- by Thomas S. Friedman
A longstanding tradition in show business — at least harkening back to circus performers in the 1800’s — is that “the show must go on.” Today, despite competition from multiplex cinema complexes, home theaters and every conceivable form of sporting events, there is still considerable interest in watching humans in live onstage performance, whether in drama, musicals, concerts, dance, opera — the list is nearly endless. At the same time, while stadium shows are less common these days, venues in the 1,000 to 4,000 capacity range seem to be doing well, especially as music artists once strictly relegated to arenas are now turning to these smaller, more “intimate” venues.
While audience preferences for these “smaller” spaces is on the upswing, these same patrons expect — and demand — a first-class audio experience, where intelligibility and musicality are just as important as rock ‘n’ roll SPL’s. With that in mind, we present a look at some recent installation projects — both new construction and upgrades — that reflect the current state of the art in theater and performing arts venues.
Smart Financial Centre, Sugar Land, TX
The new Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land is big, bright and bold —everything you’d expect of a performing arts center in Texas. The $84 million venue in the Houston metro area officially opened in mid-January with a strong lineup of events including performances by Jerry Seinfeld, Don Henley, Dave Matthews, Sting, Reba McEntire and the touring production of Dirty Dancing. The 200,000 square foot facility can serve as a concert hall, civic center and theatrical center in a single shape-adjusting venue.
The in-house sound system is no less grand, with an L-Acoustics K2 line array system installed by LD Systems and designed by consultant Scott Bray of Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams (WJHW). “This is a premier performance venue for the entire region. They wanted the absolute best sound possible, and they got it,” says LD System’s Kevin Broussard.
The new venue’s sound system uses a theatrical LCR design. Thirteen K2 enclosures make up the left and right array hangs, with eight double-18 SB28 subs flown behind each of those arrays, while the center cluster is made up of 12 Kara enclosures.
In addition, there are five delay arrays of six Kara enclosures each suspended over the balcony. A flexible Kara front fill system uses up to eight Kara enclosures along the stage lip for near-field coverage. All of these are powered by 22 L-Acoustics LA8 and four LA4X amplified controllers housed in LA-RAK racks.
Flanking masonry walls cradle a glazed facade designed to reveal the iconic bowl-shaped arena within, but it can adapt to performance and audience requirements. The largest 6,400-seat configuration can be adjusted, using deployable walls alongside balconies, which extend down to the orchestra floor, to 4,600 seats for smaller shows and civic events. At 2,900 seats, the hall presents an elegant theatrical experience for the patrons of Broadway shows and holiday spectacles.
The K2/Kara system was a good match for the facility’s variable seating design, notes WJHW design consultant Scott Bray. Using L-Acoustics’ Soundvision predictive 3D system design software and LA Network Manager, the WJHW team calibrated the system based on the position of the movable walls and curtains. Along with three primary room configurations in all, venue staff can automatically move delay speakers in and out of the system on chain hoists, all at the push of a button.
Soundvision also provided a highly accurate model of what each configuration would need in terms of EQ and delays before the first speaker was put in place; the system was then fine-tuned on site. “We felt confident that what we saw in Soundvision is what we’d hear in the venue, and that’s exactly what happened,” says Bray. “We needed highly accurate pattern control, to keep the sound on the seating no matter what the configuration was.”
Bray adds that the K2’s rider-friendliness had a huge impact on the decision. “Artists know the L-Acoustics K2,” he says. “You’d have a hard time finding an engineer who wasn’t familiar with the system.”
LD Systems’ Broussard points out that while the K2 is designed as a touring rig, it works exceptionally well as an installed sound system, one with the advantage of being able to be hoisted by a dedicated winch for maintenance. “The arrays can be flown and then lowered or raised as necessary,” he says. “That’s another level of flexibility for this system.”
But sound quality was the top priority. “It just sounds incredible,” Broussard says. “Very punchy but never losing articulation.” Bray agrees. “It’s fantastic — like listening to a really good stereo system.”
Smart Financial Centre
- Capacity: 6,400 (max)
- Key Components: L-Acoustics K2, Kara
- System Designer: WJHW
- Integrator: LD Systems
Palace Theater, Tamarac, FL
The Palace Theater is the live-production venue at Kings Point in Tamarac, a luxury lifestyle community for the 55-plus set, located just west of Fort Lauderdale.
The 1,000-seat performing arts space hosts concerts by a wide range of touring artists, including veterans of the South Florida circuit like Melissa Manchester and Tony Orlando. But lately it’s also getting regular visits from tribute bands venerating Bruce Springsteen, Chicago and the Rolling Stones. In addition, there are comedy shows, first-run film screenings and dramatic productions written, directed and acted by some of the community’s 9,000 residents. It all makes the Palace Theater one very busy entertainment hub. To meet the mixing needs for that range of shows, the venue installed a DiGiCo S21 digital audio console.
“We’re doing a lot of rock tribute bands today, but we might be doing Britney Spears in a few years,” laughs production manager Anthony Ezzo, himself a veteran of the road running FOH on past tours for Michelle Branch, Mark Chesnutt, Stryper and D.R.I. “We needed an audio console that could take us into the future as artists that residents grew up with come here to perform. I looked around and knew what I didn’t want — a cheap, $3,000 mixer with plastic knobs — but we didn’t want to spend $50,000 on a touring-type console. The S21 was the perfect solution. It sounds great, is easy to run and it fit our budget.”
Ezzo says one of the S21’s advantages is the fact that it offers individual inputs. “This theater was built in the mid-1990s, so we have a lot of copper wiring in here, and we weren’t in a position to run Cat-5 for microphones from the stage,” he explains. “It’s old-fashioned, but it works, and the S21 lets us put microphones directly into channels. At the same time, it’s very intuitive to operate. It’s laid out in an analog sort of way, but the layers let me access every aspect of each channel in a compact footprint.”
For example, Ezzo notes that the theater has a dozen wireless lavaliers they use for theatrical productions, some of which may have 60 actors in the cast. The S21 lets him assign them to one set of actors as a macro, then instantly switch to a completely different input configuration when the mics are donned by the next set of actors in a show.
The theater’s diverse range of music artists and shows also means that Ezzo has to deal with prerecorded material from an array of sources. “I can set up all of my inputs any way that makes the most sense,” he says. “I also use the Virtual Soundcheck capability of the console, so the P.A. is ready when the band shows up. The S21 is a real workhorse. As soon as you touch it, you know it’s not a toy. It’s the future.”
- Palace Theater
- Capacity: 1,000
- Key Components: DiGiCo S21
- Integrator: DiGiCo
Idaho State University Jensen Grand Concert Hall, Pocatello, ID
The main performance space within Idaho State University’s Stephens Performing Arts Center is the 1,200-seat Jensen Grand Concert Hall. Highlights of the venue’s design include two computer-controlled ceiling canopies, each weighing close to 20,000 pounds, that can be moved to adjust the hall’s acoustics, paired with six 17,000-pound, one-story-high acoustical side panels that can also be adjusted with computerized controls.
To optimize the acoustics further, the Jensen Grand Concert Hall worked with Jake Peery of Salt Lake City-based installers/integrators Performance Audio on the installation of a Martin Audio MLA Compact system. The new system was part of an overall $400,000 sound and lighting system upgrade. The previous sound system was 11 years old and no longer technically viable — or able — to meet contract requirements for visiting artists. The production team tested the system for a Don Williams concert prior to purchase, and positive feedback on the sound sealed the deal.
Stephens Center production manager Bill Stanton described the new MLA P.A. as “the most cutting edge, new technology out there, doing things that really suit the concert hall that other systems couldn’t.”
The hall is a very “live” acoustic space, and with the previous audio rig — a point source system, “the audio went everywhere, bounced around and ultimately produced a muddy sound,” Stanton explains. “The venue is a true symphonic concert hall, which made it a challenge to find the right P.A. system that would work seamlessly with existing acoustics.”
After researching various brands and hearing glowing reports about MLA from associates who’d heard it at an InfoComm trade show, Stanton and his staff arranged for a demo of the system in the hall and as he puts it, “that was that.”
Ron Hart, house engineer, adds, “We were actually able to test the system out for the Don Williams concert before we purchased it. There were a lot of positive comments from the audience with everyone saying how great it sounded.”
The Martin Audio system in Jensen Hall is designed to achieve maximum clarity in this space that’s characterized by a high ceiling, long rectangular shape and stage space measuring 60 feet in height.
It starts with main hangs of eight MLA Compact per side with one DSX sub a side ground-stacked in special notches where the stage curves. For front fills, there are five DD6 speakers on the lip of the stage and four DD6 mounted on the walls to cover the loges at the extreme edges of the stage. Also included in the audio system is an Avid VENUE Profile console at FOH.
In terms of how the room is used, Stanton points out, “As the performing arts center for the university, we do symphonic ensembles and choirs that rely on the hall’s acoustics and the P.A. system is only used for announcements. Then there are amplified shows featuring jazz bands and touring acts that use MLA, including contemporary and old-time rock and country music artists such as Three Dog Night, Foghat, Wynonna Judd, Tracy Lawrence and Pam Tillis, to name a few.”
Asked about mixing on MLA, Hart explains, “I don’t have to ride the volume to get the clarity I need. With MLA, you can get very even coverage that gives every seat in the house an optimum experience. During sound checks, I can walk back and forth through the entire hall and not hear any difference.”
According to Stanton, “The overall reaction from everyone at the university has been very positive about the MLA system. We’ve had people walking out of the venue saying it was the best sounding concert they’ve ever heard in here. Bottom line, the audio quality is so much better than our previous system; every show is really enjoyable.”
Jensen Grand Concert Hall
- Capacity: 1,200
- Key Components: Martin Audio MLA Compact
- Integrator: Performance Audio
The Great Hall, Toronto
The Great Hall is one of the most eye-catching and iconic fixtures of Toronto’s vibrant Queen West area. Built in 1889, it stands as a longtime beacon for the city’s artistic and cultural communities. With its age becoming increasingly apparent, this historic Victorian venue recently benefited from an interior and exterior revitalization. Now, with the addition of Adamson P.A.s in both the 10,000 square foot Main Hall and 5,000 square foot Longboat Hall, The Great Hall is in prime position to host cultural, corporate and private events for the diverse and dynamic community it serves.
“The goal was to provide something powerful enough to handle any and all potential applications, but also work with the space on a functional and aesthetic level,” shares Lina Beaudin, The Great Hall’s director of business development. The venue’s production team worked in concert with Adamson Systems Engineering and Toronto AV integrators Westbury National to put together a package perfectly suited to the unique and adaptable needs of the two rooms.
“Westbury’s commitment to offering Adamson solutions for prestigious and high-profile installation projects gives us an incredible competitive advantage,” comments Westbury National VP Rob Sandolowich.
The Main Hall has a left/right array configuration with six Adamson S10i line array elements per side and a pair of E219 subs under the stage handling the low-end. To properly cover the room’s main floor and balcony, much consideration was given to the fill layout. The idea was to offer plenty of control and flexibility for the upper and lower levels without ruining the tonal balance. A complement of six Adamson PC5i boxes hung under the balcony cover the front of the stage with one pair of Point 8Pi’s for front fills and another pair for balcony fills, providing a simple solution for corporate events, weddings or other applications where the stage isn’t the focal point.
In the lower-level Longboat Hall, a multipurpose space with a modular stage, the configuration challenges were compounded. That informed the decision to employ a more distributed point system primarily comprised of six Adamson Point 12A’s — one on each iron column supporting the balcony — with eight smaller 8Pi boxes covering the mezzanine and a pair of A218 subs under the stage.
“Having the opportunity to put a showcase system in a venue as renowned and versatile as The Great Hall was one we were happy to take advantage of,” adds Adamson’s Jeremiah Karni. “This is a really special venue that’s close to home for us, and it’s a privilege to have played a part in its revitalization.”
The Great Hall
- Capacity: 480 (Main Hall)
- Key Components: Adamson S10i line arrays and E219 subs
- Integrator: Westbury National
Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield, ME
A 200-seat, timber frame music hall, the Stone Mountain Arts Center is nestled in the scenic foothills of the White Mountains. A labor of love and dream fulfilled for owner/musician Carol Noonan, the Center provides a unique venue for national artists who love the idea of connecting with small audiences again. A diverse array of artists — ranging from Lyle Lovett, Robert Cray and Marty Stuart to Ani DeFranco, Taj Mahal and Mary Chapin Carpenter — have graced its stage to provide unforgettable performances that have helped make it a popular destination for musicians and audiences alike.
The Center selected Jason Raboin of Klondike Sound (Greenfield, MA) to design a new sound system to support the eclectic roster of artists they showcase. The project presented a number of interesting acoustical and aesthetic challenges, including managing the Center’s highly reflective wooden surfaces and designing a visually unobtrusive sound system to blend with its rustic timber frame architecture.
Raboin selected Fulcrum Acoustic speakers for their clarity, precise directional control — and minimal visual impact. The simple, yet powerful system consists of two Fulcrum DX1277 dual 12-inch coaxial loudspeakers whose tailored 75-by-75-degree dispersion keeps sound off the physical structure. Two Sub118 18-inch direct-radiating subwoofers extend LF support, and eight compact FX1295 12-inch coaxial vocal monitors are used on the Center’s stage.
“With their tailored coverage pattern and musical quality, Fulcrum’s speakers provide the fidelity and punch we need,” said Patrick O’Donnell, the Center’s production manager. “Whether it’s a loud rock show or a nuanced acoustic performance, the system is really transparent.” Carol Noonan adds, “As our arts center is all about people and connections, we needed a sound system that wouldn’t detract from its warm, welcoming and intimate feel. Fulcrum speakers were a perfect fit.
“We recently had Robert Cray, who has played here many times,” Noonan continues. “His band brought a lot of their own gear but, as usual, used our house speakers and subwoofers. It was definitely the best sounding show we’ve ever had with him. Nothing was different than before — the same crew and players as always — so it’s gotta be the speakers.”
Stone Mountain Arts Center
- Capacity: 200
- Key Components: Fulcrum Acoustic DX1277’s, Sub118’s, FX1295’s
- System Designer: Jason Raboin
- Integrator: Klondike Sound
Title: BYU DeJong Concert Hall, Provo, UT
Brigham Young University is a private university located in Provo, Utah owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Excluding online students, BYU is the largest of any religious university and the third largest private university in the U.S., with close to 30,000 on-campus students.
Salt Lake City integrator Poll Sound supplied a new Yamaha Rivage PM10 digital console in the 1,268-seat DeJong Concert Hall at the school’s Harris Fine Arts Center. The new console is an upgrade from the hall’s previous Yamaha PM5D console.
“The space is a multi-use hall,” says Poll Sound’s Brad Wadsworth. “Every other year, the university has a large theater production requiring more inputs, including full-pit orchestra and 30 to 40 microphones. The DeJong Concert Hall is used for recording as well, and hosts all of BYU’s elite music performance groups.” And church sermons are held in the concert hall as well as educational lectures.
“Poll played an integral part in arranging PM10 demos,” notes Aaron Kopp, BYU’s audio production manager. “The decision to upgrade to a new PM10 was made based on the sonic quality, expandability and Yamaha’s commitment to reliability. We are constantly looking at all brands of consoles in order to provide our students with a diversity of equipment. This is the console that made the most sense for the concert hall because of its quality and expanded features.”
Flexibility was another key factor, says Kopp. “We use Dante to get our Qlab computer into the system, which makes it easy and provides many options on what we can do for effects in our theater productions. We also use Dante to get signal to our Dante-enabled monitor consoles and for using the Virtual Sound check feature.”
Another plus was the PM10’s SILK feature, which “really enhances the beauty of the musical performances with minimal EQ work,” Kopp says, referring to the console’s VCM (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) SILK processing by Rupert Neve Designs. But, he adds, the bottom line was that “the console sounds amazing.”
DeJong Concert Hall
- Capacity: 1,268
- Key Components: Yamaha PM10 Digital Console
- Integrator: Poll Sound