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Five Recent Theater Projects

Thomas S. Friedman • InstallationsMarch 2020 • March 11, 2020

The L-Acoustics L-ISA system at the Kaufmann Concert Hall. Photo Credit: Andrea Klerides/Michael Priest Photography

Today, despite competition from multi-screen cinemas, home theaters and all forms 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. And while stadium shows are less common these days, venues in the 500- to 3,000-capacity range seem to be doing well, especially as music artists that once appeared only in arenas are now turning to smaller, more intimate venues.

Along with the continuing interest in live entertainment, technology upgrades in theater and performing arts spaces continue at an accelerated pace, whether in converted environments, new construction or updating existing venues. With that in mind, we present five recent installation projects.

The L-ISA Controller screen, positioned above the hall’s Yamaha Rivage PM10 FOH console. Photo Credit: Andrea Klerides/Michael Priest Photography

Kaufman Concert Hall, New York City

Founded in 1874, Manhattan’s 92nd Street “Y” (Young Men’s Hebrew Association) now serves people of all faiths with education, social services and entertainment. Added to the complex in 1927 was the Kaufmann Concert Hall to host classical music, lectures, as well as musical theater, cinema, rock and acoustic acts and special events.

Unfortunately, its two-decade-old audio system, often worked against the hall’s naturally reverberant space and intimate programming. “The interior is largely made of wood and it’s very reverberant,” explains Kaufman’s technical director Sean Fogarty. “It was built in the 1920s and meant for classical music, so when we did amplified music, it could easily overwhelm the space.”

L-Acoustics’ L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal technology was selected to solve these issues and bring the audio of the 905-seat hall into the 21st century, bringing spacious, natural sound that’s localized to the onstage presenters, while blending into the notable architecture. This also marks the first U.S. installation of L-ISA in a performing arts center.

A collaborative effort, the system was sold through local rental and integration mainstay See Factor, and installed by the Kaufmann Concert Hall’s IATSE Local One tech staff, with guidance from See Factor’s Alex Jones, L-Acoustics and Hudson Scenic Design.

The update also included the installation added a Yamaha Rivage PM10 FOH console, and recording and broadcast infrastructure. See Factor, Fogarty and his team, including house sound engineer Anthony Lombard, reviewed all of the needs and challenges to design a system that would maximize flexibility, while ensuring clear, intelligible, musical sound — all to be integrated seamlessly and unobtrusively into the venue’s historic architecture.

“The more we discussed the acoustic properties of the space, the design directives and the varied programming, it became clear that L-ISA was the key to solving this puzzle,” says L-Acoustics application engineer Jesse Stevens. He designed a system comprising five arrays of Kiva II — with six enclosures per hang — across the width of the stage, and four SB15m subs. This frontal system would enhance the ability to localize the reinforced sound to onstage sources — thus improving intelligibility via a cohesive blend of live and reinforced sound.

For the immersive aspect of the system, 20 X8 coaxial speakers along the sides and rear — let the Kaufmann staff use the entire venue to place sounds for cinema or enhance the space using the L-ISA integrated Room Engine. Further, 5XT under-balcony fills, six X4i coaxial stage lip fills and two Syva colinear speakers as proscenium nearfills complete the system — all powered by 11 LA4X amplified controllers, fed via AVB from the FOH infrastructure.

At the FOH position, two L-ISA Processors (main/backup) are managed by L-ISA Controller software, running on a Mac Mini. The Rivage PM10 sends each audio channel post-fader and post-processing into the L-ISA Processors via a MADI stream. From there, the resulting objects are placed and layered in the L-ISA Controller, with the spatialized outputs sent to the corresponding speakers. “The ease of use of the L-ISA Controller is so natural,” notes FOH engineer Lombard. “I can place objects quickly, move them around, add width and depth, and create and recall snapshots, all from the same screen in the software. It just naturally integrates into the workflow, so while mixing with dimension might seem complex, it’s really intuitive. And the quality of sound is just amazing.”

From the very first show, the L-ISA technology has performed flawlessly and proved its worth. “L-ISA has really changed the way we hear music here,” adds Fogarty.

Kaufman Concert Hall

  • Capacity: 905
  • Key Components: L-Acoustics L-ISA with five Kiva II arrays, four SB15m subs; Yamaha Rivage PM10 console
  • Integrator: See Factor

 

The Argyros Center upgraded with a Meyer Constellation system and Meyer LINA compact line arrays. Photo by Kevin Syms

Argyros Performing Arts Center, Ketchum, ID

The 462-capacity Argyros Performing Arts Center in Idaho’s Sun Valley resort area presents a broad spectrum of performances — dance, film, lectures, drama and concerts. The venue installed a Meyer Sound Constellation variable-acoustics system along with a direct reinforcement system based around LINA compact line arrays.

Once the theater’s basic structural dimensions were determined, consultants Auerbach Pollock Friedlander were brought in. “There was consensus that Meyer Sound Constellation would be the preferred choice,” says APF systems designer Ben Strange.

The Constellation system has 58 compact full-range speakers (MM-4XP and UP-4XP) along with 16 MM-10XP miniature subwoofers. An additional 12 speakers (HMS-10 and HMS-5) double as Constellation and cinema surrounds. Twelve D-Mitri digital audio platform modules, including three hosting the VRAS acoustical algorithms — are used with one for each acoustical zone. Twenty-four miniature mics on retractable reels are employed to sense the ambient acoustic environment.

Dual hangs of nine-each LINA line arrays anchor the direct reinforcement system, with UPQ-1P and UPA-1P handling the upper center/lower center coverage. Fill loudspeakers for side galleries and alternate staging are UP-4XP and UPJunior-XP, with LF supplied by dual cardioid arrays, each with three 750-LFC elements. Two Galileo Galaxy 816 network platforms provide drive and optimization.

Oklahoma City-based Ford Audio-Video was the supplier and integrator, with Ford’s Jim Tassey coordinating on site with the APF team.

“We can adapt the acoustical environment to suit the performer,” says the center’s tech director Samuel Mollner. “For example, with a group doing 12th century Gregorian chants, we could create the environment for which the chants were composed. For the Sun Valley Music Festival last winter we had six different acoustic environments in one evening, including a contemporary piece originally composed to be performed inside a concrete grain silo. Constellation has changed the way I think about audio.”

Argyros Performing Arts Center

  • Capacity: 462
  • Key Components: Meyer Sound Constellation system; Meyer LINA compact line arrays
  • Integrator: Ford Audio Video
  • Designer: Auerbach Pollock Friedlander

 

View from the FOH position. Photo by Christopher von Nathusius

Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, Germany

Founded in 1952, the Maxim Gorki Theater is Berlin’s smallest with 440 seats, and regards itself as a “contemporary city theater in a historic setting.” In 2014 and 2016 surveys conducted by Theater Heute magazine, critics voted Gorki as Theater of the Year.

Last fall, the facility planned some major audio infrastructure upgrades. Key to this is a Lawo mc²96 production console for FOH duties in the main hall, and a Lawo mc²56 console used as a backup as well as for remote work, the preparation of new projects and serving as a recording desk for the venue’s in-house recording studio.

A Lawo Nova73 compact serves as the setup’s central router with five DALLIS units available as stageboxes, two of which can be used mobile in combination with the mc²56, or on stage. Additional DALLIS units are located where most of the inputs and outputs are needed, in the orchestra pit and in the “amp-city” basement. Local inputs and outputs at the rear of the two consoles as used both in the FOH area and in the recording studio. The theater’s recording studio and a small studio stage are located in a neighboring building complex.

Head of sound and video department, Christopher von Nathusius, was responsible for the modernization of the theater’s audio technology, together with his team and planning support from Gunter Lühder of Avissplan. Elektroakustik Neuenhagen carried out the project work.

Photo by Lutz Knospe

For von Nathusius, reliability was the most important consideration when choosing the new system — and, in this respect, mixing consoles which run reliably in 24/7 for years in radio broadcast operations have a competitive advantage. The system installed in the Gorki is also highly redundant — covering the power supply, the availability of at least two units per card type and comprehensive console compatibility.

Additionally, the decision to go with Lawo was based primarily on the extensive customization options for users. A single button-push can change the entire rights management between the mc²96, the router and the mc²56. For example, the mc²96 FOH console can enable the mc²56 studio console to control the mic input trim levels used in the hall.

Other advantages include free assignment of the user buttons for quick access to the most important functions, the control of the Next Scene function via MIDI, the Sends-to-Fader function, fast channel bundling and easy tracking of complex routings in a modular design, with all parameters available in a minimum number of steps.

The ability to port projects from the mc²96 to the mc²56 also makes it possible to prepare or post-process productions with limited rehearsal time and no stage time. “Without this feature, we would not have been able to resume our complete repertoire — currently well over 30 pieces on the Gorki stage — in such a short time without disrupting the performances and rehearsals,” says von Nathusius.

Maxim Gorki Theater

  • Capacity: 440
  • Key Components: Lawo mc²96 and mc²56 consoles
  • Integrator: Elektroakustik Neuenhagen

 

Sadler’s Wells main auditorium. Photo by Philip Vile

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London has adopted Riedel’s Bolero wireless intercom to ensure reliable and flexible communications across the 10,000-square-meter building and the adjacent Lilian Baylis Studio. The theater is renowned as one of the world’s leading dance venues, staging contemporary dance and ballet performances in its 1,560-seat main auditorium.

Besides hosting visiting companies, the Sadler’s Wells Theatre is a producing house with a number of associated artists and companies creating original works for the theater, and many local shows are also recorded for cinema. Visiting OB trucks equipped with Riedel Artist systems can easily interface with the theater’s systems, creating smoothly integrated workflows.

Bolero covers the spacious theater with only four antennas. One is located at the side of the stage, another in the auditorium and a third on the fly floor, which also covers all the dressing room corridors and backstage studios. A fourth antenna uses the IT department infrastructure and covers the cafeteria and the entire Lilian Baylis Studio. The setup also provides coverage for all basement areas including tech offices, dressing rooms and the orchestra pit, and even full coverage in the Sadler’s Wells Studios — despite the studios’ separation from the antennas by several concrete walls.

Riedel Bolero units ensure flexible communication throughout the complex

“The Sadler’s Wells team has taken full advantage of Bolero’s customizability and has fully tailored the system to the theater’s needs,” said Nacho Lee, Riedel’s UK sales manager. “The team has made extensive use of Bolero’s profile function, giving each full-time member of staff a dedicated Bolero beltpack that has been set to a profile specific to that person’s requirements. In this way, parameters like volume, screen brightness, and quick menus are preset to the user’s liking.”

Head of sound at Sadler’s Wells Mark Noble designed highly creative workflows for Bolero using the theater’s NSA-002A interface. In one example, the team reassigned Bolero’s red reply button on stage managers’ beltpacks to open a channel to the paging system through the 4W-Interface. This lets stage managers use the paging system to make backstage calls to all the dressing rooms and other backstage areas from wherever they are. With another profile, the reply button toggles between brightness modes, allowing the user to remain unseen onstage. The theater’s NSA-002A sits on a network switch attached to Wi-Fi, allowing easy reconfiguring on the go via a tablet.

“People are amazed by Bolero’s battery life, coverage and overall user friendliness — and the integrated bottle opener has also come in handy. This versatile system really has worked wonders for us,” said Noble. “With the newly released Bolero 2110 (AES67) mode, we will enjoy an even greater degree of flexibility and scalability, so it’s a great thing that the new license is already included in our standalone license. We were looking for truly future-proof equipment and have found it in Bolero.”

Sadler’s Wells Theatre

  • Capacity: 1,560
  • Key Components: Riedel Bolero intercom
  • Integrator: Riedel U.K.

 

The main system at the Ramsey Theatre is based around a center-mounted Danley SH96HO

Ramsey Theatre, Wayne NE

Wayne State College in rural Wayne, NE has a very active theater arts degree program with access to three performance venues housed in the Lied Performing Arts Center. Recently AV integrators Adams Production Services (Vermillion, SD) designed and installed a Danley Sound Labs system for the largest of its venues, the 675-seat Ramsey Theatre.

“Last year, I updated the P.A. system in Wayne State College’s gymnasium with six Danley OS80 loudspeakers, and they loved it,” explained Brian Adams, owner of Adams Production Services. APS was called back this time to replace the aging sound system at the Ramsey, which “was comprised of 14 1990s-era open horns and subwoofer boxes, along with several fills and a ton of amps and amp channels. They were way past due for an entire system overhaul.”

Adams designed an elegantly simple Danley system for the Ramsey Theatre. “It comes back to the basic principles of good sound reinforcement design,” he said. “For the same coverage, fewer boxes are always better than more boxes because that minimizes the opportunities for interference and comb filtering. Danley produces a wide range of point-source loudspeakers, which allowed me to choose a single box that would cover almost the entire theater. And Tom Danley’s patented designs deliver steep drop-offs at the edge of the output patterns, which keeps sound off the walls and off the stage and improves intelligibility and gain-before-feedback.”

Danley columnar SBH20s provide balcony coverage

The new system uses a single Danley SH96HO full-range loudspeaker positioned above the center edge of the stage to cover the main floor. A pair of column-form, point-source Danley SBH20 loudspeakers (with exceptionally tight vertical pattern control) cover the small balcony section. The sound booth takes up the center section of the three-section balcony, and Adams was careful to give that position sound that is representative of the main floor. Finally, a relatively smaller Danley SH95 fires down at the stage from behind the SH96HO for monitoring, and a 4-channel Danley DNA 20k4 Pro amplifier drives the entire system. Adams used its integrated DSP and presets for all of Danley’s boxes as a starting point when he tuned the system. “Honestly, there was almost no tuning after the presets.”

He continued, “They were very surprised at how incredible the Danley system sounded once we fired it up for the first time. I don’t think they ever imagined it could be that good!”

Ramsey Theatre

  • Capacity: 675 seats
  • Key Components: Danley Sound SH96HO, SH95 and SBH20 speakers
  • Integrator: Adams Production Services

 

 

 

 

 

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