UWF theater, engineering students use grant funds to collaborate for upcoming Narnia production
University of West Florida theater and engineering students are collaborating to bring C.S. Lewis’ classic, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," to life this month at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts, complete with an engineered puppet version of Aslan the lion. The partnership is made possible by a high impact practice grant, as well as two student grants from the Office of Undergraduate Research.
University of West Florida theater and engineering students are collaborating to bring C.S. Lewis’ classic, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” to life this month at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts, complete with an engineered puppet version of Aslan the lion. The partnership is made possible by a high impact practice grant, as well as two student grants from the Office of Undergraduate Research.
“This was the first project in a few years that has allowed us to collaborate on the more challenging pieces of the ‘Narnia’ production,” said Glenn Breed, professor of theater and project/technical lead for the production. “The grants helped us fund this project in a way that showcases University talent in multiple disciplines, emphasizing the impact of STEAM opportunities in higher education.”
As with all theater productions, UWF students have assumed major leadership roles to craft the production from start to finish. Seven theater students worked under the leadership of Marci Duncan, UWF assistant professor of acting, who serves as the show director to build Aslan and develop costume, makeup and wig design.
“This is a great opportunity for the theater and engineering students to work together in a way that usually keeps our departments apart,” Breed said. “The cross collaboration has proved very useful in sharing ideas and problem solving.”
Dr. Michael Reynolds, associate professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said he was approached before the Fall 2021 semester to assist in building a lion equipped with motion and the ability to be controlled by several actors inside. He recruited five first-year students in the Introduction to Engineering course to design the head, body and some of the animation features, under his guidance and that of Dr. Hakki Sevil, assistant professor of intelligent systems and robotics.
The students made great headway throughout the fall semester, and the lion was completed in early spring with the help of Kevin Gallup, program manager and computer numerical control machinist for mechanical engineering.
Reynolds said it was an invaluable experience for engineering students, not only to learn about balancing engineering principles with the needs of customers but also to see a design come to reality, while contributing to the UWF community.
“Every engineer needs to learn how to translate engineering knowledge to a design that meets the needs of the public,” Reynolds said. “These collaborations help both theater and engineering students understand each other and apply what they are learning. It’s exciting to see your design literally ‘come to life’ in a theater production.”
Since the Narnia books are frequently a part of school reading curriculum, this production also gives the theatre department the opportunity to reach younger audiences. Seeing the story that they have read come to life in front of them is a tremendous opportunity to show the power of theatre to students at a younger age. There will be one weekday student matinee with students from a variety of area schools in attendance. In addition, a number of smaller school groups will be attending the evening performances.
“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” will be performed at the UWF Center for Fine and Performing Arts from March 25-27 and April 1-3. To view showtimes or purchase tickets, visit uwf.edu/cfpa.