An Original Musical By MIT Students

Archive for February, 2012

Is it the end, or just the beginning of… Hack, Punt, Two‽‽‽‽‽‽‽

At 6AM on Sunday, February 12, 2012, Rachel Bowens-Rubin announced her intention to write another musical.  See how the other writers respond (and the context) here:


Blocking Distraction Tango

Watch choreographer Danbee Kim and assistant choreographer Cynthia Lu block Distraction Tango:


Danbee’s Script

Danbee Kim (Choreographer, Writer) spent a lot of time with post-its and pencil, mapping out details of the show like platform arrangements and changes inter- and intra-scene.

Oh, I guess some of it probably involves choreography of people too.

Publicity Designs

Three poster designs, followed by three postcard designs:

(Click to see full size versions)


Counterbalance Rappel

Before we blocked the counterbalance rappelling scene, I organized a “learn to rappel” session with a few of the cast and friends.  Among the cast (and dir staff) that came were Dgonz (Corot), Miles (Kepler), Jen (hacksemble), Molly (hacksemble), Jonny (Ryan), Caroline (Piston), and Tauntaun (writer and choreo).

Here’s a picture of Jen’s first descent!

Since before auditions, I was thinking of organizing a session like this so that the actors who played Kepler and Corot could gain more experience doing ropework.  By my rappelling luck, we ended up casting dgonz as Corot, who has a fair amount of experience rappelling (in fact he helped me instruct the session with Jonny), and Miles as Kepler, who is an amazing secret ninja and picked up on everything really quickly. By the end of the night, Dgonz and Miles attempted something beyond a usual intro to rappelling skill… a real counterbalance rappel!

For those of you unfamiliar with counterbalance rappelling (and who didn’t understand the explanation in the show), in a counterbalance rappel the anchor is set up such that the rope is not tied off to anything.  Instead it’s wrapped around an object such that if you pull on one side of the rope, the rope comes off, but if you pull on both sides together the rope stays.  [Quick aside: I’ve used this technique once in real life in a canyon to rappel off a giant sandstone archway. My counterbalance partner was Itaru (secondary writer and unofficial ropes technician)]

Miles was completely up for trying the counterbalance rappel and eventually convinced Dgonz to do it (which is ironically opposite of their characters in HPT).   As they were descending, they sang “Counterbalance” which sounded incredibly beautiful echoing through the many stories of the staircase.  Check out the video!

Double thanks to Dgonz and Jonny who helped me rig and instruct.

-Rachel Bowens-Rubin ’12ish (Co-Director and Writer)

Webmaster’s note: This was performed with permission from MIT’s EHS department and the manager of the building.


Zach’s Still In Shock

Oh man… it’s the second weekend of “Hack, Punt, Tool,” and I’m still kind of in shock that we actually wrote a musical. I mean, yeah, I remember all the days/dawns/nights/timeless-zones, but there’s some small part of me that is almost unwilling to believe that we actually made this thing. When I was little, musicals were always associated with strange clumps of words: Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hart, whatever. Musicals were these ready-made things that people performed. No one actually wrote them. I certainly never would write one. I guess it’s happened though, but it feels so impossible that I’ve helped create one of these things. I guess nothing’s impossible.*

*perpetual motion machines, Carnot engines, whatever.

-Zach Barryte ’12 (Writer)

HPT In Sala

This covers almost every moment of Hack, Punt, Tool in Sala, from the beginning of Put-In to Opening Night, other than long boring patches at night that were edited out, a number of camera crashes, and a few times that people were working and the camera didn’t get started.

Both time lapses were taken using a Canon A495 mounted on a GorillaPod Joby with an external power supply (total cost <$100 from Amazon).  The A495 was running CHDK open source firmware and the Ultra Intervalometer script.  Images were then renamed sequentially using a simple .vbs script. After iPhoto/iMovie miserably failed to build a time lapse from even a few thousand images (and I had tens of thousands) I used Time Lapse Assembler on OS X to create the movies, and edited the Sala movie using iMovie.

The whole process was relatively straightforward, but there were a few hurdles:

  1. The camera would sometimes run for days with no problems, and sometimes turn itself off every few seconds.  I haven’t identified whether this is an issue with the Ultra Intervalometer script, with the CHDK beta version running on the camera, a problem with the physical power supply, or something else.
  2. The Ultra Intervalometer script uses a simple timing loop that is configured for a different camera model, and I didn’t take the time to experiment and tweak it for the A495, so an interval of “10 seconds” ended up being more like 15 seconds.  Not a big deal for this project.
  3. Dealing with about 50,000 individual files is not convenient on any OS, even if they’re each a small 640×480 image.  On OS X, simple “move” operations are very slow in the Finder, but using the terminal or a bash script is much speedier.  iPhoto isn’t real happy about importing more than a few thousand images at a time, and may crash, or think it has succeeded but have some blank images.  And iMovie is great for making a time-lapse from a handful of photos… but even a thousand makes it bog down to unusability, even on a modern high-end iMac.  Time Lapse Assembler had no trouble with the same task.
  4. Several parts of the process would probably be much easier with a dedicated device like a Brinno TLC200, which was announced in early January but isn’t available yet.

-Alex Flagg French ’05 (Technical Director)

In the MTG Set Shop

A time lapse movie covering almost every moment that we spent working on HPT in the MTG Set shop.  You should start to see some familiar pieces coming together.



-Alex Flagg French ’05 (Technical Director)

Hi Jack!

make gif

Original photo credit Jax Kirtley.  Animated GIF by Emily Rosser.

Choreographer/Writer’s Thoughts Before Prod Week

Written 1/28/2012

Writing Hack, Punt, Tool was an excuse to break down the behavior of MIT students. Thinking about what kinds of motivations influenced people’s actions was an interesting exercise, but we had the additional constraint of creating the spectrum of characters – hero, villian, romantic interest, best friend, eager padawan, etc. – who were believably MIT students. They needed to be internally consistent and believably intelligent, but there was a whole spectrum of ways that logic could be thwarted by emotion.

And I wanted our story to resonate with anyone, regardless of whether they are hackers or MIT students. In the end Hack, Punt, Tool became a story about people passionate to fulfill a goal and learning how much they need each other to accomplish great goals.

I was also sneaking on my choreographer’s hat while writing – I’ve been dying to do a show where the characters all move with a practical, efficient flavor to their postures. Martial dance is one of my favorite forms of movement, and I can’t wait to see how it all looks when everything has been drilled and pulled together.

Danbee Kim ’09 (Choregorapher/Writer)

Opening Night for the Music Director

Tonight is opening night.  This is absolutely blowing my mind.


The seed for Hack, Punt, Tool was planted exactly one year and four days ago, after MTG’s Jekyll and Hyde Matinee.  This year has been an absolute roller coaster for me.   I think anyone who was around me last spring (final semester before graduation) knew how stressed out I was between two theses, a senior capstone project, being President of RoboCup, alto section leader in Concert Choir and writing a musical.  As stressful as it was, I wouldn’t trade the semester for anything because the foundation of Hack, Punt, Tool came out of it.  The stability of our weekly meetings got shaken during the summer as graduation, summer plans, and real world jobs got in the way.  I was afraid that as a writing team, not being in the same state would slowly eat away at us and the project would die.  Thanks to a large number of car trips from Connecticut to Boston, and an even larger number of Skype calls, we made it happen, and here it is, opening night of the show.


In the past year, I’ve realized that the one thing I love to do more than anything in the world is to create things, whether it’s building a robot, doing graphic design, carving a pumpkin, or writing a musical.  It’s so rewarding to me to be able to work diligently and passionately on a project and step back and feel proud of the work accomplished.  This experience to me has been the epitome of that.  I never knew that I could feel as passionate about any project as I do about Hack, Punt, Tool.  I think the best part though is knowing that all those days working so hard on my own on music, I could come to our meetings with something new, and share it with others who were as passionate about the show as I was.  There were so many late nights of discussing, arguing, laughing, listening to cast albums, getting angry over the word “scoff,” recording demo songs, doing readings of the script, watching Vitas on YouTube, seeing crazy sci-fi shows together at ART, and generally being silly.  The way we all worked together was truly amazing, and I’ll miss our writing sessions immensely.


Watching it come together over the past month has also been incredible.  Living in Connecticut, I wasn’t able to come to rehearsal every night, but each rehearsal I came to, more and more of the show came together.  The characters were coming alive in front of us, and the music was no longer confined to the page.   I’m grateful that I’ve been able to be a part of the production process to help shepherd the project into a state ready to be seen by an audience.


This project is so dear to us, and it means so much to us that people are coming to see the show because we’ve poured so much of our time, energy, hearts, and souls into making it what it is.  We hope you enjoy it, and you should tell all your friends to come see Hack, Punt, Tool!

-Julie Henion ’11 (Music Director, Composer)

Photos of Final Dress Rehearsal

A few photos from the final dress rehearsal.

Hundreds of production photos will be included on the show DVD.

-Alex French ’05 (Technical Director)

Costume Sketches


By day, the characters of Hack, Punt, Tool dress–if not all-around normally–normally by MIT standards.  But by night, they don their black badassery to pull their non-malicious mischief on the Institvte.  
The costumes team wanted to make sure this “Haxx0r” mode included touches of each character’s personality, hence the splashes of color among the black.  The signature colors of each hacker prompted one director to declare “Go, go, Power Rangers!”  Also, we wanted to keep a baseline of practicality: hackers are suckers for pageantry, but they need to be able to climb and jump and carry their many tools.  This in turn led to the overuse of the prefix “Utili-,” as in, “I swear it’s not a corset– it’s a utili-corset!”  The result was equal parts fancy and functional, cyberpunk and lolita, highlander and hotness. 
Ah, the good ole reliable campus police.  While actually aping the MIT CP uniforms would verge on disrespect (and a bit of a safety issue), the costumes team tried to capture a more generic uniform that allows their personalities to shine through.  From left to right we have the demure Officer DeeDee Kalf, the ambitious Officer Frey Pachino, the bombastic Sgt. Bruce E. Sprinkles, and the bumbling but lovable Officer Barry Claw.  The funny thing about this sketch is that it was done before the parts were actually cast…and ended up looking a lot like the actors who ultimately played the roles.  
Will this motley assortment of cops cooperate to bring down the hack?  Come find out!
-Emily Rosser ’12ish (Master Seamstress, Officer Deedee Kalf)
Sketches by Emily Rosser, Designs by Emily Rosser and Kirsten Olson

Writing Hack, Punt, Tool: By the Numbers

workshop readings 3
meetings with Michael Cuthbert, Julie’s music advisor 15 ± 3
“emergency” meetings 19 ± 4
emails sent over 9,000
longest Skype call 12 hours 23 minutes
total hours spent on Skype 250 ± 50
greatest number of scene/song drafts “Wank, Wank, Wank”: 20 ± 2 drafts found
highlighter colors used on Google docs 14 ± 2
total number Google docs used 160 ± 2
number of times we broke Google docs too many…
miles put on Julie’s car to attend meetings 3600
number of hours we kept Daniel away from lab shhh… don’t tell his advisor…
gallons of juice consumed 104 ± 19
people on the creative mailing list 19
number of shows listened to for inspiration 79 ± 10
character with the most name changes Tensor: formerly (Lorentz, Talia, Tali, Euler, and Sir Jection)
single word yielding the longest discussion “scoffed”: 22 hours ± 5
dawns shared 30 ± 7
craziest time signature purposed 19/8

-The Writers

Director’s Notes (1)

This is the last bit of writing left, after a year of working on Hack, Punt, Tool (and losing a lot of sleep and sanity):  A directors note…

Something unique and amazing about MIT is that everyone (from undergrads to faculty) comes here driven to do something epic. Some come to launch rockets, build robots, get A’s on psets, or cure cancer while others may want to be dorm president, be in a musical :), or (like our characters) pull an awesome hack.  Whatever it is, everyone works really hard on whatever they are passionate about to get it to the highest level possible.

But sometimes this “hardk0re” mentality is our downfall. Somewhere along the way, we lose track of why we had fun doing the epic stuff in the first place. I’ve found myself in this state at times at MIT.  I’ve always managed to recover (or at least somewhat recover),  but now thanks to my fellow writers and the cast and crew of the show, I have a few songs I can hum to remind me to pick my head up a little faster.

For me, directing this show has felt like “Mens et manus” at it’s finest. This was my first time directing, so I often felt like I was drinking from the firehose as Krista (my co-directing partner in crime) stepped on the hose so that the water would not blow my face off.  One of the most satisfying days of the rehearsal process was my very first blocking rehearsal.  I blocked a Corot-Kepler scene I had agonized over in the writing process, and then watched the actors run the scene over and over again, adding their own expression and ideas.  So much “hardk0re” work felt like it turned into a sun rise.

-Rachel Bowens-Rubin ’11 (Co-Director)

Opening in TWO DAYS

After a year of writing, two months of production, and four weeks of rehearsals- Hack, Punt, Tool, is only two days away from opening, and this website exists.

You could cut the setnical tension with a knife.

Stay tuned for some (back-dated) thoughts on the writing and production progress from team that created Hack, Punt, Tool.

-Alex Flagg French ’05 (Technical Director)