Interview: the First Winner of TIP 2011 Hao-En Hu

Mar 3, 2017

Technical Invention Prize,
the hub of smart solutions for theatre technicians
— An interview with the first TIP winner Hao-En Hu

Hao-En Hu, the winner of the first Technical Invention Prize (TIP) in 2011, was a senior at department of Theatrical Design & Technology at Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) when awarded TIP first prize. He is now studying in Seattle, the United States.  

2011 Technical Invention Prize international juries and the winner of First Prize, Hao-En Hu.
Photo: OISTAT (More about the Improved T-Joist Backdrop Stretcher)

Technical Invention Prize, the only international competition for theater technicians
It was 2011, Prague Quadrennial was calling for submission. Held in every four years in Prague, Czech Republic, Prague Quadrennial is the one of the two largest international events for scenographers to share their work globally through exhibitions and also an important occasion for nations to present their theatrical design.

Hao-En Hu was a junior majoring technical design at TNUA. He saw all of his design- major schoolmates were busy preparing for submitting PQ exhibition. Technical design? There seems to be no competition or award for technical design.

Then, the first Technical Invention Prize caught Hao-En’s eyes.  

Technical Invention Prize is initiated by OISTAT Technology commission for technicians working in theatre or any part of the entertainment industry who make gadgets, devices or basically simple and smart solutions for our kind of work: those clever ideas that are mostly realized by inexpensive means and materials.  

Improved T-Joist Backdrop Stretcher, the award-wining invention for first TIP
Hao-En decided to submit “Improved T-Joist Backdrop Stretcher,” which was developed for his assignment in class. The class was designed to challenge students to solve technical problems in theatre with knowledge in electricity, physics and mechanism. Most importantly, with their creativity. 

Hao-En Hu studied the existing tool “T-Joist Backdrop Stretcher” and re-designed the one-piece T-Joist into several units, analogous to LEGO bricks, and tied the units together with laces which make it much easier to store, to transfer and to set up in theatre. The Improved T-Joist Backdrop Stretcher is a smart way which makes the life of theatre technicians much easier; it perfectly matched the spirit of TIP. Hao-En Hu won the first prize.

Hao-En Hu was invited to receive the award in Prague by OISTAT Technology commission in June, 2011. It was the first time for Hao-En Hu to step on the continent of Europe, the experience broadened his horizon, widened the understanding of cultural differences. Hao-En also had the chance to network with the international professionals from OISTAT Technology commission. He stepped in the network of international theatre-makers through TIP.

Documenting your idea and share it to the world —
You might be the saver to technicians who face the same problem

“Technical Invention Prize is the only international competition aims at the innovation of theatre technology. More importantly, the competition may stimulate sharing and communication between technicians from different parts of the world.

TIP is not only for theatre technicians, everyone who works in the performing arts and entertainment industry are encouraged to submit. If you have a brilliant idea or a gadget, you SHOULD submit your work!” -Hao-En Hu.

Working in theatre relies considerably on communication and cooperation. TIP encourages competitors to submit works as a team. One with technical ideas is encouraged to partner with strong writing abilities for an articulate description. Language should not prevent you from sharing your idea to the world.

Hao-En Hu believes that much of the clever ideas and solutions of the technical problems popped out from the daily work of theatre-makers. Although daily works of theatre technicians could be really intense, it is crucial to record the smart solutions by taking a quick photo and adding the description after work. Documenting and sharing your ideas help to accumulate the knowledge of technical theatre which will make working in theatre more efficient for technicians around the world.

Technical Invention Prize collects and records the cleverest solutions. It is fascinating to find someone somewhere on earth, who has the solution to the obstacle you’ve been stuck for months!

Technical Design is about combining creativity and knowledge in technical theatre to push the boundaries in performing arts
The set, scene, lighting, sound and costume together constitute the fascination of live performance. However, what turns everything into reality — the technical design — was seldom noticed. The more creative a show is, the more support from technical design is needed. 

When designers throw out a beautiful yet almost impossible idea, asking the technician to solve the unprecedented and complicated technical problem, what would a technician do? Tell the designer: “This is impossible”? Or, grab a pen and start listing the limits and possibility, try to figure out a solution? Technicians are the key person who realized all the magical effects in theatre, being creative is the spirit of technical design. How well a production team deals with the technical difficulty has a great influence on how much creative aspect of a show can be effectively carried out.

After a few years being a freelance technician in Taiwan, Hao-En Hu noticed that sometimes critical ideas were raised by director, designer or performers. Theatre is where people cooperate. Technicians, designers, directors and performers together open up the possibility of theatre.  

The setting schedule of working in theatre is tense due to limited time.

EX-Theatre Asia setting up the stage during World Stage Design 2013 in Cardiff, UK.
Photo: Yu-quan Lin

New ideas are born when theater-makers work together across nations and disciplines  
In international touring, the touring crew and technicians have the key knowledge to the show. Yet when setting up in local theatres, it is the local crew and technicians who have the ability to quickly eliminate the obstacles by applying their knowledge on venues and accessible resources. For example, timber is cheaper than steel in Taiwan. Taiwanese technicians are good at solving construction problems with wooden composition. This has amazed many international touring companies.

The approach of making theatre is different from cultures to cultures, the approach towards a technical problem is never the same. That is the beauty of having an international group of theater-makers working together.  

The best way for technician to exchange knowledge is to let them work together. By immersing oneself in the daily practice in theatre in different cultures, the technician will be inspired and could reflect on their own experience. Most importantly, the technician can bring back the inspiration to his/her local colleagues and creates more collision of new ideas.

In 2013, Hao-En Hu joined the local technical team of Akram Khan Company’s touring show DESH.
Photo: Hao-En Hu

To stand on the shoulders of the predecessors: We need more documentation about Technical Design  
The work of technician is problem-solving. The nature of performing arts is that it exists only at that present moment. Every single show, even the same repertoire, is unique. Therefore technicians are facing different technical challenges every day. Hao-En Hu pointed out that “There are not enough documentation or publications that meet the needs for technicians”

Theatre is to make-believe. Theatre is about the magic moment when audience believes in everything on stage. Technicians have to deal with the “realistic” aspect of theatre: gravity, law of motion, physics and chemistry. Professional technicians have to absorb knowledge from physics, engineering and other disciplines to create those magic moments.

In 2016, Hao-En Hu joined the MeimageDance’s tour team to
Internationale Tanzmesse in Düsseldorf, Germany. Photo: Hao-En Hu

Hu said,“ There are a lot of methods and knowledge behind the scene which cannot be shared under the constraint of the Confidentiality Agreement and Intellectual Property Rights. I hope international organization like OISTAT could collect and archive knowledge in the format of “ Frequently Asked Questions in Technical Theatre”. This FAQ would be really helpful for theatre technicians!” 

Technical Invention Prize is the first step towards that goal. TIP collects smart inventions and solutions from all over the world, sharing and archiving the clever ideas. The aim of TIP is to expand the knowledge of technical theatre, to allow technicians to stand on the shoulders of the predecessors. The more creative technical solutions are, the more creative theatre could be. 

In 2013, OISTAT invited Bert Determann, the Chief Operating Officer of Rotterdam City Theatre
“Rotterdamse Schouwburg,” to lecture about the management of Automatic Control System in Taiwan.

Photo: Yun-han Lo