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Bright Lights Capture Students

FOR five weeks this summer, Costa Rica will host one of the most advanced performing arts-technology programs in the world. For the second year, The Institute of Digital Performing Arts will be holding a study-abroad program in the country.

IDPA is described by founder Amarante Lucero as “a cooperative between universities, businesses and art organizations in North, Central and hopefully soon South America.”

This year, the institute will feature courses on automated, or robotic, lighting, animatronic puppetry and sound and video production and distortion. Language and Costa Rican culture classes are also incorporated into the program.

“Our primary goal is to have students create work using new technology and also integrate themselves into Latin American culture,” Lucero says. “We’re here to learn and here to share.”

IDPA is the brainchild of Lucero, head of the Automated Lighting Program at the University of Texas at Austin. His involvement in Costa Rica began when he worked with the National Theater in 1985.

In 2001, after teaching a summer school course, Lucero brought several of his students to Costa Rica to put on an automated-lighting show. After a repeat visit the following year, Lucero began working to organize an official program that would actually take place in Costa Rica.

Having been involved with the Central American performing arts scene for years, Lucero says he chose Costa Rica for a variety of reasons.

“The people are great and there is also growing base of technology,” he says.

The great climate, the bicultural experience students receive and the ability to take weekend excursions solidified his decision.

LAST year, 10 students attended, primarily from U.S. universities but also some from Costa Rica. This summer the program will include 15 to 20 participants. Each class will be taught twice – in English and Spanish.

During the five weeks, students work toward producing a show that will be open to the public. Last year, it was held at the National Auditorium in the Children’s Museum and likely will be held there again this year. This year’s program may include automated lighting, work from the sound and video courses and the presentation of new puppet work, focusing on animatronics – similar to the puppetry used currently in the Broadway production of the Lion King.

“The core of what we do is to touch an audience,” says Lucero. “Technology gives us a more effective way to do that.”

The program is open to everyone over 18, regardless of performing arts background. Students may take up to two classes during the session. Lucero is also looking to hold several one-week workshops on things the program’s core courses don’t necessarily cover, such as television lighting or make up. These workshops would also be open to the public.

BECAUSE it is a fledgling program, it has primarily grown by word of mouth.

Lucero has done little to advertise the program in an effort to keep the number of applications relatively low during these first few years. Once accepted into the program, enrollment is first come, first served.

Although last year’s group was small, Lucero says he was ecstatic with the response he had from students.

“One of the most precious moments is the ‘Ahh’ experience, when people put art and technology together and it just clicks,” Lucero says of the most rewarding part of IDPA.

Each year, IDPA brings in more than a ton of high-tech equipment specifically for the program. Although all equipment is currently loaned, rented or owned by a university, Lucero hopes to soon have enough money that the program can purchase its own lighting and sound tools and leave some of them in Costa Rica.

“IT’S so important to leave the technology,” Lucero says. “You can’t just give them this seed and show them how to use it and then take it home. It’s a tool and if you put it in their hands it will bloom.”

As for the future of the program, Lucero says because of the ever-evolving technology, the program will always be moving forward.

“The great thing about technology is that it changes so quickly that we’ll never run out,” says Lucero.

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