ME Students Create Motorized Circular Stage for Student Production

Theatrical Turntable ME senior project.

Robert Reed, right, works to install a center hub that will make a motorized circular stage rotate. Also helping with the stage, which will be used for a student production later this month, are Isaac Becker, left, Caroline Whelan and (not pictured) Liam Martinez.


Senior ME Student Isaac Becker with Theatrical Turntable project

Senior mechanical engineering student Isaac Becker works on fitting a piece into the center of a motorized circular stage he and four other students are creating for a student production later this month. The stage is one of several that will be displayed at this year’s Project Expo, June 1.


Theatrical Turntable Project

Senior Mechanical Engineering students work on the Theatrical Turntable project.


A rotating circular stage created by a team of mechanical engineering majors will add artful visual highlights this month to a production staged by Cal Poly music students.

RSVP, the Music Department’s student production ensemble, has staged a transmedia series for 23 seasons. This year’s production, “RSVP XXIII: Fatherland,” celebrates electroacoustic diversity, compositional risk and belonging.  To enhance the visual experience, music professor Antonio Barata called on the mechanical engineering department to build a motorized stage.  

Four students accepted the task as their senior project.

“They started working on this in September,” said project advisor Lee McFarland, who recently previewed the work-in-progress outside the Bonderson Center.

This week, the students began assembling the stage, which features two motors, several wooden “leaves” and 40 casters, or wheels, that help the stage rotate.  Once the individual pieces were built, the challenge was to make sure they all fit for a smooth rotation.

“We just need to make (the parts) talk to each other,” student Robert Reed explained.

After the team placed a pipe-like hub in the center of the stage, Liam Martinez tested it for the first time, then let out a relieved chuckle.

“It spins!” he said.

Design and construction weren’t the only Learn by Doing factors the students had to consider.

“One of the big challenges was finding funding,” said Isaac Becker, noting that they had to seek grants for materials. “And then suddenly, someone was like, ‘You need to get a building permit.’”

The team, which also includes Caroline Whelan, managed to secure both grants and a permit for the stage, which will hold up to six people at a time.

Barata said the stage will be a centerpiece, advancing the show’s music and choreography.

“The turntable has a way of carving out a different and unique space, allowing us to actually have players on it, moving on and off, all suggesting different types of belonging,” Barata said.

The shows will take place at the PAC Pavilion on May 29 and 31 at 8 p.m. After that, the stage creators will break it down and re-assemble it at the June 1 Project Expo.