Category: Travis Preston

The Future of Theater in a Digital Age

Travis Preston

Since the earliest days of the Greeks when they used cranes to allow actors dressed as gods to soar above the stage, theater established itself as an artform willing to embrace technological innovation. Today, Travis Preston explains how digital technology may continue revolutionizing the performing arts.

As technology evolves to accommodate the creation of virtual set pieces and augmented reality experiences, theater stands to become more interactive than ever. New innovations in sound design and automation further enable directors to push for immersive stories with higher production values.

While these may sound like grandiose promises, they make a great deal more sense when observing the sheer scope of what technologies are currently guiding the future of theater in a digital age.

New Technologies Being Used in Theater

Modern theater companies draw on everything from motion capture to the immersive technologies used in the creation of video games to expand their repertoire of fascinating new storytelling techniques. Just a few examples of how theater companies have recently experimented with technology include:

  • Using motion capture to project digital renderings of actors
  • Creating interactive experiences using virtual reality
  • Allowing virtual viewers to watch performers from 360-degree angles
  • Live streaming performances to increase audience accessibility
  • Blending digital audio with live musical performances
  • Automating lighting cues and special effects

Even aspects of the digital age commonly taken for granted, such as social media, wield the potential to drive greater ticket sales by reaching prospective audience members who might not have gone out of their way to notice print ads or commercial trailers. In short, technology enhances not only the theater experience itself, but the number of people who may potentially be exposed to it.

Travis Preston

The Effects of Digital Technology on Theater

The adoption of new technologies by modern theater companies does not merely affect those witnessing a performance, as it changes the implications of performance art itself as well. For instance, an actor whose character is projected onto a screen using motion capture must learn to portray emotion through subtle body movements rather than facial expression.

Meanwhile, composers and sound designers must become increasingly adept at utilizing sophisticated software if they wish to create music and sound effects that play well to contemporary audiences. Whether aiming to create a dubstep musical based on the Transformers franchise or merely blend analog and digital sound design, every new innovation demands them to learn even more about their craft.

Even set designers now possess the freedom to do much of their work digitally. They may create fully virtual sets for use in a VR performance, or they may use projection mapping to enhance physical sets with detailed backdrops and special effects not theoretically possible (or at least not cost-effective) through carpentry alone.

Regardless of the specific role a cast or crew member plays in the creation of a theater performance, they now have the option of going fully digital or blending old and new methods of design and storytelling to create immersive experiences that exponentially expand the nature of performance.


Whether looking to create interactive experiences that pull audience members into the world of the production or simply enhance the look and feel of a performance, digital technologies grant theater companies more freedom than ever before. As technology continues to improve, so too will the diverse array of theatrical experiences enjoyed by modern theatergoers.

The Arts and Aging – How Older Adults Can Use Creativity to Promote Aging Well

Travis Preston

Everyone understands the notions of eating well, exercising, and adequate sleep for a healthy life. However, Travis Preston reports that ongoing research has looked into the many ways that creativity can help older adults age better, increase their independence, and enhance their well-being. 

According to Lisa Onken, Ph.D., a member of the NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, scientists have been increasingly interested in the arts and their benefits on cognitive function, memory, and self-esteem since 2019.

Furthermore, it was mentioned that scientists are studying the effects of music on patients with dementia, in the hopes that it will reduce some of their negative behavioral symptoms, such as stress, agitation, apathy, and aggression. 

Singing Uplifts Older Adults’ Souls for Healthy Aging

A respected individual from the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing, Julene K. Johnson, Ph.D., says there has been a pressing need to form sustainable and cost-effective approaches to enhancing the lives of older citizens. It appears that singing in a community choir could be one unique method of doing just that. 

From reducing health concerns to ensuring they remain engaged to promoting activity, community choirs filled with a diverse range of older adults bring unparalleled benefits. 

Of course, this doesn’t come without evidence. Dr. Johnson tested the approach through the study Community of Voices. 

To date, it’s the largest randomized clinical trial that tested the impacts of a community choir on the health and well-being of almost 400 adults aged at least 60.

Travis Preston

The participants were from a wide range of cultures and were selected from 12 randomly chosen senior centers across San Francisco. And the program would see each choir meet once per week for a 90-minute session.

Six intervention groups started their program immediately, while the six control groups waited six months before beginning. Dr. Johnson and the team collected outcome measurements at the baseline, six months, and 12 months mark.

The outcome measurements were of the following aspects:

  • Cognition
  • Physical function
  • Psychosocial function
  • Use and cost of healthcare services

Frankly, the results were beautiful.

After six months, community choir participants showed reduced loneliness and a renewed interest in life. Although the physical and cognitive changes weren’t remarkable, Dr. Johnson believes the improvements were wholly meaningful.

Theatrical Improvisation Classes to Deal with Dementia

It isn’t just music that appears to be helping older adults age healthily, though. Northwestern University has gleaned fantastic results with theater improvisation in those with early-stage dementia. 

According to Darby Morhadt, Ph.D., The Memory Ensemble is for those who’ve just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia and are looking for ways to engage in need-fitting activities. 

The program teaches participants how to use spontaneity and creativity to explore and craft improvisational theater. Developed in 2010 by the university and the Lookingglass Theatre Company, the program aims to improve qualities of life. 

Similary to the music study, results show that The Memory Ensemble improves the mood, reduces anxiety, and increases the feeling of belonging. What could be better than that?

Performing Arts and Childhood Development

Travis Preston of CalArts

One of the longest-standing debates regarding youth education is centered around the constant underfunding of performing arts programs in comparison to athletics. Not only do the arts occupy an important place in world culture, but they also offer numerous benefits in terms of childhood development

Travis Preston of CalArts explains that the performing arts impact childhood development in two distinct ways. First, they increase a child’s cognitive abilities, such as pattern recognition and motor skills. Second, they allow for the development of social and emotional intelligence, which can prove vital to a child’s future success.

Since these benefits comprise two separate (if somewhat related) spheres, they are best understood by dividing them into their respective categories.

Cognitive Benefits of Performing Arts

The arts assist in childhood cognitive development in numerous ways. These may vary slightly depending upon the artform; however, Michigan State University’s analysis of the benefits of visual art seem highly applicable. According to their research, the merits of artistic education as they pertain to child development include:

  • Better understanding of pattern recognition
  • More finely tuned motor skills
  • Vocabulary and language skills
  • Fundamental mathematic reasoning skills

When comparing visual and performing arts, the links between the two become clear. Just as a child may learn pattern recognition from learning to draw or paint on a canvas, they can develop the very same skills from learning to read sheet music or following choreographed dance movements. This forms the building blocks of a sturdy understanding of mathematics, which includes following patterns.

As children learn to discuss their artistic endeavors of choice, they develop new vocabulary while also developing the ability to speak about specific subjects in ways that others can understand. This language development becomes more pronounced when studying arts such as music or theater, which necessitate the memorization of intricate lyrics and dialogue.

Travis Preston of CalArts

Performing Arts and Emotional Development

When children learn to pursue and discuss the arts, they subconsciously improve their social and emotional intelligence. In part, this stems from the sheer amount of confidence it requires to engage in any form of self-expression, particularly one that some peers may consider less popular.

However, this social development also stems from one element most performing arts actually share in common with athletic extracurriculars: teamwork. Just as football players must work with their teammates to successfully score, the successful performance of a play, ballet, or musical number requires exceptional cooperation and communication skills.

The primary difference between sports and the performing arts is that, with the exception of highly specific settings, success does not usually rely on a competitive element. Rather than competing with other children for a trophy or medal, students rely on hard work and empathy to develop proper working relationships with their peers.

In order to develop these skills, these children require a mix of cognitive skills and imagination that will set them up for future success. When they enter the working world later in life, they will already understand how to function as part of a team while engaging in creative problem-solving to achieve a desired result.


By no means should anyone consider either athletics or the performing arts better than the other. However, the above benefits illustrate that the performing arts can and should play a viable role in the development of children who possess all the skills they need to grow into happy, healthy, and successful adults.

The Important Benefits of a Performing Arts Education

Travis Preston CalArts

At the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, high-school students thrive in an atmosphere of acceptance — and one that fully prepares them for a long career in the arts. 

The same blend of traditional academics with dance, music, visual arts, and drama, is found 800 miles away at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where a particular focus is placed on the way the arts can help build healthier, better communities.

And at the other end of the country, students at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, tuition-free arts training, including courses within its top cinematic arts department, is held amidst math and English courses.

But a performing arts education does far more than prepare students for an arts career. Travis Preston of CalArts discusses below a few of the benefits that come with an education that includes the performing arts.

It Leads to Greater Overall Academic Achievement

An analysis of over 60 studies on students who study the arts shows that they also consistently perform better in reading, writing, and math. There also seems to be a strong link between math proficiency and the study of music.

A performing arts education has been linked to higher verbal SAT scores, cognitive development, and increased reading skills. 

A study involving students in the fine arts in Texas showed that they outperformed peers who did not in English (14% more proficient), math (20% more proficient), and science (16% more proficient).

Students Are Less Likely to Leave School 

High school students with access to a performing arts education are far less likely to drop out of school. According to the Americans for the Arts organization, that’s especially true for students from challenged socioeconomic circumstances.

Those students who participate in the arts have just a 4% dropout rate, five times lower than peers. A big reason is that many students discover a passionate interest in the arts, leading to increased drive and interest in school overall.

Travis Preston CalArts

It Encourages Better Communication Skills and Creative Thinking

Children who are regularly exposed to the arts, especially those participating in the performing arts, often have improved diction, voice control, pronunciation, and projection.

Down the line, these skills are essential for effective public thinking or working collaboratively within a team at work.

Additionally, participating in the performing arts helps students trust their gut instincts and think outside the box. This is ingrained through developing a character on stage and reacting to other actors, but also working to solve production issues during a show. 

It Helps with Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

About 20% of teenagers cope with some form of depression before adulthood. 

In addition to serving as an emotional outlet, a performing arts education helps students establish a sense of self and, more importantly, embrace themselves. That’s an invaluable boost to one’s self-confidence with staying power. 

Science backs this up. A Johns Hopkins University study, “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts and the Brain,” found that arts education effectively rewires the brain to be more positive and that arts education is not just beneficial to intellectual and social development – but essential for both.

Travis Preston Shares Less Known Tips for First Time Stage Directors

travis preston

According to a recent survey, stage directors have one of the most stressful positions within the arts industry. The combination of working long hours, organizing a team of potentially more than 100 crew and cast members, and bringing to life an artistic vision is no easy task. For many new theater directors, this position can be both a dream come true and an emotionally taxing experience. As Dean of CalArts School of Theater and Head of the Directing department, Travis Preston recognizes the unique struggles amateur directors face every day and is uniquely qualified to share his experience. Below, Travis Preston will attempt to lessen some of the pressures of directing by sharing his tips for first-time stage directors.

Make Sure to Rehearse Important Scenes Before the End of the Day

All directors recognize the importance of effective rehearsal. During rehearsal, how actors perform in one scene will often influence how the tone of the next, with the final stage result being a cultivation of each of these rehearsals. For this reason, it is perfectly understandable that new directors would want to save the most important scene for the end of rehearsal, as practicing the scenes leading up to this climax influence how actors respond to the script. However, this can be a costly mistake as actors will often use the notes given to them throughout rehearsal within the climax scene. It is vital for actors to give an unadulterated performance for important scenes and remain uninfluenced by previous notes.

Be Sure to Be Highly Involved in Casting

There is a popular theater saying that 90 percent of directing is casting. This saying holds a certain amount of truth, as having talented actors with the right chemistry can make or break a stage performance. In order to successfully cast your production, new directors must ask themselves what kind of audition will most effectively cast the best actors for each role? While some shows may have a more successful casting if actors perform monologues, others may do better if auditioning actors read directly from the script. Finally, it is important that new directors remember that talent does not always equal reliability. Although an actor may appear perfect for a role if they do not show dedication to the production, they should be immediately replaced by a more reliable actor.

Take Notes on Everything

As a director, it is your job to observe every detail of your stage production. Any small mistake, inconsistency, or problem with rehearsal should be written down and later communicated to actors or crew. While this is a significant job for any sole person, staying organized and keeping diligent notes will help directors recall every note during rehearsal and ensure that the appropriate changes are made.

Travis Preston Discusses CalArts Center of New Performance Updates

Travis Preston

As the artistic director of Cal Arts Center for New Performance, Travis Preston acknowledges the artistic, social, financial, and personal impact that the pandemic is currently having on the theatre industry and its community. In an effort to help members of the theatre community, Travis Preston shares a few CNP updates as well as resources that can be utilized by those currently in need.

New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) has one of the most comprehensive lists of emergency funding available for members of theatre and musical communities. The pages are updated almost every day and include financial resources, health resources, housing resources, legal resources, and other grants that can be utilized to help those that are currently in need of assistance. The resources cover several states and disciplines within the theatre and music community, and artists are encouraged to periodically check the database to apply for grants and benefits that pertain to their specific situation. I individuals that find themselves able to donate are encouraged to show their support to NYFA and all that they are doing to empower the community at this time by contributing any dollar amount for emergency funding.

CNP’s performance of rasgos asiáticos has unfortunately been postponed, but CNP is still committed to all the artists involved in putting together the presentation. To this point, CNP has paid all the artists’ full fees for the project and has worked tirelessly to complete, document and save their work. We are currently looking at creative ways that the project can be presented at a later date and will update the community with more information as soon as it becomes available. CNP is currently doing everything in their power to mitigate the impact of the pause on performances and encourages colleagues and fellow institutions to find ways to assist if possible.

While it is unquestionably a tough time for many of us, CNP is constantly encouraged by the tremendous outpouring of online art-sharing that is happening throughout the world. The CNP team and Travis Preston have found themselves revisiting TEDxCalArts: Performance, Body and Presence for the rich perspectives and ideas shared by some of the greatest artists in the space. Artists have always been heralded for their ability to guide us through uncertain territories via their unique and invigorating performances and visions, and perspectives of some of our most talented voices may be just what those seeking inspiration need during this time to power through. Featured speakers and performers include Guillermo Gómez-Peña, The Yes Men, Nora Chipaumire, Sardono W. Kusumo, Douglas Kearney, Mirjana Jokovic, Chris Kallmyer, Ajay Kapur and more. Travis Preston and CNP also realize that the current situation gives us all the unique opportunity to use technology to connect with each other to deepen our professional practice, our community, and our humanity.

A Look Back at One of The Most Popular Plays Travis Preston Directed: The Master Builder

travis preston

Back in 2010, Travis Preston brought The Master Builder to Almedia, London. Henrik Ibsen created The Master Builder in 1892. The autobiographical tale follows an aging architect who is afraid of the next generation. The architect, Halvard Solness, works in a small town in Norway. One day he has an unexpected guest in a beautiful young woman named Hilda Wangel. While Solness doesn’t recognize the woman, she explains that they had met a decade ago. At that time, she claims Solness made romantic advances towards her and promised her a kingdom all her own. While he denies this, he is convinced that she can assist him now with his household duties, so he brings her home.

While Wangel takes on the role of housekeeper, the audience learns that Solness is the manager of an architectural office with three employees, two of which are romantically linked. One aspires of being promoted but Solness remains reluctant. Solness and his wife have a rocky relationship and it’s revealed that the couple lost children years ago in a house fire. Solness finds that Wangel and him are kindred spirts as she supports his architectural works and projects.

The play culminates when Hilda convinces Solness to build a towering steeple, despite his crippling fear of heights. Despite his fears, Hilda encourages Solness to climb to the top of the new building. Inspired by her words, he reaches the top only to lose his footing and plummet to his death. On the ground is Hilda, who yells out, “My – my Master Builder!”

While the play has been around for more than a century, Travis Preston put his own spin on it. While the original play caused the viewer to speculate, Preston makes it clear that the viewer is watching Solness’s fantasy. The relationship between Solness and the other characters portray the emotions he has kept locked inside for years. Wagnel represents a beacon of hope, an agent of retribution and the embodiment of the tormented conscience of Solness since the death of his children. The romantic undertones between the two is utilized to reflect a marriage that has fallen apart because the couple is too broken by loss to be repaired.

Travis Preston received praise from critics and audiences alike for his stripped-down version of this thought provoking play. It served as an example of what great actors and great directors can accomplish when they put their own spin on classic source material.

Travis Preston Discusses Directing Prometheus Bound

Travis Preston CalArts

In 2013, Travis Preston directed Prometheus Bound at the Getty Villa, produced by CalArts Center for New Performance. This rendition of the Ancient Greek tragedy was met with great critical acclaim and remains a highlight in his career. In this article Travis Preston discuss some of his motivations for the play and how they influenced the process of imagining powerful set-pieces as well as some of the logistical steps required to fully realize the vision that he had for the play.

One of the most dynamic changes that Travis Preston made to Prometheus Bound for the CalArts adaptation was the inclusion of a visually stunning wheel to represent the mountain of the original play. Travis Preston first imagined the wheel – a 24 feet high, four ton, spinning mechanism – as the central feature of his adaptation because of his view that ancient works can still be crucial for invigorating and enhancing contemporary conversations. The wheel allowed the production to make other religious parallels (the Dharma of Buddhist teachings) as well as utilize 1920’s modernist aesthetics for the wheel’s design. Together with an all-star cast, including Emmy Award Winner Ron Cephas Jones as Prometheus, Travis Preston pushed the ancient work into a wholly contemporary theatrical context.

One of the logistical challenges that the play and the piece presented was the need for special training to instruct the women in the chorus how to rise to the wheel safely. The production was honored to have The Flying Boy from Las Vegas construct the harness and train everyone on how to ascend the wheel in the safest possible manner. Its always expected that a large-scale functional piece like the one in the play will involve sizeable work output to construct and install in the Getty, however, the challenges associated with this project were all worthwhile and invigorating. A lot of people were responsible for the realization of this project, and it is with special contributions from Preston’s talented crew and a special group of actors and actresses that the show was able to be such a success.