Recent Theater/Performing Arts Center Projects

by FOH Staff
in Installations
For the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, MN, Allied Productions and Sales worked with Randy Hawkins, the venue's head audio engineer, on a new system that includes L-Acoustics K2 components.
For the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, MN, Allied Productions and Sales worked with Randy Hawkins, the venue's head audio engineer, on a new system that includes L-Acoustics K2 components.

FRONT of HOUSE profiles four unique venues, each with their own audio reinforcement needs. There’s the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, MN, a former vaudeville and cinema mecca saved from the wrecking ball and converted for use as a live music venue, and then there’s the Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre, where puppeteers wade behind a curtain in waist-deep water. We also profile the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, Havering, London, which is making the switch from analog mixing to digital, and how acoustic treatments are optimizing the acoustics for different performances within the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, FL.

Palace Theatre, St. Paul, MN

The new system features left and right main arrays of three K1-SB subs over 13 K2 enclosures.

Now a magnet for St. Paul’s downtown area, the Palace Theatre has a familiar story that has been repeated in dozens of cities across America. First opened in 1916 as a classic vaudeville and movie venue, it was rescued by the city a century later, after three decades in the dark, and renovated as a live music destination.

Within a few months of the new Palace’s first show in March of 2017, the 2,500-capacity venue once again received the royal treatment — this time in the form of a new L-Acoustics K2 P.A. system installed by local integrator and rental vendor Allied Productions and Sales.

Randy Hawkins, head audio engineer at the Palace Theatre and FOH touring engineer for the band Atmosphere, which headlined the new venue’s first show, says that a steady stream of visiting artists between the reopening of the venue and the installation of the new system in August confirmed K2 as the best choice.

“The Pixies came through with the exact same system we have here now, and everyone was amazed at how good it sounded,” Hawkins recalls. “There were a couple of other systems in here on a temporary basis, but none of them could come close to what we have now.”

Four KS28 ground subs per side deliver the low-end.

›› The System

Today, the venue’s main system is comprised of 13 K2 loudspeakers per side in a two-hang stereo system, each array topped with three K1-SB subs, while eight KS28 subs (four per side) are ground-stacked below.

The Palace is architecturally complex, with a tall 800-seat balcony over an open area that can hold another 1,700 people, but with a bar and other areas, such as the back of the main floor, that can be acoustically hard to reach. So Allied included a center-fill cluster of three Kiva II speakers in the design, with four X8 coaxial speakers for the front-fill array.

Another four X8’s act as delay speakers for the bar area while two more take the sound evenly to the very back of the floor. The main system is powered by 14 AVB-ready LA12X amplified controllers, with four AVB-equipped LA4X amplified controllers on hand for the fill and delay speakers.

Onstage, a monitor array — composed of six ARCS II speakers, 14 X15 HiQ wedges and six SB18 subwoofers, all powered by nine LA8 amplified controllers — keeps performers immersed.

Allied President Chad Pechacek says that he turned to K2 for a number of reasons besides its ability to cover a challenging venue like the Palace. For instance, the venerable venue was built long before touring or installed PA systems existed, with few useful rigging points in the ceiling above the proscenium stage. “The adjustable horizontal directionality, focus and throw that K2 provides in a lightweight enclosure gave us a lot of options for installation flexibility,” he says.

But the bottom line for the venue’s owners and operators was ultimately the system’s sound and acceptance, and K2’s ubiquity on touring riders was a major attraction. “K2 is at the top of almost every request list — it’s the ultimate rider-friendly P.A. system,” Hawkins sums. “The goal for choosing this sound system was to make the greatest number of touring bands happy, and K2 was the right way to do that.”

The stage has L-Acoustics X15 HiQ monitor wedges, ARCS II sidefills over SB18 subs and X8 coaxial front-fills.

Palace Theatre


Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi’s Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre now features an all-Harman P.A. system.

Since 1956, the Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre has preserved the uniquely Vietnamese art of water puppetry, hosting multiple performances per week.

Considered a cultural highlight in northern Vietnam, these shows combine dramatic performances by skilled puppeteers with accompaniments by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra.

To enhance the performances and ensure superb audio quality for audiences, the National Puppetry Theatre hired Ba Sao Investment to upgrade its aging audio system with a complete end-to-end Harman audio solution.

“One of the main objectives was to seamlessly integrate the new sound system with our existing equipment,” said Trịnh Đình Tân, technical manager, Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre. “It was also necessary to implement an outdoor-friendly solution that would be easy to set up and operate. The system installed by Ba Sao Investment met all these requirements, delivering an audio experience worthy of the prestige our show is known for.”

The sound system includes JBL VT4886 line array speakers and VT4883 subwoofers, JBL PRX412M 12-inch portable speakers, JBL AWC129 weather-resistant speakers, JBL AC 25 ultra-compact speakers, Crown DSi2000 power amplifiers, dbx iEQ-31 EQ/limiters, a Lexicon PCM92 digital effects processor and a Soundcraft GB8 series console.

Ba Sao Investment chose JBL VerTec line array speakers and subs to optimize the sound quality and coverage. PRX412M portable speakers, meanwhile, were chosen to provide clear and precise stage monitoring, and JBL AC25 ultra-compact speakers were deployed for their high output and 90° x 90° coverage. And JBL’s AWC129 full-range speakers are highly weather-resistant and meet the theater’s outdoor use requirements.

Powering is via Crown DSi 2000 amps, which deliver high performance and reliability and dbx iEQ31 graphic EQ/limiters offer 31-band equalization, AFS feedback suppression, Type V noise reduction and PeakStopPlus limiting. The Lexicon PCM92 reverb and effects lends its rich, smooth sound to the productions. Last but not least, a Soundcraft GB8 dual-mode topology audio mixer brings industry-standard mixing control to each performance.

Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre


The Queen’s Theatre, Havering, U.K.

Autograph Sales & Installations recommended DiGiCo’s SD9T.

First opening in 1953 then moving to its present home in 1975, The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch is a 500-seat producing theater within the London borough of Havering. As with many such venues, it hosts a very diverse range of entertainment, which places extensive demands on its technical infrastructure.

Autograph Sales & Installations was recently asked to assist with specifying and supplying a major upgrade to the existing analog audio mixing system for the main auditorium. Autograph’s Peppe Mallozzi subsequently recommended a DiGiCo SD9T for its combination of small footprint, plentiful input capability, bus flexibility, rider acceptance and ability to host the unique, theater-specific DiGiCo “T” software.

Mallozzi conducted an introductory training session for the house technical crew at Autograph’s demo facility prior to delivery, followed by in-depth further tuition at the theater. The SD9 control surface is accompanied by a single SD-Rack (fitted with DiGiCo’s fiber-optic data-transfer option), a UB MADI interface and an Optocore tour-grade digital multicore.

Chris Howcroft, the theater’s technical coordinator, commented, “The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch produces a lot of actor-musician shows, and the T-series software gives us the features we need to respond to a designer’s requests quickly. We put the new SD9T in place just in time for our youth theater production of The Wind in the Willows and instantly used more channels than we had available on our old system, so it’s reassuring to know that we can easily add new racks and I/O cards in the future. The system supplied by Autograph and DiGiCo has also revitalized our P.A., which sounds better than it has in a decade.”

The 500-seat venue hosts a wide array of shows.

The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch


Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, FL

The solution for the Mahaffey Theater was a custom Wenger acoustical shell.

Originally built in 1965, the 2,031-seat Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, FL, is a cultural jewel featuring elegant ballroom space, spectacular waterfront views, and European box-style seating. The top quality national and international artists it hosts include Broadway shows, classical, pop and rock performances, comedy acts, dance and the renowned Florida Orchestra.

“The Mahaffey was visually the music palace of the region, but the sound wasn’t comparable,” says Michael Pastreich, president/CEO of The Florida Orchestra. Although an architectural gem, the theater had one problem: it was in desperate need of an acoustical upgrade.

Pastreich assembled a team of experts, including acoustical consulting firm The Talaske Group, theatrical consulting firm Fisher Dachs Associates and ARC3 Architecture to determine the best solution.

›› Sound Solutions

Rick Talaske, president and principal acoustics consultant of Talaske | Sound Thinking based near Chicago, reviewed the current equipment and determined which products would best fit the orchestra’s needs. The primary problem was the 30-year old existing shell was missing a critical piece that was allowing sound to escape into the stage house — sound that wouldn’t make it into the audience.

After considering many options, Talaske chose Wenger’s customizable Diva acoustical shell as the primary solution. “We have worked with Wenger many times in the past,” Talaske says. ”They are one of very few companies capable of creating an orchestra shell of this quality.”

Part of what he likes about the Diva is the customization. “When we designed the Diva, we worked with architects who wanted it to be beautiful, acoustical consultants who sought a rich sound, and theatrical consultants who required additional custom parameters,” explains Mark Ingalls, Wenger performing arts segment manager. “For Mahaffey Theater, we knew the answer would be to let the design team customize the Diva to whatever they needed it to be for their specific space.”

For example, shelves set at specific angles were added at mid-height locations on the towers and the bases were turned inward to allow larger shelves with greater stability. The heavy weight is needed to reflect low-pitched sound. “This adds warmth to the quality of sound, much like turning up the bass control on your home stereo,” explains Talaske.

The ends of the canopy elements were tilted downward to a specific angle to help facilitate cross-stage communication. Sound diffusing and sound absorbing finishes were also installed in strategic locations. That helped overcome issues like the proscenium opening being lower than desirable for optimizing sound projection to the audience.

“These changes significantly enhance the ability of musicians to hear sound created on the opposite side of the stage,” Talaske says. “And that helps the entire ensemble perform better.”

Pastreich couldn’t agree more. “I sat in the audience during the orchestra’s first rehearsal and noticed two things. The quiet passages were much easier to hear. The clarity of individual instruments was amazing. I could really identify the clarinet or oboe or bassoon far better than I could before.”

During the second performance, Pastreich sat on stage near the percussion section in the back, where he heard the basses and celli much more clearly.

He describes how the new system benefits both the musicians and the audience. “If you’re playing in a void, you don’t really know how you sound to the other musicians,” Pastreich says. “You’ve got a conductor and instincts, but when you’re going into the note and you can really hear the violins, it clicks. You play more confidently, and the result is a fantastic sound for the audience.”

›› Challenges

As with any major renovation, there were a number of challenges encountered along the way. The new ceiling, for example, was much heavier than the old one. Combined, the two ceiling rows weighed ten tons. This required adding additional structural steel reinforcements to support the increased load.

Manipulating and moving the massive panels was another issue. Fisher, Dachs and Talaske worked with Wenger subsidiary J.R. Clancy to develop a way to raise, lower and angle the ceiling panels for performances and then move them into storage.

“We created six custom hoists: two custom counterweight assist hoists, two custom tilting hoists and two custom trim line shaft hoists,” explains J.R. Clancy’s Ryan Cole. “The custom counterweight assist hoists are used to lower the ceiling rows into performance position and raise the panels into the fly loft for storage.”

“Our team creates custom rigging solutions for projects around the world. Our ability to customize almost any product to meet the needs of a space is what sets us apart,” adds Cole.

One unforeseen challenge happened just weeks before the orchestra’s opening night. At the time of installation, all of Florida was preparing for Hurricane Irma. The equipment couldn’t be tuned until the hurricane had passed. The final tuning of the equipment happened during
rehearsal just days before the first performance.

›› Better Sounding Space

As it turns out, the timing of the Mahaffey acoustical upgrade was perfect: The orchestra kicked off its 50th season at the Mahaffey on Oct. 7, to a sold-out crowd. “It was a smash,” says Pastreich. “We were packed and everyone from the musicians to the audience raved about the improved sound quality.”

Mahaffey Theater