First Semester of the Incoming 2012 Entertainment Technology Class of the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute

by Michelle Macau*

Michelle Macau

This is the first semester of the incoming 2012 MET class of the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (MiTi) of the Universidade da Madeira. The model for the MET program in Madeira follows that of Carnegie-Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, a project not classroom-based, curriculum. The first immersive semester, affectionately known as "boot camp" (named after the initial intense training for recruits in the Armed Forces), is when the students take most of their classes. These include the four core courses: Improvisational Acting, Visual Story, Building Virtual Worlds and ETC Fundamentals.

The first immersive semester, affectionately known as "boot camp" (named after the initial intense training for recruits in the Armed Forces), is when the students take most of their classes. These include the four core courses: Improvisational Acting, Visual Story, Building Virtual Worlds and ETC Fundamentals.

Though the model is similar, at MiTi, the schedule is a bit different. The students are taking two core courses, this fall 2010 semester, and two electives. They will take the other two core courses at the ETC in Pittsburgh in the spring 2011. My purpose this semester in Madeira, is to teach Improvisational Acting and ETC Fundamentals and prepare the students for their next semester at CMU in Pittsburgh. Improvisational Acting focuses on non-linear narrative and team building. It was Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios, who suggested teaching Improvisational Acting to ETC founders, Dr. Donald Marinelli and Dr. Randy Pausch, in 1998. One of the reasons is that Improvisational Acting teaches teamwork. Knowing how to work well in teams is essential for anyone in the entertainment technology business. Teams in this field are comprised of people from various backgrounds and cultures...engineers and programmers working with artists, writers and designers. In order to work together successfully communication and understanding each other is key. Improvisational Acting teaches how to work successfully together in teams.

Another reason is because Improvisational Acting teaches about non-linear storytelling, how to create characters and putting characters and story together. This area of Improv also supports the second core course being taught in Madeira, ETC Fundamentals. In ETC Fundamentals MET students learn the craft of Storytelling.

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They understand the "Climactic Plot Structure", the Poetics of Artistotle (Plot, Character, Diction, Theme, Melody and Spectacle) and the aesthetic principles of interactivity as defined by Janet Murray in her book Hamlet on the Holodeck...Immersion, Agency and Transformation. They also learn the Hero’s Journey as defined by Joseph Campbell and interpreted by Christopher Vogel and how to apply it to creating and analyzing Story.

In addition, MET’ers go on field trips, or "adventure modules." This gets them outside and reintroduces danger to their lives. The trips are a bonds them with their peers as they learn to interpret and analyze the experience. This dissection enables them to understand the nature of the events and why they are enjoyable and entertaining. Not only do they write their analysis, but they also make oral presentations in class in order to develop and practice presentation skills. This is all done in preparation for their client-based projects in later semesters.

The adventure modules we have taken have given all of us the opportunity to explore and experience the variety and uniqueness that is Madeira. We have traveled to the north of the island, and walked the levada at Queimadas, near Santana, to Caldeirão Verde. We experienced the sudden change in weather of the island when heavy rain and fog descended forcing us to turn back. A visit to Parque Tematico do Madeira, a theme park comprised of several pavilions depicting the discovery, history and environment of the islands and offering a variety of rides and experiences, highlighted the culture of the island.

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The weather also played a part in one of the adventures being cancelled due to high winds and rough seas – swimming with the dolphins would be best scheduled in the summer and early fall. We did swim in the ocean at the public pool in Lido enjoying the coral formations, fish, sunshine and warmth that only Madeira offers in November.

We played "tourist" and took the Telefericos da Madeira (cable car) in Funchal to Monte where we had a 360-degree view of the city and the surrounding areas. In Monte we visited the location where a chapel was swept away by the storms earlier in 2010 and explored Monte Church. For many of the students, it was their first time in a Catholic Church. Again, the weather, rain and fog was ever present, but this time it did not stop us from travelling by the basket toboggan down Monte Road back to Funchal.

These experiences are then analyzed by the students in terms of story structure and also focuses their understanding on the level of entertainment the experiences offer, what and how technology is used (if any), why tourists pay money to have these entertainment experiences, and finally, if given the opportunity, suggestions of how these experiences might be enhanced or changed. For me personally, it has been wonderful to experience life in Madeira and Funchal specifically. The people, food, and the always-present sea and mountains have made it a glorious place to live and work.

* Theater director, actor, administrator and teacher at the Entertainment Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon University

December, 2010