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Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix Upgrades with Yamaha Rivage PM7 Digital Console

FOH Staff • News • May 8, 2020
The historic theater upgraded with a Yamaha Rivage digital mix system

The historic theater upgraded with a Yamaha Rivage digital mix system

PHOENIX, AZ — The landmark Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix entered this year just one decade short of its 100th anniversary, and the audio production team is moving toward that future with a new Yamaha RIVAGE PM7 digital mixing console at the heart of its sound system. Upgrading the sound quality in a 90-year-old venue is challenging enough but doing it while maintaining the aesthetic integrity of a theater on the National Registry of Historic Places ups the ante even further.

“The theater opened as a vaudeville and movie palace, boasting ‘nothing but talking pictures,’ which was a big deal in 1929,” said Dylan Dube, audio production coordinator, convention center department, City of Phoenix. “Vaudeville was all about variety and that’s a legacy I wanted to continue honoring by presenting modern, diverse programming. But first, we needed to make the right updates, and installing the RIVAGE was a huge part of those efforts.”

After its grand opening in 1929, the theater went through a series of ownership changes, names and personalities over the following decades. It has hosted live performances from acts as diverse as Mae West and Abbott and Costello. For years, it was a west coast stop for Broadway touring productions. It’s gone through several incarnations as a movie theater—from being a traditional cinema owned by Paramount Studios and later the Nederlander family, to a Spanish-language film center.

Following a period of minimal investments and upkeep, the theater fell into disrepair and no longer met the needs of either Broadway productions or movie-going crowds. Then, public outcry from the Phoenix community called for its restoration and the city acted. When it was decided Phoenix needed a new city hall, a plot of land adjacent to the Orpheum was identified as the ideal site and the theater was included in the 12-year, $14 million-dollar municipal project.

The refurbished Orpheum reopened in 1997, hosting a run of “Hello, Dolly” with Carol Channing reprising her iconic stage role. Since then, the Phoenix convention center department has managed the theater. “We knew we had to do something to improve our place in the market. It wasn’t enough to have a beautiful venue. The venue needed to make sense to promoters from a financial and performance standpoint. I asked staff to identify the most pressing needs of the building, and one of the top priorities for improvement they identified was revamping the audio system,” said Kevin Mattingly, deputy director, Phoenix Convention Center & Venues. “Our staff knew what needed to be done, and they set about finding the right system for the Orpheum to ensure that any of today’s concert touring acts or Broadway productions could do a full-scale, quality show using the house equipment.”

After the 1997 reopening, the theater used various Yamaha analog and digital consoles, each having its own benefits and performing reliably on many types of productions. In 2001, the city purchased serial number 005 of the Yamaha PM1D console for FOH and “When I took over four years ago, it was still there,” said Dube. “It’s was a great desk for its day, but by the time the city had the funds to upgrade from 1.7 to 2.0, all the kits were no longer available, and the industry had moved on.”

The theater soon moved to a Yamaha PM5D digital console, which it still uses as a monitor desk from time to time, but to attract the level of acts it was seeking on a regular basis, the Orpheum team was looking bigger and thinking “future-proof.”

“The consoles we’ve had were great with no issues at all,” Dube said, “but my ideal scenario is where a promoter reads the sound section of a rider and each time just writes ‘use in-house audio.’ The RIVAGE is that type of rider-friendly console that fits any production. The productions that are going to deny a PM7 at FOH right now are the ones who will insist on using their own desk regardless of what any venue has.”

The console, in use at the Phoenix (prior to the Covid shutdown)

Once the RIVAGE was specified and installed, and the venue speaker system was also upgraded, the team began noticing results immediately. “We previously had an awkward and inefficient audio workflow,” said Dube. “My job was to fix that. I was originally looking at the CL5 console for FOH. Then I heard about the PM7 and it all made sense. I knew that was the desk. Now we have the Rivage PM7 at FOH and a CL5 for monitors. Plus, we still have our 5D in case someone wants that at monitors. Everything all works over Dante including the 5D so the system is incredibly flexible.”

Having different options for consoles are important to get consistently high-quality sound in an older venue. “Historic theaters are tricky,” Dube said. “There was no amplified sound in 1929 so this place and others like it were built as acoustic houses. When you amplify an acoustic space, the room is still trying to do the job it was originally designed to do. The level of control we have using the RIVAGE and SILK preamps makes a huge difference. They were the right choices in every way for this room.”

The consoles aren’t doing all the work alone. The Orpheum production team is also using a range of Yamaha interface and connectivity technology, including SILK processing, Dante audio networking cards and RIO-D2 and RPio audio I/O racks. “It’s hard to really understand what SILK processing does until you turn it on, turn it up, take it out – and then quickly turn it back on. That is my favorite feature of the whole system.”

“We want to be ready for all possible scenarios,” Dube said. “On stage, we have an RPio 222, which gives us 32 channels of SILK inputs. In addition, I also have two 32-channel RIO D2s to give me 96 channels I can put anywhere. Also, I have two 32-channel RIOs upstairs in the audio booth plugged into our analog house lines running throughout the building and land on our TT patch bay. The TT patch bay allows for us to patch comms or audio anywhere in the building where there is a wall plate with an XLR line. This system opens limitless possibilities beyond just the capabilities of the desk alone.”

Dube noted the RIVAGE and its built-in features give the team greater control over its line array system. “The PM7 integrates so well with our line array,” he said. “I can patch my PA system directly from the console on the fly without having to enter the Dante control interface. I think it is wonderful for Yamaha to add other manufacturers to Dante interfaces to allow this to be possible. That’s invaluable with all the different types of acts we have here.”

The combination of the Yamaha technology now in use at the new Orpheum Theatre is helping to accomplish Mattingly’s original goal of staying true to the venue’s original vaudeville roots while making the theater a modern home to diverse programming. Recent acts have included stand-up comedians, ballet troupes, Broadway productions and headline concert acts.

Mattingly said, “We asked promoters for the top reasons why they weren’t doing regular business with the Orpheum. Overwhelmingly, the response was ‘it’s not affordable.’ When you have to go $6,000 or $7,000 deep in production rental costs just to come into the room it doesn’t matter how good the rental deal is. It’s too much money. The theater only seats 1,364 so if you want to bring top-level acts in here, the money has to be right from every perspective. Having the RIVAGE makes the room more affordable and attractive. Recently, an act said to us, ’We don’t need to bring anything in, you already have exactly what we want.’ And now, with these consoles, often it’s even better than what they want.”

For more info about the Yamaha Rivage Series, visit https://usa.yamaha.com/products/proaudio/mixers/rivage_pm10/index.html

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