CAH Alum Parker Slaybaugh ’13 and Brother Develop App for Performing Arts
Above, Blakely Slaybaugh and his brother, Parker Slaybaugh ’13 at Back to the Future: The Musical on Broadway, where Blakely Slaybaugh is performing.
By Camille Dolan ’98
Instead of perfecting a sourdough loaf during the pandemic, Parker Slaybaugh ’13 and his brother, Blakely Slaybaugh, had another idea they were baking.
Their new app, Pre-Pro, is named after the term “pre-production,” a process that begins (when creatives are devising ideas for a production yet to be greenlit, OR) formally once a film, television show, play or other performance has been greenlit.
Available on the Apple App Store for iPad and Mac, Pre-Pro offers a free version of the app in addition to upgrades.
The Slaybaughs’ new app allows creators of any level of expertise to visualize every type of event including live performances, including film and dance, to concerts and weddings. Its easy-to-use interface is intuitive enough for everyone from young children to seasoned veterans to deploy to create their next big dream.
An Idea “Baked” During the Pandemic
The creative process involved in the ideas for any of the performing arts can be — and usually is — long and involved, and usually consists of lots of trial and error.
“It’s not unusual,” Parker Slaybaugh says, “for people in the arts to visualize their nascent creations on their coffee table at home using pennies for the actors, and random household objects for the set dressing.”
It’s a timeless tradition that Parker Slaybaugh himself, an actor and choreographer, used prior to the development of Pre-Pro.
Would-be directors manipulate their “actors” around the “stage,” trying to coalesce their vision for what they hope is the next Tony-award winning performance.
Pre-Pro eliminates the need for that kind of guesswork and gives its users the opportunity to not only create, modify and save their production, but also to animate its “actors” in real time and in 3D. Pre-Pro also allows file-sharing within the platform for easy input from fellow creatives and sharing of visions.
The Slaybaugh brothers grew up in Fort Myers and shared dual interests of video games and community theatre. The similarities between those two activities may not be immediately apparent, but the brothers say they were drawn to the storytelling aspects of each.
Since then, their interests have morphed into technology in general and performing at increasingly advanced levels.
As the older sibling, Blakely Slaybaugh was the first to go to college. UCF was on his list of possibilities, but he instead headed to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He is currently appearing in “Back to the Future: The Musical” on Broadway and has received the prestigious Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for his portrayal of Prez in “The Pajama Game.”
Parker Slaybaugh selected UCF’s School of Performing Arts after a series of multiple auditions around the country. He began performing officially at the age of 5, when he took his first dance classes and shortly after at age 9, took to the road where he starred for multiple seasons alongside the Radio City Rockettes. He followed his brother to NYC after graduation and earned accolades for his craft.
The Slaybaugh brothers also appeared on Broadway at the same time, but in different musicals. On their respective websites, Parker Slaybaugh and Blakely Slaybaugh, media clips demonstrate their considerable dancing, singing, and acting chops. Parker Slaybaugh is also a sought-after choreographer.
According to a 2016 newspaper article, as part of the NYC performing community post-graduation, they occasionally competed for the same musical theatre roles.
No biggie, they said at the time.
“At the end of the day, as long as there’s a Slaybaugh onstage, we feel like it was a success,” Blakely Slaybaugh said.
Their camaraderie was evident then, perhaps even more so in their latest collaboration.
When the entertainment industry screeched to a halt during the pandemic, Parker and Blakely began discussing the idea for their app. Their shared love of technology and storytelling, coupled with their network of connections in the industry, allowed them the freedom to explore the idea of a new app.
“I connected the dots between our love of technology and what was happening in our day-to-day lives,” Blakely Slaybaugh says. “Parker and I began to see that this wasn’t just a pandemic dream, but something that would be beneficial to the arts community and other events like conventions, weddings and concerts.”
They surveyed their friends in the business, pitching the idea of the app, and determining its usefulness and sustainability.
“As we continued developing the app, we realized we were on to something,” Parker Slaybaugh says.
What they discovered was that people who had, perhaps, toyed with the idea of creating their own play or performance were interested in the 3D modeling capability of the app, a library of 3D prop assets and venues, plus the ability to import one’s own 3D files, and many other functionalities that the app provides.
Through Blakely Slaybaugh’s experience with high-end Broadway shows, he knew what functionalities would be useful to a Pre-Pro user.
When the brothers were beta testing the app, various individuals and organizations, including “possibly one former Presidential candidate,” they received additional feedback that allowed them to formally release the app into the world.
“We knew that we had a product that was not only fun to use and looked cool, but also that it wasn’t a waste of anyone’s time,” Parker Slaybaugh says.
Also, adds Blakely Slaybaugh, “We wanted to create a way that is inclusive of creative individuals who may not have the budget required for the pre-planning of a staged performance.”
Of course, eventually the Pre-Pro user will need performers and a studio to fully realize their dreams. But, the brothers say, even if the user has four good ideas, they should be able to try out their ideas on their couch to determine which one is the best.
“You can create a video of your dance number and staging and send it to a director to add their ideas,” Parker Slaybaugh says. “If a lighting designer could see to scale where people are going to be, it reduces their time, costs and efforts.”
Animation is a big aspect of the app.
“We built some AI tech that allows the user to import a video of themselves dancing, then automatically remove the background, and drag and drop into the animated paths, replacing the 3D mannequin with the video of the user’s dance moves,” Blakely Slaybaugh says.
Both Slaybaughs have been talking to people in the arts community about the app. Its price point and user experience – the fact that it is “cool to use” – is a big selling point.
“We think this is something bigger than us,” Parker Slaybaugh says.
“We’ve been fortunate to work with giant companies on really high-end shows, not just theatre. It could be used to plan weddings, conventions, anything. We know our community, and we are exposing them to something that will easily allow them to show their idea in a better way.”
The Slaybaughs also think that UCF theatre students will be interested in the app.
“Students need to be at the forefront of the technology that’s pushing forward the craft they’re studying,” Blakely Slaybaugh says. “They are already learning industry standard software every day as part of their education, and Pre-pro would be a useful addition to their toolkit.
Parker Slaybaugh says his time at UCF further helped plant the seed for Pre-Pro.
“Over my time at UCF, they had a stagecraft class where you get a hands-on view of the entire technical and construction process,” Parker Slaybaugh says.
The class, held when he was a freshman and sophomore, was a learning experience where he did not get to perform, but he focused on the importance of the technical aspect of stagecraft. It also built his confidence level as he continued throughout his career to be brave enough to stand up and say, “I want this, I can do this.”
In the demonstration video above, Pre-Pro offers a new immersive, dynamic, multi-media language for sharing your pre-production visions. “This technology will help propel the arts higher and keep current with other technologies,” Parker Slaybaugh says. “It’s for everyone.”