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SUNY Plattsburgh Individualized Studies Major Wins Regional Theater Awards

Pecoraro and walters

SUNY Plattsburgh senior Kaleb Pecoraro started the spring semester with a splash, winning four regional theater awards.

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region 1 (New England and northeastern New York), at Central Connecticut State University Jan. 30-Feb. 3, saw Pecoraro receive the award for excellence in projection design for “Dragons Love Tacos,” a play for young audiences performed on campus last semester.

For that same play, Pecoraro and anthropology major Olivia Davis received the design technology management collaboration award for projections.

“Going to that awards ceremony, I didn’t expect really much of anything,” Pecoraro said. “I was hoping that I and my assistant designer could win that together because of the amount of collaboration work that we put in together. I knew we qualified for it.”

More Awards Kept Coming

But after he and Davis accepted the award, more and more kept coming, Pecoraro said.

“All of a sudden, they said my name again. I had no idea what it was for, but it turned out it was for the Randy Lutz Allied Design and Technologies Award for my robot.”

Pecoraro’s original 10-minute play, “Talking Heads on the Television,” features an animatronic robot that Pecoraro designed and programmed, housed inside an old television.

He still isn’t sure what the announcer said about his robot because he and the other SUNY Plattsburgh students were so excited about the previous award that they missed the introduction, he said.

In addition, Pecoraro won the technical Olympics event where he performed various stage-related tasks while timed: Carrying a 20-pound steel brick through a curvy track, marking a chair’s stage position with tape, tying a knot, hanging and focusing a stage light, and driving a 2-inch screw into and out of a piece of wood.

He accomplished that last task in just 2.8 seconds, he said.

National Tech Theater Conference

As a result of Pecoraro’s awards, the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival will fund a trip to Seattle so he can present at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology conference March 20 to 23.

“It has a massive expo floor. Lots of workshops, lots of networking. Grad schools go and try to get students to go to their schools,” Pecoraro said.

Jack Byrnes, a theater certificate student, will film an encore performance the March 1 at SUNY Plattsburgh of Pecoraro’s “Talking Heads on the Television” so he can use the video to present at the conference. The show premiered a year ago as part of the theater department’s 10-minute Climate Play Festival, which was performed at various businesses in downtown Plattsburgh.

In addition to the robot, the play features a single character, the scientist, played by student Charles Marcheski.

Free and open to the public, the encore performance will be held 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 1 in Hartman Theatre, Myers Fine Arts Building.

‘Collaboration with Faculty’

Pecoraro said his success in creating the robot he uses in his play was made possible through his work with Dr. Michael Walters, associate professor and chair of physics.

Walters described his work with Pecoraro as a true collaboration.

All Pecoraro’s robotics coursework is either done via independent studies or robotics classes that function as labs, Walters said.

He gave Pecoraro the specifications for a small robot he wanted him to build in a way that it could be easily reproduced and used as a teaching tool in his introduction to robotics class, Walters said.

Pecoraro fashioned a method for attaching oddly shaped motors to the body of the robot that worked so well, Walters said he will use it going forward with his future classes.

‘Thrives on Experiential Learning’

He personifies the strengths of the individualized studies major, since he has worked with faculty to make his degree as hands-on as possible, Walters said.

“We try to do that a lot at the college to make that an experiential degree, but he has really taken it to the next level because almost everything he has done has been an experiential piece into his degree. That’s what he likes to do, and that’s what he thrives on.”

When Pecoraro needs help with some of the more technical aspects of robotics, Walters said he is there to coach him through it.

Doesn’t Shy Away

“We can discuss the basics of it, and he starts diving into it and finding the tools that he needs to make it happen.”

Walters said Pecoraro doesn’t shy away from assisting with the less glamorous tasks in the university’s robotics program either.

“He maintains my 3-D printers. Between the two of us, we run the laser cutter. That’s why it’s kept in shape.”

Skillset Makes Him Marketable

Since there are so many choices in the theater field, Pecoraro said he isn’t sure what job or graduate school program is best for him yet.

Walters said his varied skillset makes him marketable.

“He can talk to the artistic side and the technical side, and he has enough of a blend of both that he could do both if he wanted to, which makes him quite unique, especially in that (theater) space.”

Pecoraro said if plays his cards right, he could leave the Seattle conference with a job or grad school admission offer.

“With what college has given me and the skills I’ve gathered, I can really go wherever I want,” Pecoraro said. “It’s exciting.”

— Story, Photo by Assistant Director of Communications Felicia Krieg

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