Penn State University uses BlackTrax in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Photos courtesy of Kyle Shearer and William Wellman

In October, Penn State University welcomed audience members to see Simon Stephen’s adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” directed by Rick Lombardo with sensory-friendly performances at the Playhouse Theatre on the University Park campus using BlackTrax Real-Time Tracking. The Tony Award-winning play is about 15-year-old Christopher, who has an extraordinary brain. Two sensory-friendly performances provided a welcoming space for all patrons with or without neurodivergent needs.

The characters in this production uniquely portray that neurodivergence is when a person’s brain does not function in a way that is considered “typical.” In telling this story about a neurodivergent character, Penn State has been helped along the way by various consultants and experts who helped deepen their understanding of various aspects of the experience of autistic people and their families. Choosing this show originated from their Season Planning Committee. Staff and students form this committee and submit anonymous show proposals for the semester.

Special considerations for the Curious Incident included sensory supports, lower sound level, strobe light reduction, designated quiet areas, and a welcoming, judgement-free, family environment. BlackTrax was given the task of highlighting main characters of the production.

CAST Group is thrilled to have BlackTrax be part of these socially all-inclusive innovative productions.

We spoke to the production team of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to learn more about why they chose to use BlackTrax in this special production and how incorporating BlackTrax in the classroom benefits students.

Photos courtesy of Kyle Shearer and William Wellman
Photos courtesy of Kyle Shearer and William Wellman

Kyle Shearer, Lighting Designer, first met with our BlackTrax Trainer Nic at the USITT virtual conference in early 2021 and inquired about getting a system for the Penn State production. From there the two worked out details through zoom meetings and emails. Penn State received an educational loaner.

“I think going outside the box and pushing the limits of what we do in theatre is healthy in an educational environment. Pushing myself to learn an entirely new control system on my first collegiate design proved to be difficult yet rewarding. The networking and programming knowledge I picked up from this experience will be useful in future endeavors. I also have a feeling BlackTrax will show up in more and more productions over time and working with it will give us all a leg up in the future.”Kyle Shearer, Lighting Designer

Photos courtesy of Kyle Shearer and William Wellman

William Kenyon, Head of Lighting Design Program first saw BlackTrax in action at a Weeknd concert. Curious about what was happening with a calibration wand before the show, William hunted down an electrician to ask what kind of motion-capture system was being used. Soon after, a BlackTrax system was in his possession for he and his students to use in the production of The Curious Incident.

“I was initially surprised at how complex the system is, but it seems that the students were able to train up on the system quickly with four excellent Zoom sessions from the BlackTrax trainer.” says William Kenyon, Head of Lighting Design Program, Penn State. “Seeing the students take the lead on specifying, installing, calibrating, troubleshooting, and running the system. Despite its complexity, it seems that they were trained very well, as they ended up being primarily responsible for the whole thing, due to staffing challenges in the school. It’s one more arrow in their quiver of experiences and will hopefully be something that will really stand out on resumes when they go looking for work.”

Main Production Team

  • Kyle Shearer – Lighting Designer
  • William Kenyon – Head of Lighting Design Program
  • Valentine Pesola – Lead BlackTrax Programmer
  • Mason LoPiccolo – Assistant Production Electrician

Additional notable mentions in all this are our very own trainer, Nic Lau and technician, Emilie Trimbee. Everyone involved was thankful for their guidance and said it would help them in future productions using BlackTrax.

When we asked the team who would benefit most from BlackTrax in the classroom, they responded:

  • Those who are looking at going into large event-type designs, with companies that would have the funding to implement this system on a regular basis would benefit.
  • Detail oriented students, who are methodical in their approach to set-up, programming, and troubleshooting the system.
  • Those wishing to pursue electrician and programming work in concert venues or tours.

Does this sound like you? Are you looking to learn more about BlackTrax for yourself or in your classroom? Feel free to reach out to our educational professionals at with your inquiries, comments, or stories.

Congratulations to the students and faculty at Penn State who worked hard to learn new systems and processes, thinking outside the box to create a magical experience that all could enjoy, while making social impact in the best of ways.