theatron Module was developed. The idea being that the new multimedia technology of today—especially virtual reality techniques—can help in recreating the multi-media theatrical events of the past; beginning with the theatre structures that provided the environment for these events. In a sense the new technologies can complement the scholarly imagination and thus provide a uniquely appropriate medium to communicate the understanding of the theatre discipline in the past. What is envisaged then are virtual theatres from history that one can explore from behind the computer screen and that are linked to a great variety of scholarly material – so that the student can access very substantial amounts of additional information pertaining to certain features of the theatre he or she is visiting at that moment. Using the program should be like walking around an historical building with a really knowledgeable tour guide carrying with him a stack of books, pictures, descriptions, architectural plans, etc.

So what the Theatron Module aims for is a pedagogical approach in which the communication of information and ideas can take place in a more effective manner than conventional teaching can do. An important element of this approach is the 'inter-activity' of the module: the capacity to involve the users directly in the learning process by engaging them imaginatively and intellectually in a variety of choices, options, and alternative ways of confronting and manipulating the historical 'evidence'. Since in the studies of theatres from the past so much of the evidence is ephemeral or ambiguous and often by its nature dependent upon variable qualities and relationships between space, movement, sound, vision and colour (the innate expressive elements out of which all acts of theatre are composed) the capacities of multi-media seem to be ideal for enabling the student not just to read or be told about these factors but directly to experience and analyse them him or herself. And in doing so the student user will hopefully be able to get a sense of how an historic theatre functioned – both in terms of its complex back-stage operation as an institution and activity and quite literally from the point of view of the audience (and not just from an overall architectural point of view that is so often the only information included in textbooks; giving one only a map or cross-section of a theatre). Ideally students will become aware of and sensitive to the fact that the actual theatre building is a more or less complex structure that depends on a number of choices by the architect, the manager and the artists, which not only reflect the encompassing culture and the concept and role of theatrical activity within that culture (be it political, commercial or religious) – but choices that also serve to shape the aesthetic experience of performers, spectators and patrons.

1.3 Features and functionalities

In order to make this possible the THEATRON Project created some nineteen 3-dimensional architectural models of historic European theatres, fifteen of which are now online and can be navigated through. All of these venues are contextualised for the student using a variety of graphic and textual materials and information. For example, explicit attention is paid to the relation of the theatre to its surroundings (where was it located in the city? Was it a public or private theatre?); considering too such things as the layout, structuring and interdependence of primary space (stage, auditorium) and secondary spaces (stairways, foyers, backstage areas, etc.) within the theatre itself. Where appropriate also the decorations and meaning of the iconographical scheme is assessed; or the venue is analysed in terms of references it makes to different types of architecture and/or previous periods of theatre history. For some theatres it is also important to show how they evolved through time; enabling the students to ask the question how a theatrical structure has developed over the years.

Moreover these fifteen theatres have been linked together in such a way that the students are encouraged to make comparisons and trace historical developments. Ideally the application should function like an extensive virtual theme-park in which you can visit theatres from different historical periods, presenting different types of venues but also giving one a sense of the 'genealogy-tree' of the European theatre as this evolved and was shaped by various, successive cultures. Theatre buildings and the activities contained within them developed over time and new structures (or modifications to existing ones), are reactions to existing practice coupled with ideas about the need for change and the evolving role of theatre within the diverse European societies. In this respect it should be noted though that theatre and theatre architecture were often pan-European phenomena - the same architects and theatre makers being employed all over Europe by a ruling class that in its cultural endeavours was -and probably is- more internationally oriented than locally. And when the rough outlines of such a genealogy tree of the European theatre are established it should not be too hard in the future to add new branches – augmenting with new theatres the major ones now online that serve as important nodes from which European theatre history may be accessed (cf. Table 1).

As already mentioned the interactive study of the theatres is of prime importance and therefore all kinds of additional materials are added to the module. In this way users are not only presented with the view of the authors of Theatron, but they can access and evaluate for themselves the evidence on which the 3-d reconstructions are based. This means that within the program one can find primary material from the past (letters, critical descriptions, architectural texts, sketches, drawings, paintings, etc.) as well as secondary sources (mainly: scholarly texts). Also abstractions illustrating the structural components of a theatre building (ground plans, cross sections, diagrams explaining such things as the iconographic program, etc.) are provided and finally the application includes informative material of today (pictures of the present site, reports on archaeological digs and so on).

Stage type

Auditorium Type

Proscenium stage

Open stage

Environmental

Horseshoe shaped

Fan shaped

Non enveloping

Partially enveloping

Fully enveloping


Greek and Hellenistic

(?- 1st. cent. BC)

Temporary Stage – Phylakes

* Theatre of Dionysos, Athens (6-3 century BC)

* Theatre of Epidauros (340 BC)

* Odeon of Pericles, Athens (435 BC)

Roman

(3rd cent. BC (?) – 400 AD)

Temporary Stage – Roman Festive

* Theatre of Pompey, Rome (55 BC)

* Odeon of Agrippa, Athens (12 BC)

Middle Ages (500-1500 AD)

Temporary Stages – Coventry Pageant and Fairground Booth

Renaissance (1500-1650 AD)

* Teatro Farnese, Parma (1618)

* Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza (1584)

* Teatro Sabbioneta (1590)

* Globe Theatre, London (around 1600)

Baroque (1650-1800 AD)

* Drury Lane, London (1674, 1794, 1812, 1823)

* Court Theatre Drottningholm (1766)

19th Century

* Bayreuth Festspielhaus (1876)

20th Century

* Festival Auditorium, Hellerau (1912)

* Théâtre du Vieux Colombier, Paris (1913, 1921)

* Theater am Lehninerplatz/Schaubühne, Berlin (1981)/flexible

Table 1 The 'genealogy tree' of the Theatron Module theatres.

2. Didactic aspects

The navigatable 3-dimensional THEATRON models have to be integrated in a learning module in such a way that they are more than mere illustrations. After all the application aims not to deliver lessons in a traditional manner to an essentially passive student, but wants the students to learn by discovery – they should be able to explore the different theatres more or less on their own volition, following their own perceptions and interests, as in effect they interrogate the module, formulating their own questions and being stimulated to find their own answers. So one has to face the question how this discovery learning that Theatron aims for is to come about. From educational experience so far it is obvious that just presenting students with a 3-d model and some additional material is not enough. Learning will not take place 'by itself' but only when the whole courseware is carefully tailored to the needs, capacities and skills of the students. In other words: what one needs is a clear outlook on the didactics of the application.

2.1 Educational goals and environment

To begin with one should realise that because the target group of Theatron consists of university students there are -in the view of the designers of this program- really two basic educational goals to be met. One of them is, of course, knowledge on theatre history in Europe. As outlined above particular theatres and their development should be introduced to the students who then can become aware of the important characteristics of these venues. But there is another goal that might be even more important from an educational point of view: the students need to learn how to do research. This is what the university is really all about. The student of theatre history should not just learn the facts but rather he or she should learn how to weigh these facts, how to critically evaluate existing interpretations of these facts, how to confront conflicting evidence, how to come up with meaningful questions and methods of answering them, etc. In short: theatre departments are there to turn out good scholars, not just machines repeating textbooks. From this it follows that in the Theatron module scholarly controversies are not resolved or covered up. The student is not presented with just a reconstruction showing what an historical theatre exactly looked like – rather, when things are unclear or when there are debates on general outlook or specific features of the theatre buildings this is explicitly pointed at. The importance of this should not be overlooked. Since present day technology can generate powerful illusions the danger is that one all too easily accepts our computerised 3-d reconstructions as the historic truth, forgetting how much speculation often went into it. To counteract that danger it is paramount to draw attention to the original material on which a reconstruction is based, to point to uncertainties and to stimulate students to consider alternative solutions.

Secondly one should give some thought to the educational environment Theatron is designed for. Often it is claimed that the merits of IT applications such as Theatron are that students are freed from time and place, that they can learn at a distance, where and whenever they want, at their own pace and tailored to their own, personal needs. However, the designers of Theatron feel that such an attitude neglects too much the traditional university environment that has been developed over a lot of years with precisely the goal of 'teaching to do research' in mind. In that environment there is personal eye-to-eye contact between teachers and students and there are lectures presenting the student with live examples of how to deal with the materials and questions of an academic discipline. Of course an important element in the environment is facilitating access to other scholars and their writings from past and present: the library, textbooks and syllabi are the traditional means to efficiently deal with this information demand and recently these have been supplemented by electronic technologies providing easy communication with the outside world – especially with other libraries and with the web. Traditional elements are also the exams and assignments that provide teacher and students with feedback on how the latter is progressing. And, last but certainly not least, the university environment is characterised by fellow students: peers who function as sparring partners in ones academic career and who are vital to generate and maintain the scholarly debate that is so essential to any academic discipline. It is probably the live contact with these fellow students and with the teachers that, more than anything else, shapes the educational environment of a university. Getting feedback on a paper or having a discussion in a classroom setting (with an experienced teacher as moderator) really can not be surpassed when it comes to practising the main skills of academic research: presenting and debating ones findings in an orderly and controllable manner.

But if the university as sketched here is a worthwhile educational environment - and the makers of Theatron tend to think that it has proven itself over the centuries – an IT application should be thought of as an additional asset to this environment, and not as a replacement of it. In other words: the Theatron project should reckon with this and, rather than trying to be a stand alone application that provides the student with everything, should acknowledge that it will function in conjunction with a university library, with classes, lectures and teachers, with assignments and with fellow students.

2.2 Content

Having established the goals and the educational environment of Theatron we will now take a somewhat closer look at the content material of the module, seeing how it is structured and embedded within the actual module and how it relates to the educational ambitions. The content material then is divided into two main divisions: (i) general information categories that are essentially the same for each of the theatres and (ii) specific information that pertains to a particular theatre and its characteristic features. An analogy with an elaborate bibliography might clarify this somewhat. The first division would be the entries that are given for every book; like author, title, date, publisher etc. In the second division then would fall specific remarks on the publications; like a short description of the contents, a summary of a review, etc.

With the Theatron project the first division (general information categories) can be divided further into information that is incorporated in the navigatable 3-d models themselves and information that is accompanying each of these models. The former really comprises the advantages of an architectural model over traditional 2-d educational means and hence will read as a more or less familiar collection by now:

The information that accompanies the models comprises categories that are the same for each theatre and that are called upon separately by use of a pull down menu. Here one finds additional info under headings such as maps (of the surrounding space, goundplan, cross sections, etc.), historical description (text on the building of the theatre and its subsequent development) and present site (with pictorial material on what the site looks like today). Also there are headings that directly relate to the academic resources on the theatre that a student might want to consider: bibliography and related websites. Finally there is a category with suggested tasks in which examples of research topics and assignments for papers can be found. These tasks are specifically designed to direct the student to critically look at the reconstruction and the materials it is based on and/or to encourage the users to make comparisons with other venues.

The second division contains the information that is particular to characteristic features of a certain theatre. This information is dynamically linked to the 3-d models so that at certain points in these models -the so called viewpoints- it automatically comes on screen in a separate window (at least as long as this feature is enabled). Principally these viewpoints can be pre-programmed anywhere in the model and thus provide the opportunity to give access to multi media resources for any specific feature of a venue. For example: a viewpoint outside a theatre can give additional information on the façade and its iconographic program or can link to a video showing that same façade on a special occasion. Or: a viewpoint in the royal box might give access to a portrait and a biography of the patron ruler – evaluating the use of theatre in his cultural policies. In some cases it is even possible to listen to audio files that simulate what a theatre sounded like at different viewpoints, so one can compare the acoustic qualities of the respective areas in a theatre.

All in all then the 3-d model and its viewpoints give the user an extensive impression of what a particular theatre looked like and what its specific features are about, while the general accompanying information enables one to quickly access information with regard to structure, historical development and academic resources of the venue.

2.3 Educational approach of the THEATRON Project

2.3.1 A general model of teaching and learning

Having discussed the educational environment of the Theatron project and the structuring of its content material we now come to the question of how Theatron will actually be used. What are the basics of education that underlie learning processes and how does Theatron relate to them? A very general answer to the first question can be formulated thus: studying is the active appropriation of knowledge, skills and self-confidence, while teaching consists of supporting this learning process. But apart from stating that there is learning and teaching this answer really doesn't say very much. So we clearly have to specify more extensively what people do when they study or teach if we want to elaborate on Theatron's underlying didactics.

The dimensions of learning and teaching

Learning

Teaching

Cognition

Knowledge of subject

Structuring

Explication

Instruction

Motivation

Affection with subject

Stimulation

Validation

Assessment / evaluation

Self-confidence regarding subject

Conversation

Interaction & Feedback

Table 2 A general model of learning and teaching

Table 2 therefore presents a general model of learning and teaching in which the dimensions that play a role in education are schematically worked out for both these sides. It starts with the notion that there are three important dimensions of any learning process: cognition, affection and assessment/evaluation.

For the student the first dimension, cognition, has to do with getting knowledge of a subject and/or acquiring certain skills. It is the aspect of grasping and understanding the concepts that are involved, of being able to deal efficiently with the subject at hand and of mastering the problems of a field.

The second dimension, motivation, points to the affective aspects of learning. Here one deals with things like personal involvement and the arousal of interest. What motivates the student to put in time and energy? How important is learning about a certain topic in the experience of the individual?

Finally, the third dimension, assessment/evaluation, contains the aspects that have to do with feedback on how a student progresses. In any learning process one should have a clear idea on where one stands at a certain time. In other words: this dimension is about knowing what one knows and about the ability to evaluate ones progress with regard to a subject. On the learning side this clearly has to do also with self-confidence; with realising that you have mastered the subject to a certain degree, can skilfully handle the problems and operations belonging to that degree and can evaluate whether or not you need/want to know more about the field of study.

The three dimensions do not only function on the learning side but also on the side of teaching. Each dimension brings with it certain aspects of teaching that in educational theory are seen as important elements that facilitate the learning process. To help with the cognitive aspects of that process a good teacher, course or textbook should structure the study material well, meaning that subjects are approached consistently and in a systematic manner. Explications that clarify difficult and complex topics in such a way that they can be grasped more easily also function on the cognitive level, as do instructions: clear indications (often accompanied by examples) of how a subject should be dealt with.

As to the second dimension: all educators and pedagogical textbooks underline the prime importance of motivating pupils. Without instilling a certain drive in students, the chances that any learning will take place are practically zero. Of course one can try to use negative motivation here whereby the avoidance of punishment becomes the main reason to delve into a subject, but it has been shown to be far more effective to stimulate people in a more positive way, by trying to arouse their personal interest. In addition to stimulation a key concept when it comes to involving students with a subject is validation. This means that one has to clarify the importance of a subject within a curriculum. If one doesn't do that and students fail to understand why a topic is useful or how it fits in with the rest of their studies, results will most certainly be a disaster.

Traditionally the third dimension, assessment and evaluation, is seen as the exclusive domain of the teacher and is associated more with control and testing whether any learning has taken place than that it is seen as a means to facilitate the educational process. If however one thinks of this dimension in terms of feedback the importance of it with regard to building self-confidence in mastering a subject becomes clear. Having the possibility of 'conversations' with the teaching instance during a learning process, with appropriate time for questions and remarks, is probably where self assessment starts. Just being able to formulate a question is already a kind of test on how well one has grasped a subject. In later stages then there is more two-sided interaction and the discourse on the interpretation of a subject is furthered, ideally resulting in students now trusting their knowledge and skills; becoming more and more an equal partner to their teachers.

2.3.2 Teaching with the Theatron Module

If the above is a general didactic model describing how learning and teaching interact with each other it should now be possible to assess how different elements in the Theatron project function within this scheme and to clarify possible strategies of teaching with this module in an academic environment. Table 3 summarizes the activities of a teaching instance as described above and links them to elements within the Theatron module. So one can see for example that the structuring of the material is brought about by dealing with every theatre in essentially the same way, but also by the way one gets into the application and selects a theatre. The latter is possible in a number of ways: one can either go to a timeline, an alphabetic list, a map of Europe showing the location of the venues or use the typology as given in table 1 to approach a venue. For explications the student can fall back on the textual info on the 3-d models (that in themselves clarify much more than conventional 2-d means) and on the various multi media assets. As to the affective dimension it should be noted that the fact that Theatron uses IT in itself seems to be a motivational factor for the students who (still?) consider working with computers as fun. But also within the application itself there are provisions geared towards furthering the personal involvement of the students, like having ones own folder in which texts and photographs can be stored for later reference. Personal photographs, by the way, can be made anytime using the camera feature so that for example it is possible to take a picture of one theatre and use it to make comparisons with another theatre.

Teaching with The Theatron Module

Cognitive aspects

Structuring

(Systematic and consistent approach to subject)

  • Every theatre dealt with in essentially the same way
  • Selection of theatres by: Timeline, Typology of theatres, Alphabet, Map of Europe

Explication

(Clarifying difficult and complex topics)

  • Textual info, models, multimedia content

Instruction

(Indicating how a subject should be dealt with)

  • Tasks & research suggestions
  • Bibliography, related websites
  • University teacher

Motivational aspects

Stimulation

(Involve students with subject; arouse interest)

  • Computers are 'hot'
  • >Personal folder/camera
  • >University teacher

Validation

(Clarifying importance of subject within curriculum)

  • General information on THEATRON
  • >University teacher

(Self-) assessment aspects

Conversation

(Allowing space for questions/remarks)

  • Interactivity of models
  • Tasks & research suggestions
  • University teacher/fellow students

Interaction & feedback

(Furthering discourse on interpretation of subject)

  • Access to original materials
  • Tasks & research suggestions
  • Bibliography, related websites
  • E-mail facilities
  • University teacher/fellow students

Table 3 Aspects of teaching and the elements of the Theatron Module

Most of the other entries in the third column of table 3 have already been mentioned and it is rather obvious how they relate to the teaching aspects so they don't need to be discussed here further. However, it should be noted that the university teacher plays an important role in all the main dimensions of the scheme. Not only should this teacher give instructions on how to use the Theatron application but he or she is also responsible to a great extent for stimulation and validation – after all: how working with Theatron fits into the rest of the curriculum is up to the individual departments that will use the application. Finally conversation, interaction and feedback can only be provided in part by features of an IT application such as Theatron; it remains up to the teacher and the fellow students to complement these features and to see to it that interactive discovery learning may take place.

2.3.3 Example

Probably all this sounds rather theoretical and abstract. Let us therefore give an example of how such 'interactive discovery learning' can take place. The example is about sightlines in theatres. One can simply tell students something about the theory of sightlines and show them in a diagram where the bad seats in the house are. Something like this:

ground plan

Then they will nod, duly write this down and go on about their business. But alternatively one could let them explore a virtual theatre space, asking them to identify for themselves which are the bad seats. Then a discussion might ensue in which the students find out that, although a number of seats do not view the perspective settings on stage that well, these same seats nevertheless enable good communication with the actors on the forestage and also present an excellent view of the monarch in his royal box. Something like this:

theatre box seats in relation to stage theatre circle/box seats

Or, translated in the form of the ground plan again:

ground plan

In this way students could discover by themselves the relativity of a 21st-century approach to the 'rules' of seeing in the theatre, becoming aware that a baroque theatre was not so much built to enable everyone a good view of the stage, but rather served other important social functions.

3. Conclusion: future developments

In the preceding paragraphs we have introduced the Theatron application and its use as an educational tool within an academic environment. However, the fact that the application is tailored to this specific environment (and to theatre studies) doesn't mean that it cannot be used in other contexts or that the principles behind it cannot be helpful when designing other educational programs. The latter holds especially true for the general model of teaching and learning that was used to analyse the various didactic functions of the different features in the application. Applying such a model not only allows one to carefully cater to the needs of specific target groups and educational objectives, but also makes one aware of the 'white spots' in an application where the computer can not replace the human element (i.e. teachers, peers). As such this general model is a powerful tool that can help one to realise where strengths and limitations of IT applications in education lie. This is certainly also important because -as developing the Theatron project once again made clear- it is vital that (educational) IT applications are designed and used with specific purposes in mind: one really has to know the target group, its needs and the didactic targets or otherwise using the program will probably be a disappointing experience. So, for example, the Theatron project might very well be used in highschools but in that case the teacher should be aware that one of its prime objectives in the university environment (learning students to do research) will no longer be valid in these new circumstances.

And, one will ask, what about the future of the Theatron prototype? Are there any plans for further developments? There certainly are. To begin one should realise that the application as it stands now is a prototype in which not all the functionalities are yet realised and that still has to be debugged and edited at certain points (cf. p. 14). Apart from that the project could also grow quantatively, adding more theatres to the ones of the prototype that, although they represent important nodes in the genealogy tree, do not form a very detailed and complete picture of the history of theatre architecture – certainly if one not only looks at Europe but also at other parts of the world. Besides, functions could be added to the application. So it is feasible for example that the VRML technique that is used for the navigatable 3-d models will evolve and that (with the improvement of computing speed and fast broadband internet connections) the more complex models that are used now to generate detailed stills and animations can be accessed in real time. Another enhancement one could think of is to allow more users to be interactively present in a theatre at the same time so they can communicate with each other - or can listen to a lecture by a professor who is virtually present and can answer questions not by e-mail but 'on the spot'. And one could of course add more theatrical elements to the architecture: sets, lighting, virtual actors that can be manipulated on stage, etc. Come to think of this, maybe you could have avatars driven by real actors that would bring to life Theatron's historic theatres with virtual performances.... So, actually, we've just started.

THEATRON interface with the model of the theatre of Pompey, Rome. On the left-hand side is the window displaying the information for this particular viewpoint

THEATRON interface with the model of the theatre of Pompey, Rome. On the left-hand side is the window displaying the information for this particular viewpoint

THEATRON interface with the model of the Lycurgan-phase theatre of Dionysos, Athens seen from the first diazoma. On the right-hand side is the window with links to the general information categories.
THEATRON interface with the model of the Lycurgan-phase theatre of Dionysos, Athens seen from the first diazoma. On the right-hand side is the window with links to the general information categories.

Sequence showing how the virtual model of the Dionysos theatre is projected over the present site. Sequence showing how the virtual model of the Dionysos theatre is projected over the present site.
Sequence showing how the virtual model of the Dionysos theatre is projected over the present site. Sequence showing how the virtual model of the Dionysos theatre is projected over the present site.

Sequence showing how the virtual model of the Dionysos theatre is projected over the present site.

Part 2 – The Theatron Module

1. Warning – the current status of the Theatron Module

Before one is actually going to use Theatron one should realise that in its current status the application is a prototype: it works but its certainly not flawless and some of its functions have not yet been implemented.

To use a metaphor, if THEATRON was a textbook written by several authors then one could say that the first draft of the manuscript is ready and can in principle be used for teaching but that before going to the press it should be further tested, proofread by colleagues and edited by a publisher.

Nevertheless, the THEATRON prototype has been tested in an actual classroom situation and has demonstrated its value there. Students working with the module were on the whole rather satisfied with it. Drawbacks that they mentioned were that sometimes the application was rather slow (especially at start up, at changing theatres and at loading pictures animations) or had a tendency to get 'stuck' in places so that the system had to be restarted. But on the other hand nearly all of the students stated that they felt to have a much better grasp of the spatial qualities of the theatres that they could explore than they would have had when studying them from a book. Also an overwhelming majority reported that they felt that playing with the module resulted in more feeling for the complexity of the subject of theatre architecture and a better understanding of the importance of the architectural environment for structuring the theatrical experience. Besides this about two thirds of the users stated that they had become more interested in the historical research of theatres and that they never had realised how many aspects there were to these historical reconstructions. Finally, a small minority of the students expressed that they would like to engage themselves in actually building 3-d theatre models; either as accurate historical reconstructions or as 'free' design projects.

Also the prototype can -with proper preparation! (cf. also tip 3 p. 24)- very well be used for demonstrations in the classroom where the lecturer has now a wealth of multi-media and 3-d material at his disposal to illustrate important (types of) theatres from European history.

So, if one wants to use this beta version of the Theatron application – please go ahead!

But be prepared to:

These conditions being fulfilled: enjoy Theatron!

2. Using the Theatron Module

2.1 Requirements

Minimum requirements to use the Theatron application are:

2.2 Start up

logon screen

Note that in the above procedure the theatron.hta file is not absolutely necessary to access the Theatron site. One could just type in the address from Internet Explorer. It is recommended however to use the .hta file since this will result in all the right settings of Internet Explorer and otherwise parts of the screen will likely be blocked from view by some of the work bars (cf. also tip 1 p. 24).

2.2.2 Choosing a theatre to explore

Once the connection is made the Theatron start up screen appears:

THEATRON interface showing chronological index of theatres

THEATRON interface showing chronological index of theatres

The main function of this screen is to provide the user with the possibility to choose a theatre to explore. There are four ways to do this, represented by the four buttons in the top left corner:

button options to change the middle part of the screed

Pressing one of these buttons will change the middle part of the screen giving one the possibility to choose a theatre according to:

THEATRON interface, showing geographical (left) and topological indices.
THEATRON interface, showing geographical (left) and topological indices.

Apart from the selection of theatres there are two other sets of buttons in the Theatron start-up screen that are of interest here:

Once a theatre is selected the screen changes to the Theatron interface.

THEATRON interface with introductory screen for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus
THEATRON interface with introductory screen for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus

2.3 The Theatron Module interface

When a theatre has been selected, the screen consists of three areas: the 3-d model viewing area (centre), the viewpoint information area (left), and the Cosmoplayer controls (lower centre):
Viewpoint 3D Model Viewing Area cosmoplayer Controls

Viewpoint
Information Area

3D Model Viewing Area
 
Cosmoplayer Controls

The Theatron user can move around in the 3-d model using the Cosmo player controls. A tutorial that explains the function of each of these controls is provided under the tutorial button on the bottom left of the screen. The viewpoint information area is dynamically linked to the viewpoints that can be accessed through the Cosmo player controls: whenever one goes to a viewpoint the content of the viewpoint information area will change (as, of course, will the outlook on the 3-d model).

viewpoint information area

The appearance of this middle part can change through the use of two 'toggle' controls that are situated in the lower middle part of the screen:

Clicking the left part of the icon switches the viewpoint information area 'on' or 'off' and clicking the right part of the icon does the same for the general information area. Hence there are four modes of using theatron:

The four 'modes' of the Theatron screen

Within the viewpoint information and general information areas, Theatron can open or close texts by clicking on the green arrows. There are also possibilities to open other files (in separate windows). The icons being used here and the different type of information they designate are:

text icon

text

picture icon

picture

video/animation/movie icon

video / animation / movie

sound icon

sound

tool buttons

Apart from the toggle controls for the viewpoint information and general information areas the lower bar on the screen also shows a set of six buttons (at the left side):

Moving the mouse over these so called 'tool'-buttons shows their respective functions in the black area to the right of these buttons. These functions are:

tool button: Gives general information about the Theatron project and the partners that are involved in it.

Gives general information about the Theatron project and the partners that are involved in it.

tool button: email facility

E-mail facility

tool button: search function

Search function NOTE: this function is not implemented yet

tool button : glossary function

Glossary function

tool button: starts the cosmo player tutorial

Starts the Cosmo player tutorial: a brief introduction in which is explained how to move around the 3-d models

tool button: Help function

Help function NOTE: this function is not implemented yet

This almost concludes our tour of the THEATRON interface. Two buttons, located just above the middle part of the screen, haven't been mentioned yet:

Both buttons together comprise the bookmark function, allowing users to store a place within the Theatron module (by clicking the 'book' icon on the right) and enabling them to quickly go back there again (by activating the bookmarks drop-down menu on the left). Note however that this bookmark function is not working properly at this moment. Also the bookmarks are not (yet) retained in a personal folder that is activated at each start up. Hence one should refrain from using this function for the time being.

3. Tips and Tricks

The following is a list of tips and tricks that have proven to be useful in the actual handling of the Theatron application:

1. Although it's more or less concealed by the appearance of the interface, the application is actually running within an Internet Explorer browser. This means that some of the work bars that are normally on top of the Internet Explorer screen are actually still accessible. Use the 'toggle' F11 to make these bars appear and disappear.

THEATRON with Internet Explorer bars visible, after pressing F11
THEATRON with Internet Explorer bars visible, after pressing F11

2. The taskbar at the bottom of the screen can be in the way of the Theatron controls, partly obscuring them from view. It is therefore good practice to automatically hide the taskbar when using Theatron: right click on an 'empty' part of the taskbar, select properties, turn 'auto hide' on and select OK. (also make sure that the option 'always in front' is turned on) The taskbar will now only appear when the mouse is moved on the downmost border of the screen.

3. When using Theatron in a lecture make sure that it works beforehand. Remember that the requirements should still be met: often this means installing some of the required software on the demonstration computer. Also remember to check whether the application will work with the beamer/data projector that is at hand: if this beamer/data projector cannot handle a resolution of 1024 x 768 you're likely to be in trouble. Make sure you have a good idea of what you want to show and how to access that material using the interface. Be sure to have a backup-plan and/or backup material to show: the internet access and/or the Theatron-server might be down!

4. One of the functionalities that was originally foreseen in Theatron but hasn't been implemented yet is a camera enabling users to make pictures from certain standpoints; for example to compare views of the stage in two different theatres or to illustrate sightlines. An alternative for this build-in camera is the use of a so called screen grabber like 'Screen Rip32' (Version 1.0 BETA is freeware that can be downloaded from: http://www.progency.com/other.html#screenrip32). Open this program, contract it to the taskbar and call up the Screen Rip32 screen whenever you want to make a picture. Pressing the 'Grab Rectangular Area' button enables you to select any part of your screen and save it to a folder of your choice in any one of four formats: Icon (.ico), Bitmap (.bmp), GIF (.gif) or JPEG (.jpg).

THEATRON with the Screen Rip32 application on top of it,
THEATRON with the Screen Rip32 application on top of it,
ready to select a rectangular area after clicking the 'Grab Rectangular Area' button.

5. When using THEATRON and opening text, pictures, movies, sounds, etc. separate browser windows are opened. One should take care not to keep too many of these open at the same time. Performance (speed) will tend to decrease and sometimes the system will even 'hang' as a result.


[1] This, by the way, can also be the case at universities if the Theatron project is solely used for demonstration purposes in lectures rather than given to students to interactively engage in.
[2] THEATRON is an acronym, it stands for: Theatre History in Europe: Architectural and Textual Resources Online. The project was sponsored by the Esprit programme of the European Commission. Partners that have been working on this project are: University of Warwick, UK; Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy; Atelier 4D Architekten, Germany; SPC Group bv, The Netherlands; Theatron Limited, UK; Association of the European Foundation for Heritage Skills, France; Foundation of the Hellenic World, Greece.
[3] Note that either one of these vrml-players can be used (as indeed can other ones although we haven't tested them). The Cortona player is the more recent of the two and has perhaps slight advantages over the Cosmo player. However Theatron was originally designed using the latter one and hence the pictures in this manual show the Cosmoplayer. Users should follow their own preference in making a choice.

Dr. Peter G.F. Eversmann
Department of Theatre Studies
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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