ECE-UMass Theater Collaboration

A man eating plant that sings early Motown-esque music and a deranged laughing gas addicted dentist who sings 1960s-esque rock and roll?! The DP123 UMass theater class is assisting the theater department beginning with the production of Little Shop of Horrors. Controls are being built to raise and lower an elevator, interact with pneumatics to enlarge the man eating plant, rapidly spin clocks, and anything that’s being asked. To start, students are reverse engineering the box in the picture above.

The box contains a PLC and motor driver for a 5 hp motor (trying to stop the motor from rotating is like trying to stop a small elephant). Earlier today, the controls were dissected to the point where messages from a knob can be understood by the PLC to interact with the motor driver to control the motor.

The project’s overarching goal is to create a simple-to-use and completely adaptable control box. Such a box that can control all electronic props for virtually any theater production with an interface that my grandfather could figure out in a few minutes. It’s a little too early to show a diagram of the final design but what we hope to be the final design was completed today. Now everything just needs to be built…


Top: The theater department’s tech shop where much of the class work takes place
Bottom: Students discussing the project with Michael Cottom, the tech director

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