After I put the first version of this web page together, I continued to do research. There’s an entire industry that creates computer-controlled systems for running shows.
If you get the right software, you can run a very elaborate show -- fog machines, confetti cannons, light cues, etc -- from a single computer. Any big show these days runs off a computer. The companies that make this software usually have detailed websites with downloadable demos.
Most of this software is fairly expensive, since it’s aimed at high-end professional uses (bands, theme parks, Broadway shows, etc.)
The high end of this kind of software is represented by Stage Research, Inc. and their SFX software. They have a lot of interesting articles on their website about how SFX was used in various shows. See http://www.stageresearch.com -- when you get there, click “Soundbytes” and then go through the archived showcases.
If you get serious about this, the first book on the subject is Control Systems for Live Entertainment, by John Huntington. His website is at http://www.zircondesigns.com/index.htm
John maintains a large list of companies that make this kind of software at:
Many of the companies on this list offer demo versions. This includes links to Mac software as well as links to information on computer-controlled fountains, every possible MIDI gadget you could trigger from a
PC, animatronic characters, display boards, and lots more. I’m never going to get to this level, but I enjoy reading about what the major shows do.