The Wright Museum in Detroit is committed to extending lively public programs to the youngest of their visitors.
This continues to be of particular importance to the Museum in relation to the growing understanding of the profound importance of reading to the educational development of infants, toddlers and young children. Magian was contracted by the Wright to produce an innovative theatre experience for K-3 school children. The Children's Discovery Room also had to be flexible enough to provide for reading programs and weekend activities for families.
The children gather at the top of the stairs in front of a barn door which, when opened by actors facilitating the experience, reveals four screens mounted in a vertical grid to suggest a view into another world. The magic is enhanced by a potent soundscape, atmospheric lighting, theatrical effects like stars, and a soft carpet! An atmospheric forest of artificial trees also acts as theatrical flats to conceal lighting sources.
While the Museum's interpretive acting staff facilitate the Underground Railroad story delivered through interaction with the video on the screens, attending parents and teachers are provided with rustic seating at the back of the space.
The power and intensity of the Underground Railroad story made it imperative that the experience and video production treatment be accessible and appropriate to this age group. Magian made a decision to avoid a recorded voice narration in order to keep the program as flexible and adaptable as possible in case small children became disturbed by the story. In such cases the Wright's actor facilitators are able to adjust the way they intervene in the experience and divert from or attend to any negative effects being experienced by an individual child or by the group. Artist Sabine Leitner worked with Magian to transform the storyboard into evocative illustrations that provide a steady emotional current to carry the story through the sometimes fearful and intense events of a small family's journey from slavery to freedom in the north.
The impressionistic illustrations were also developed within a fairly narrow color palette to suggest the need to be travelling at night and the imperative of being in hiding. Magian carried out all aspects of the video production in-house including graphic and sound design and production, video editing and post-production.
Magian designed the Children's Discovery Room to deliver both the Underground Railroad video experience and to allow Wright staff, using the MMaPS CMS, to generate on-going Reading programs.
Reading programs are based on the idea of reading aloud to and with children and are intended to instil a love of books in children and their parents. The program is also intended to assist parents and others to understand the importance of reading to children in the formative years of their lives. The Children's Discovery Room provides Museum educators with a large format screen on which to display illustrated books at a dramatic scale.
The Room space required some carpentry, conversion and theming to fit it out as a theatre. Magian managed contractors who carried out the following works: electrical cabling and wiring, painting and theming of the Children's Discovery Room, construction and carpentry for a control room, installation of speakers and lighting as well as LED lights to simulate stars in the night sky, and the laying of carpet.
Magian designed iPod Touch control software to provide for the control of lighting and soundscapes, switching programs e.g. between the Underground Railroad video and the Reading program, and volume control for audio.
Using an iPod Touch controller the actor/facilitator is also able to easily stop, start or pause the video in response to reactions from the young audience. Magian designed the integrated technical infrastructure and the show-control for all aspects of the theater programs utilising the MMaPS DiAC System. Magian was responsible for commissioning software for all aspects of the Children's Discovery Room programs.
Children's Discovery Room
Charles H Wright Museum of African American History
Detroit MI, USA