Unmanning the Booth with QLab

Ryan Maxwell, 2nd Story Theatre, Rhode Island
December 2008

A running joke at 2nd Story is that I run the show from my phone. While not entirely accurate (the Treo in question is actually a donation from a technophile actor who moved on to a newer and sleeker device), this joke is less a joke than a statement of fact.

Also, the joke makes no mention of QLab, which is the man behind the curtain in this magic show. And most importantly, the joke only scratches the surface of what QLab and the phone can do together.

2nd Story is a small theatre in the small town of Warren, Rhode Island. As such, paid employees are few and volunteers can be hard to come by. The stage manager, master electrician, run crew, and light board and sound operators are almost always all the same person. QLab significantly simplified the technical aspects of production at 2nd Story by allowing light and sound to be controlled by one program and one person.

But still, as I tend to end up acting in the shows: there were times when being in the booth to hit a button was not an option.

It started simply enough: Two years ago, I wrote a bit of user-interface-automating AppleScript for Salling Clicker (a host/client program that runs on Macs and many Bluetooth-enabled phones) that sent QLab a space bar keystroke remotely. So, yes: I do run the show from my phone. I have called cues from my pocket while entering in a walk-on role. I've helped an old lady to her seat at the end of intermission and started the next act before I made it back to the lobby.

But simply feeding QLab the space bar seemed like a waste of such a powerful program. Also, while the script had taken care of running the show, there were some tasks that were still difficult or impossible with a crew of one.

  • PowerBook G4
  • Salling Clicker
  • D-Link DBT-120 USB Bluetooth adapter
  • FA-66 FireWire Audio Interface with MIDI cable to an ETC Express 24/48 light board
  • Palm Treo 700p

So I branched out from the space bar and made extensive use of QLab's ability to assign a hot key trigger to any cue. With the help of some specifically-crafted MSC cues in QLab, a suite of AppleScripts for Salling Clicker, and a handful of macros on the light board, many tasks that usually require multiple people are now accomplished by one person and that ever-important phone. With this setup, I have edited and updated light cues from the audience during notes. I've been able to refocus entire light plots one instrument at a time without ever touching the light board.

Instead of moving the board down to the audience for tech and then moving it back and all of the communication problems that sneak into the division between the audience and the booth, with QLab, I've been able to put the booth in my pocket.