Newhouse's legendary Cage gets a sleek, high-tech makeover

By Juliana LaBianca

October 31, 2014

During the past 15 years, thousands of pieces of lighting and sound equipment, cameras and tripods have called the Cage at the Newhouse School home. Through the double doors and down the hall from the Waverly Avenue entrance of Newhouse 2, the Cage’s funky vibe and savvy staff have made it more than just a place to rent equipment. It’s a place where all first-year students visit, and all majors interact.

The space is as legendary as it is quirky. The people who work at the Cage make it so—evidenced in one of The Cage’s first-person tweets: “Someone took my snowflakes down from my sign. Now my sign is simply ‘tacky’ as opposed to ‘tacky with a flair of winter whimsy.’  “ The Cage’s concrete floors, construction-paper decor and dim lighting have long added to its character. And students and faculty have long embraced its frequently loud, trendy playlists and sassy signs about proper renting etiquette.

But as of Monday, Oct. 27, the Cage has a new home. For 12 hours on Oct. 26, staffers and supervisors moved about 1,000 pieces of equipment to The Cage’s new home: a brand new, technologically advanced space in the renovated part of Newhouse 2. The new Cage is part of an $18 million renovation of Newhouse 2, which includes the new Newhouse Studio and Innovation Center that was dedicated Sept. 29.

To prepare for the move, staffers began organizing the equipment in early September, and labeled the shelves before moving day. The move was originally scheduled for Oct. 5, but was pushed back due to shelving and computer setup delays. By Monday, though, equipment was neatly organized and students were already using the brand new, wide-open space in front of the check-in counters.

Students work in the old Cage space. Photo by Tara Schoenborn

The new Cage is slightly larger than the old space, and located about 50 feet in front of it, closer to the traditional entrance to Newhouse 2. Perhaps the most advanced feature of the new Cage space is the barcode and scanning system. Each piece of equipment will have a barcode that must be scanned when equipment is checked out and returned. The system is a great improvement for tracking equipment over the “pen and paper” process that’s used now, say Cage staff.

Flat-screen TVs outside the Cage will display information about scheduling equipment, says Cage supervisor Vince Cobb. Cobb says he hopes the screens will also soon showcase exemplary student productions, so those passing through can see what’s possible with the equipment. 

In addition to its technical features, the new Cage is part of Newhouse 2’s sleek makeover featuring a white, silver and muted orange color scheme.

“The new space is more visual,” says Cobb.  “We wanted to create a cool atmosphere—a professional workplace, but one where students can collaborate ideas.”

iMacs line the check-in counter and waist-high countertops run along each of the walls, offering plenty of space for students to test equipment before they leave. And gone is the gray concrete floor—replaced with shiny white tile.

Indeed, the Cage’s appearance is now as top-notch as its equipment. Cobb, who has been with Syracuse University for 25 years and has overseen the Cage for 15, says the school regularly upgrades its cameras, tripods, sound and lighting equipment, and that with the new studios, Newhouse’s equipment and production facilities are on par with any other university in the country.

A new barcode and scanning system replaces a sign-out process for equipment in the new Cage. Photo by Tara Schoenborn

“We’re right up to standard with any professional organization like NBC, CBS or CNN. The same type of equipment they use, we use,” he says. “If you’re into production, Newhouse is definitely a place where you can improve your skills and learn the trade.”

As for the old space, Cobb says a new computer lab is one possibility, though nothing is final. “It might be interesting because we can have an area for borrowing equipment up front, and an area for editing in the back,” he says. He explains that many students have issues getting audio and video off of the cameras and SD cards, and that having a lab behind the Cage would allow staffers to help with these issues.

Despite its new streamlined look, the Cage does not seem to have lost its signature vibe. On the morning of its opening, Biggie Smalls pumped from one of the new Macs, and students and staff were already working together to solve technical issues with equipment.

“It’s the same people and the same idea, “ says Leslie Edwards, a junior who has been on staff since September of 2013. “So it should be the same type of place.”

Juliana LaBianca is a senior magazine journalism major at the Newhouse School.