Zoo Story in Visualization Lab

The Visualization Lab in Engineering Hall is featuring Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story,” a one-act, two-actor play, as its first production. This show uses the virtual design elements of the space to create an intimate and intense experience for the audience.
Zoo Story, directed by Grace DeWolffe, stars Harry Loeffler-Bell and Matt Wickey, both Marquette alumni, and runs until Sunday.
John LaDisa, professor of biomedical engineering and director of Visualization Lab, and Chester Loeffler-Bell, professor of performing arts, teamed up to put on this production. They run the logistics behind every aspect of the show as part of what LaDisa called an “unlikely marriage between communications and engineering.”
“You could do this particular play in a theater,” LaDisa said, “but we’re doing it in here to take advantage of the ability to dynamically change the environment all around the actors … it’s a new way of immersing the audience and the actors in the environment.”
The $1.5 million Visualization Lab opened in January of this year and seats around 30 audience members. The set is made up of 10 projectors blended together and controlled by six computers.
“It’s going to be a pretty intimate, in-your-face situation for the actors and the audience,” Loeffler-Bell said. “It will be interesting to see how the crowd responds to it.”
They said that depending on how well people respond to Zoo Story, they would like to continue productions like this in this space in the future.
“I think this space opens us up to some projects we wouldn’t want to do at Helfaer Theater, mainly because of size. We couldn’t create the environments we could create here,” said Loeffler-Bell, “If we get a playwright in here, they might see something inspiring in this space … There’s potential here, we just have to get people in the right place and get folks interested.”
Loeffler-Bell said that Zoo Story works well in this space because it is a tense drama that suits a small audience. He is familiar with this play because he acted in it in college and directed it here at Marquette. He is confident that this production will be fantastic because the two actors are experienced professionals.
“A couple of years ago, I saw Matt and Harry in The Laramie Project and there was this one intense scene in the play where Harry plays the killer of Matthew Shepard and Matt plays the detective,” Loeffler-Bell said. “I saw the interaction those two had, and I thought that they would be great to do Zoo Story together.”
Using the technology of the Visualization Lab, Zoo Story features Central Park background scene and sound which surround the actors from behind and both sides and change throughout the play to reflect the development of the emotions of the characters.
“There are elements of computer engineering, electrical engineering, animation, computer programming, film … I can’t even pin it all into a certain type of engineering,” LaDisa said. “This is a College of Engineering facility, but it’s a campuswide resource. This is truly what this space was meant to be.”