A sad state of theatre planning...

MNicolai

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Fight Leukemia
Joined
Mar 30, 2008
Location
Sarasota, FL
The most valuable input an end user can offer to the process is a documented case justifying what they're asking for and if at all possible a business argument to go with it. Schools aren't going to take money away from classrooms or textbooks to justify a concert shell, but they're more amiable to finding ways to cover improvements if there is a dollars and cents reason for doing it. I can, and usually do argue for a "school-supported roadhouse" model, which helps alleviate the long-term operating and staffing costs by generating a bare minimum revenue from rentals, but this will only ever be a viable option for the schools who have internal advocates lobbying for it. Ultimately that can be the difference between the theater being booked up solid by revenue generating events whenever it's dark from school events versus being an otherwise empty room that gets used as a study hall and gum stuck under all the seats.

Somewhere in there is the usual rebuke of the idea about how our schools shouldn't be competing with private business, but I've found the hardliners on that issue warm up to the idea a little more when they learn the goal is to expose students to a pre-professional experience and make just enough to ensure the venue isn't a money pit -- to keep it from becoming a burden upon the district and the taxpayers.
 

StradivariusBone

Custom Title
Fight Leukemia
Joined
Aug 23, 2013
Location
Space Coast, FL
How do you get an architect to accept that curved rear walls are very expensive
Having him build a set for Anything Goes might be a start. He won't want to curve anything ever again.

BUT add up the square feet of the surface and its a huge amount of absorption added to the room, just exactly what should not be desirable. Rectangular duct - horrible tuned absorber, sucking base reverberation out of the room - and we like natural base reverberation in the room.
How do people come to learn about this sort of thing? Trial and error? It never occurred to me to think of an air duct as a harmonic absorber, but it makes sense thinking about it now. And the size and placement of those things are fairly arbitrary in relation to anything outside of maximum efficiency of climate control from my observation.

Somewhere in there is the usual rebuke of the idea about how our schools shouldn't be competing with private business,
Our's is exactly as you described, a sort of baby roadhouse. We serve our community in the sense that any of these dance recitals or community bands or theatre groups would have an alternative choice between a VA chow hall for pennies and the actual roadhouse in town which would blow through 2 years of budget for most of them. One of my favorite parts of this job is how we are able to effectively serve the community and keep gaff tape on the shelves without burdening the taxpayers for our consumables and upgrades. Granted they pay to keep the lights on and the toilets flushing, but as a taxpayer myself I think it's money well-spent.
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 30, 2010
Location
Clayton NY 13624
On the duct sock and similar issues - simply always thinking about soft and hard and sound energy. I'm not an acoustical consultant but as a theatre consultant, who pledges allegiance to the playwrights, choreographers, and composers first, being able to hear what was written as it was intended is a very high priority. All materials are acoustic in that they have acoustic properties, react differently and change differently sound energy. That's part of why its hard to teach and why theaters without expertise and positive experience in the planning and design often have many short comings. Notice positive experience. I've worked with many architects with a lot of school auditorium experience - all not good. Just like practicing incorrectly does not make perfect, using the experience of not such good results is no guarantee of better or good results. And when it's coupled with arrogance, what a disaster.
 
  • Like
Reactions: RonHebbard

venuetech

Well-Known Member
Departed Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Location
AK,
It would be a long haul but the thing to do is to somehow work "performance space basics" into the studies of architectural students. The end user seems to often be left out of the process till it is over and done with. So if the owner is only watching the bottom line you end up with a venue built under the gym bleachers, slap the " auditorium " sign on and everyone is happy.
The copy and paste designs that Strad mentioned is nothing new, my 1964 HS venue was just that. Slightly modified to fit the local needs of the time.
 

DVBortle

Member
Joined
Aug 15, 2017
Location
NC
I have had the displeasure of opening 8 venue, either from new construction or from renovation.

Many Architects have an almost deity like persona, the mere fact that they are Architects means they have divine knowledge. The unfortunate part is that the stakeholders or at least the money holders buy into this air. Often following blindly.

Most Architects do not have the faintest idea of what a good space is let alone how to design one. But yet their egos are so fragile that they will fight tooth and nail against bringing in a theatre consultant. I am a firm believer that a skilled theatre consultant is worth their weight in gold. Literally. If only by reducing change orders or trying to fix the problems after the space opens. Things like only fluorescent lights in dressing rooms, 5 pin dmx when all units specked uses 3 pin, to dividing walls blocking sound boxes, to noncompliant ada aisle width, to name a few I have seen.

Architects do not seem to care or maybe understand the differences in how the space will be used, an auditorium is a theatre is a concert hall. And most admin are the same way.

Most Architects have never been involved in theatre. If they had ever deigned lights once, they would stop painting the proscenium gloss white.

Architects, and general contractors have there much needed place, but unless they specialize in the performing arts then maybe they should get a consultant and subcontractor who does. It does not mean they are less skilled or are unworthy of the position. It means, they actual care about building the best space possible.

Sorry for preaching to the choir


I was taught the question you ask dictates the answer you receive. Maybe we are not asking the right question.

“make planners understand they need expertise in planning buildings for the performing arts”

In politics, healthcare and big business, everything boils down to one thing Money.

Maybe the question is how we make planners understand it is cheaper to design a good space.
 

RonHebbard

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2004
Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
I have had the displeasure of opening 8 venue, either from new construction or from renovation.

Many Architects have an almost deity like persona, the mere fact that they are Architects means they have divine knowledge. The unfortunate part is that the stakeholders or at least the money holders buy into this air. Often following blindly.

Most Architects do not have the faintest idea of what a good space is let alone how to design one. But yet their egos are so fragile that they will fight tooth and nail against bringing in a theatre consultant. I am a firm believer that a skilled theatre consultant is worth their weight in gold. Literally. If only by reducing change orders or trying to fix the problems after the space opens. Things like only fluorescent lights in dressing rooms, 5 pin dmx when all units specked uses 3 pin, to dividing walls blocking sound boxes, to noncompliant ada aisle width, to name a few I have seen.

Architects do not seem to care or maybe understand the differences in how the space will be used, an auditorium is a theatre is a concert hall. And most admin are the same way.

Most Architects have never been involved in theatre. If they had ever deigned lights once, they would stop painting the proscenium gloss white.

Architects, and general contractors have there much needed place, but unless they specialize in the performing arts then maybe they should get a consultant and subcontractor who does. It does not mean they are less skilled or are unworthy of the position. It means, they actual care about building the best space possible.

Sorry for preaching to the choir


I was taught the question you ask dictates the answer you receive. Maybe we are not asking the right question.

“make planners understand they need expertise in planning buildings for the performing arts”

In politics, healthcare and big business, everything boils down to one thing Money.

Maybe the question is how we make planners understand it is cheaper to design a good space.
@DVBortle As a longstanding member of said choir, your sermon is understood and appreciated.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard.
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 30, 2010
Location
Clayton NY 13624
Well, I can defend many architects that I work with who do care and listen and, in a word, are responsible. And I can't say every administrator that commands "don't speak to the users" is completely unjustified. And my job is often representing the users to the architects and engineers. A lot of users simply don't have the experience to offer a range of solutions. They have seen one and beat that drum, and that is not always the best option. I can't tell you the number of music teachers who in response to every question respond Wenger. But because the design team has done a theatre and "has not heard any complaints" - an all too often claim and defense of past work I've heard over 35 years - doesn't make them wizards of theatre planning either.

The circumstances that prompted me to start this thread are a combination of a lot of poor examples that I'm not sure many people who use them are willing to admit could be better, so of course no complaints and no message to designers they could do better. While there I was constantly apologizing for trashing the auditoriums manager's theatre. To their credit, they recognized the deficiency, but may not have known it was not necessary.

The stage floor that is wood in center and concrete in wings and usually an awful transition between the too. I don't know where that was ever thought to be a good idea but the auditorium manager who did worry about his Wenger shell towers tipping when they crossed it didn't know the wood floor could have extended wall to wall.

This is all made worse by the local dealers who offer "free consulting" but in the end they are sales people, with the goal of getting their products and services included in the project. They might have good intentions and be very knowledgeable about their products, probably much more knowledgeable than I am about the products, but don't have a big picture in mind. After all, who sells intimacy or high Rts? And how much respect does someone who gives it away get?

We are not so careless and nonchalant with the design of factories, hospitals, stadia, etc. - and need to change that for performing arts.
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 30, 2010
Location
Clayton NY 13624
My friend and former co-worker Eugene Leitermann wrote this. I think you would find it an excellent start. I still doubt that someone with out expertise could get it all best as can be just from this, but I'm sure would do much better. I worry with a nag like me they would just follow the guidance they liked, and not all of it.

https://www.routledge.com/Theater-P...Entertainment/Leitermann/p/book/9781138888982
 

Ric

Active Member
Joined
Sep 15, 2008
Location
Werribee, Victoria, Australia
FYI the other side of the world has these issue as well. I've been to, and worked in, many spaces that have horrendous design issues, that seem very obvious in hindsight.

What we do have is the Victorian Association of Performing Arts Centres, and as tech managers, discuss this situation, and other general theatre techy stuff, on a regular basis.
Some years ago some very clever people got together and developed a recommendation for performing arts spaces Oh You Beautiful Stage.
This is designed to assist architects and consultants on the common planning requirements when look at a performing arts space.

Yes the full copy is a cost, but that is to partly cover the substantial development costs.
 
  • Like
Reactions: gafftapegreenia
Joined
Sep 26, 2017
Location
United States
Somewhere along the line, Massachusetts wised up... When the Feds determined that Massachusetts' school were physically failing and threatened to start withholding DOE funds, Massachusetts created the "Massachusetts School Building Authority" (MSBA), with all the legal power that goes along with a Public Authority.

Anyway, in all requests for funding of capital projects from school districts, the MSBA requires that a Theater Consultant be part of the design team, along with all the other prerequisite engineers (elec, structural, civil, HVAC, FP, etc.). We're now on our 6th project with the same architect and can say that after the first one we did together (they had many "come to Jesus" moments)., we've turned out some great spaces together.

This all may be unique to Massachusetts, but it's resulting in some very good designs (our participation notwithstanding). In NY, on some of my other projects, it has taken one or two projects with the same architect for them to see the light, but they all eventually come around. We have relationships with 5 firms in Upstate NY, and each project gets better than the last.

But, yes, this is a tough nut to crack, and will take time... and education at the most fundamental levels. One thing I really think needs to happen is that architecture programs at the college level need to incorporate AT LEAST a guest lecturer to point out the basics, if not create a separate module on auditorium and theater design. I did one "charette" at Syracuse University years ago and the students were "shocked" as to how much they had not thought about when putting together a class theater design project.
 

teqniqal

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 26, 2009
Location
Dallas / Fort Worth, Texas
Bill Connor wrote: "But because the design team has done a theatre and "has not heard any complaints" - an all too often claim and defense of past work I've heard over 35 years - doesn't make them wizards of theatre planning either."

My experience is that the architect asks the Superintendent or Principal what they want, rather than asking the Fine Arts Department. Two entirely different answers . . .

What comes next is the tour of the nearby venue, typically another High School, that is also awful beyond words, where the one Superintendent or Principal asks the other Superintendent or Principal about how they like their theatre. They are always going to save face and tell anyone that will listen that it is the greatest thing this side of Carnegie Hall. If they would only ask the teachers they would get an ear full . . .

Our collective challenge is to get the owners and design teams to realize they don't know squat about theatres, and any theatre they have done in the past is probably rife with concept errors, execution errors, and operational problems. 'Cookie cutter' designs are troublesome to address as they have been 'validated' by their mere existence. Explaining to someone that just because they have a theatre doesn't make it a good theatre is hard for them to hear and acknowledge. Tact helps, but it is still bad news, and they don't want to hear it.

'Educational facility pairity' is another problem. They built a theatre in 2002 that was based on a bad 1990 design, then they want a new one designed in 2018 for completion in 2020, but it "can't be any better than the old one because it wouldn't be fair to the other school". My tax dollars going to waste . . .

Bill Connor mentioned the aledged funding pairity between athletics and fine arts in Texas. Living and working here it is so funny to see the local interpretations of that. One school built a huge new football stadium, and under the bleachers they constructed a dried-in practice space for the cheer leaders and flag team to rehearse in. The signage on the side of the stadium facing the road reads (names have been changed): "John Q Smith Athletic and Fine Arts Complex". Other battles I've fought include the cost of a sprung stage floor (1000-1500 sq. ft.) for a black-box theatre vs. the cost of all the hundreds of acres of groomed athletic fields, practice gyms, and weight rooms . . .

Educating owners and architects is a tedious part of our work, but none-the-less necessary. I sometimes feel like I expend all of my design efforts (budget) just stopping them from making mistakes. It would be amazing to actually get to design the 'hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did this?' stuff. While in college I signed-up for classes in Lighting Design and Architectural Acoustics in the Architecture Department -- what I took away from the classes was this:
  • The class was an optional graduate level elective, so most students were never exposed to the concepts
  • The class was only six weeks and met once a week, so not much time to actually learn anything
  • None of the class information discussed hiring experts, it all implied you could 'do it yourself'
  • None of it mentioned the applicability to performance / presentation spaces
Other Architecture Schools may be different, but the idea that an Architecture Student should be forcefully exposed to these ideas (and more) by making them mandatory is a great idea.

As to the idea of writing books and making videos, I'm not too much of a fan of that. There are many books on the subject out there (mostly woefully out-dated, particularly with regard to the technology (sound, lights, rigging), and the labor cost of creating watchable accurate informative unbiased videos is more than any of us can bear. Get to know your independent consultants, push the idea of having them involved in your projects - the facility will be better for it.

Peter Scheu - Yeah for Massachusetts! - We need to figure-out how to make that happen in all states!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Les and RonHebbard

J.W. LAYNE

Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
palm springs
Somewhere along the line, Massachusetts wised up... When the Feds determined that Massachusetts' school were physically failing and threatened to start withholding DOE funds, Massachusetts created the "Massachusetts School Building Authority" (MSBA), with all the legal power that goes along with a Public Authority.

Anyway, in all requests for funding of capital projects from school districts, the MSBA requires that a Theater Consultant be part of the design team, along with all the other prerequisite engineers (elec, structural, civil, HVAC, FP, etc.). We're now on our 6th project with the same architect and can say that after the first one we did together (they had many "come to Jesus" moments)., we've turned out some great spaces together.

This all may be unique to Massachusetts, but it's resulting in some very good designs (our participation notwithstanding). In NY, on some of my other projects, it has taken one or two projects with the same architect for them to see the light, but they all eventually come around. We have relationships with 5 firms in Upstate NY, and each project gets better than the last.

But, yes, this is a tough nut to crack, and will take time... and education at the most fundamental levels. One thing I really think needs to happen is that architecture programs at the college level need to incorporate AT LEAST a guest lecturer to point out the basics, if not create a separate module on auditorium and theater design. I did one "charette" at Syracuse University years ago and the students were "shocked" as to how much they had not thought about when putting together a class theater design project.
This worries me to see a post about the the the state of Theatre Architecture in that my college has recently approved the building of a new Arts Complex i was hopping that things had changed in the last 20 years. I haven't' worked on anything recently but 20 years ago i was involved with two University projects where my father who ran the Theatre program at Morehead State University was called in to give technical advise on a project in KY and another one in Virginia both had hired architectural firms that had in house "Theatre Specialist" that would't listen to the Tech Directors or the Design teaches or my Father. The FIRMs basically said we know what you need better than you do "this is our speciality it is what we do". needless to say they ended up with very fancy lecture halls that looked very pretty but not very functional. How do i make sure this doesn't happen here?
 

BillConnerFASTC

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 30, 2010
Location
Clayton NY 13624
I think the expression that comes to mind is you can lead a horse to water....

Tip number 1.

Here's one possibility that I believe has always resulted in much better design than would have happened without - a tour. A very long day or hopefully a two day affair passenger van affair packed with theatre tours - 5 or 6 a day - which is a lot. It needs to include administrator, users (teachers/professors in many cases), I love having someone from the school board, they ofetn include a physical plant/maintenance person, the architects, and hopefully a theatre consultant and an acoustical consultant. A range of facilities, not all the architects' and or consultants' (I love the surprises - ones I've never seen or we didn't expect - like the original one in a high school where we went to see the new one - they loved the classic horse shoe balcony).

You learn a lot. My goal is to point out features and functions, sit in seats and compare widths, aisle and aisle access ways. Trips to grids and catwalks (tell the females not to wear skirts for the ladders and spiral stairs). Examine stage floors. Listen to the users. Erich is right - the superintendents and principals are not candid and probably not really knowledgeable - try to hunt down users. We even conferenced with a group of high school students at one recently.

Take lost of photos.

And have a nice dinner together, and a summary closing round table.

The general awareness building and common language and experience is invaluable. So is the trust that is built. Don't be surprised if the program for the building changes. One changed from 600 expandable to 850 with a change to just 850 and 2 balconies. (Expandable sucks!) Another changed from a 900 seat multipurpose theater with full stage to a 900 concert hall and a 300 seat theatre - two spaces much both better suited to the school's activities for approximately same budget.

So do the bus and truck thing - get the right people committed - and go at it with gusto.
 

Amy Frank

Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2014
Location
Wisconsin
I am in the exact situation you've described - a cookie-cutter performing arts center that looks pretty, but has some major design flaws. I read a GREAT book written by Elizabeth Rand, entitled High School Theatre Operations for Architects, Administrators and Academics. I've given a copy to administration in my district, since it's likely they will build an "equitable" second high school in the near future.
I am also working with our state presenters network to form a sub-group of theater managers to act as "advisors" to some of the high schools that are currently planning to build PACs.

Does anyone know of any national or state organization or association that is for High School PAC Managers (similar to an Athletic Director's Association?) I think I'm going to have to start one - we actually already have a regional one started. There are more and more of us in similar situations and some networking and collaboration would be helpful!
 

MNicolai

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Fight Leukemia
Joined
Mar 30, 2008
Location
Sarasota, FL
Does anyone know of any national or state organization or association that is for High School PAC Managers (similar to an Athletic Director's Association?) I think I'm going to have to start one - we actually already have a regional one started. There are more and more of us in similar situations and some networking and collaboration would be helpful!
Call Michael Duncan @ the Oconomowoc Arts Center. You may already know him from the state presenter's network but he's been pretty actively involved over the last decade with the high school PAC scene. Also has a good success story under his belt of opening a high school PAC and using the school-supported roadhouse model for generating revenue, making all of the different stakeholders in the the district happy, building up an audience and sponsor base in the community, and over 5 years getting the venue to operate and support itself entirely in the black with 3 or 4 full time staff.
 

Amy Frank

Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2014
Location
Wisconsin
Michael and I are good friends -- we are working together on this sub-group of WPN to help high school's building PACs. Small world, eh?
 

JChenault

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 5, 2009
Location
seattle, wa USA
Bill

Ive been thinking about this a bit - and don't have a good answer - But I have some thoughts from another industry.

Hospitals. Why are hospitals ( surely at least if not more complex than theatres) not as unsuited to what they need to do than are many theatres. I had a discussion about this with my wife who is a chief of service in a large hospital that has undergone a number of renovations, adding new rooms. building a new building, etc.

Her belief is that the reasons hospitals don't get as screwed up as theatres are that there are a small number of specialists architects who do hospitals and it is expected that if you are doing a hospital your architect either needs to partner with one of the hospital experts or be one of the firms that specialize in hospitals. One major reason for this is regulations. The regulations for a hospital are complex and difficult. You want to have someone who understands the hallway width and door requirements for an outpatient vs an inpatient facility, etc.

Perhaps the reason that we have so many bad theatres is multi fold.
1 - the local aarchitect thinks he knows how to do it.
2 - there are not enough regulations about what makes an acceptable theatre space
3 - There are not standards for consultants ( I have worked with some awful folks who called themselves consultants)

Just throwing it out the for discussion
 

Users who are viewing this thread