In the Loop
Friends and Giving : Jun 9, 2021

Embracing the Roaring 2020s: How a benefit gala streamed to patrons’ living rooms

Over $48,000 raised for students and programs

By Brandon McKinley

When patrons of the UF School of Music and School of Theatre and Dance settled in Saturday evening to open their “top secret” party packs—full of pink feather boas and pink champagne glasses—a team of performers, camera operators, and production managers were ready to go live from the REVE: the Research, Education, and Visualization Environment located in Old Norman Gym on the UF campus.  

The UF Digital Worlds Institute had already logged hundreds of hours of planning, filming, rehearsing, video editing, and designing for the schools’ annual benefit gala Splendor by the time it started on April 10, 2021.  

Their goal was to create an energetic evening that fused notions of in-person experiences known to and loved by seasoned Splendor patrons with new methods of digital engagement to create a safe event within the health guidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Using a combination of pre-recorded and live video streaming, virtual meeting technology, and social media, the Digital Worlds team produced a two-and-a-half-hour event that raised over $48,000 for student scholarships, masterclasses, equipment needs, and professional development. 

Digital Worlds Associate Director Tim Difato directed the production. During the event, he was stationed with the evening’s emcee, Assistant Professor Ryan Hope Travis, who was mic’ed up in the Virtual Production Studio, standing in front of a green screen that the designers digitally replaced with Splendor-themed backgrounds in real time.  

Around the corner and down the hallway, Associate Professor Scott Wilson and the “Bootleggers,” a Splendor-themed jazz ensemble of faculty and students, were setup in the “PICT,” the Polymodal Immersive Classroom Theater, which features three 30-foot projection surfaces.  

Combined, the Digital Worlds team used ten cameras, half of which were remotely controlled robotic PTZ cameras. Studio and Creative Manager Paul Burgermeister operated one of the cameras on a 20-foot boom crane, creating sweeping shots of the house band.  

Inside the tech booth, Technical Systems Operator Jared Crane and Operations Manager Ethan Tripp seamlessly switched between the cameras and multiple audio channels just like they rehearsed in the 30 hours of tech and dress rehearsals leading up to the event.  

Justin Marlin, assistant director for student services and administration at Digital Worlds, built the event website to mirror the in-person Splendor experience.  

The “main stage” featured the live video program, where patrons viewed student performances, live-streamed entertainment, and pre-recorded and live messages from faculty, students, Friends board presidents, and university leadership.  

To participate in the virtual photobooth, guests could upload photos to Instagram or Twitter and use the hashtag #SplendorAtHome, which would automatically add the photo to the Splendor website.  

Patrons also bid on silent auction items in an online shopping environment.  

“Splendor gave the Digital Worlds team another opportunity to reimagine events and engagements for a digital era to find ways to make meaningful connections even while we’re apart,” Difato says. “We’re grateful for all the patrons and staff who trusted us with producing this event. We hope it was as fun for you all as it was for us.” 

Over 250 people from 33 different cities visited the website during the event. This was the 13th annual Splendor and the first ever to partner with the college’s Digital Worlds Institute.