Cool cat under hot lights
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High tech suit allows actor to show his prowess as a lion, not a mouw-ess
October 26, 2010
Musical theatre is hot work. Singing and dancing under bright stage lights, in full makeup and costume, puts actors at risk of overheating. It's more than just a risk for the actor who performs in the Cowardly Lion costume – overheating is a dangerous likelihood.
"Every performance is like running a marathon in a plastic bag," says Jeffrey Stephen, smiling in his Cowardly Lion costume. "A fur-lined plastic bag."
Stephen plays the classic L. Frank Baum character in the Victoria Operatic Society's (VOS) fall production of The Wizard of Oz (November 19-28 at the McPherson Playhouse). He's also a faculty member in the Mechanical Engineering department at Camosun College, where he has access to a secret weapon in the war on overheating.
"Inside the lion costume I wear another, more high tech, costume," says Stephen. "A cool suit under the hot one."
Cool suit under the hot one
The cool suit provides an innovative solution to Stephen's problem with overheating. Sewn into the fabric of a tight fitting vest and hood are a complex network of small rubber tubes. Ice water is circulated from a small reservoir through the tubes by a lightweight, miniature pump, so that the wearer stays cool.
"The thick hair on Jeff's lion suit provides so much insulation that the heat his body naturally produces can't get out, so Jeff gets really hot, really fast," says Will Spaulding, Stephen's colleague in the Mechanical Engineering department, and a research engineer at Camosun College's Sport Innovation Centre (SPIN), located at the Interurban campus' Pacific Institute for Sport Technology (PISE). "The cooling vest and hood absorb the heat he produces, so he stays feeling cool. It's kind of like a cross between a refrigerator and the human body's own circulation system."
Award-winning VOS costume and makeup artist David Hardwick designed the Cowardly Lion costume to incorporate the high tech cool suit. The suit's ice water reservoir, pump and battery fit neatly across Stephen's stomach, providing his lean frame the necessary Cowardly Lion paunch. No one will even notice they are there, except for Stephen. "Do I look fat in this?" asks Stephen with a mock growl as he assesses himself in the full-length costume mirror.
Colleges a hotspot for research and innovation
The cooling vest and hood combo was initially developed by a member of the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific (CSCP) to help athletes quickly recover from strenuous activities by absorbing their excess body heat. It's one of a suite of high tech gadgets that bridge research with real-life application, a change in the innovation landscape being led by Camosun College.
"Applied research and innovation have become a mainstay of colleges, which are closer to industry and better aligned with sector needs because our focus is on connecting high quality graduates with meaningful local careers," says Dr. Tim Walzak, BC Regional Innovation Chair in Sport Technology and Director of Applied Research and Innovation at Camosun College.
CSCP has a training and evaluation laboratory on the main floor of the PISE building at the Interurban Campus of Camosun College. Their role is to work closely with a wide variety of high level Canadian athletes to improve their performance and ensure their good health. CSCP works very closely with SPIN and together they have helped many of Canada's top athletes by developing innovative solutions to their technological problems.
"Camosun and our partners are at the innovation forefront, tackling research projects on many fronts, including sport innovation, health and human services, advanced manufacturing and prototyping, and sustainable technologies," says Walzak. "With substantial Federal funding available exclusively to colleges and targeted towards encouraging partnerships with industry, Camosun is ideally positioned to play an active in regional economic development."
"In this economy we're seeing cuts to arts funding, as well as cuts to research and education. So we band together to get the job done," says David Sovka, Associate Director of College and Community Relations. "Camosun gets community. The high tech lion costume is as much about supporting community theatre as it is community theatre supporting college research."
Associate Director, College & Community Relations
More about the Victoria Operatic Society
The Victoria Operatic Society (VOS) is a non-profit organization established in 1945 with the purpose of bringing top-quality live musical theatre to Victoria and giving aspiring young singers and performers the opportunity to display their talents. Read more…
More about Camosun College's Sport Innovation Centre (SPIN)
SPIN blends the ideas generated from basic sport research, the athletic performance community, and the product development business. Their ongoing work in advancing human performance will position Vancouver Island as a break-through leader in sport technology development throughout Canada and around the world. Read more…
Last updated: October 28, 2010 1:07 pm