Looking for Theatrical Consultant

Benjamin Fink

Active Member
I work for a college in west central Minnesota, and we would like to bring in a consultant to walk through a number of spaces on our campus and help us start planning for upgrades to our audio and lighting systems. We have a performance venue in our Student Center that is due for a new set of speakers, a very reverberant ballroom with a sound system that we would like to eventually overhaul and potentially add stage lighting to, and a recital hall that is due for an upgrade to the lighting and sound equipment and acoustic treatments. We have a rough understanding of what we think we need, but I'd like to bring in someone with fuller product knowledge and experience with systems design (especially since we went through a recent renovation on our campus where our architects didn't work with any theatrical consultants on the project.)

We don't currently have definite timeframes (or funding) to do these projects, but would like to bring in someone to assess our existing equipment and help us identify where the weaknesses are in our systems that should be prioritized, and give us some rough price points for upgrades that we can bring to the decision makers on campus and start saving up for or fundraising. Since we don't have immediate plans to move forward with these projects, would a consultant be able to work up a few options in different price points and give us a framework to use for planning and prioritization that we can flesh out later as we decide to move forward on each project?

What should we expect to pay to bring someone out for a site visit and work out some rough recommendations, and does anyone have companies in Minnesota or the upper Midwest that they would recommend? In the beginning of 2020, I had reached out to a company that had been recommended to me and their estimate for a site visit and design development was around $12k. Is this roughly the cost of entry, or could we lower the cost by going through a smaller company or requesting a less detailed set of estimates?
 

JohnD

Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
Have you looked at:
Also remember that anyone can call themselves "consultants". The problem comes with those who are design and SELL outfits. Good luck in your search.
 

Benjamin Fink

Active Member
Have you looked at:
Also remember that anyone can call themselves "consultants". The problem comes with those who are design and SELL outfits. Good luck in your search.
I had briefly looked at those listings, and it looks like most if not all of the members are employed in large national companies. I'm afraid that the cost to make it worth them sending someone out for a consultation might be prohibitive for us - the $12k estimate I mentioned earlier would be tough to find in our budget if we can avoid it. That being said, I know that consultants are a huge value add on large scale projects and I really wish that we had brought one in to advise on our renovation a few years back. I agree with you that we want to avoid bringing in a design/sales company if we can avoid it, and want to bring in someone with the correct skills and expertise so that we can have quality information to do some long term planning.

Are there any ways to lower costs while still making sure that we're getting useful information? Are there smaller consulting companies or independent consultants in the upper Midwest that anyone could recommend? Or would it be better to contact one of the larger companies with members on the ASTC roster and see if they would do a more limited consultation - would it be reasonable to ask them to send a junior member of their staff or do a relatively minimal order-of-magnitude estimation, or would that simply not be worth it for them to do?
 

JohnD

Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
Something you might consider is networking with staff members at these places:
They might know of someone to contact for a more cost effective amount.

Edit: Also consider membership to:
They may also have a chapter in your area.
 

MNicolai

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Fight Leukemia
What should we expect to pay to bring someone out for a site visit and work out some rough recommendations, and does anyone have companies in Minnesota or the upper Midwest that they would recommend? In the beginning of 2020, I had reached out to a company that had been recommended to me and their estimate for a site visit and design development was around $12k. Is this roughly the cost of entry, or could we lower the cost by going through a smaller company or requesting a less detailed set of estimates?
Design Development includes drawings. You're not ready for drawings until you have an architect on-board and a rough allocation for a project budget.

Before Design Development comes Schematic Documents -- that is essentially a narrative for every discipline and specialty in the project. You are also not ready for this. This is generally most useful when you have a construction manager engaged who will send the schematic narratives out to subcontractors for cost estimating.

What you are looking for is a feasibility study or concept report. It is much higher altitude. Someone walks the spaces for a day, takes lots of photos, has a meeting or two with the stakeholders, and then puts a priorities list together for the major capital improvements. Then they run some numbers in Excel or reference a recent similarly sized project and spit out a rough order of magnitude cost estimate for each priority. Emphasis on rough, because while theater consultants have access to pricing for performance systems, they are not construction managers and do not have a full cost-estimating team that can assess the cost of structural, architectural, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fire protection, or life safety improvements that may also be required. Some of the items that veer into those categories they can take a best guess at, but once you're looking at major systems overhauls, there's a fair chance other building improvements will be wrapped in at the same time that will come with their own costs that inflate the overall project budget. The purpose of this report is not to describe the project in gross detail with technical diagrams and drawings -- it is to paint a picture for a higher budgetary authority of why they need to approve funding for this project and how much. In this way, it is very different from SD or DD packages where the primary audience is the construction manager and their subcontractors for the purpose of cost-estimating once the project is officially kicked off.

A report like above will still generally cost upwards of $5-7k at a minimum. Travel, reimbursable expenses, time on-site, time meeting with the user groups, time drafting the report. Essentially at this stage you are asking the theater consultant to wear several hats -- and generally our industry has a bad habit of theater consultants being insulated from AV and acoustics consultants -- meaning that a small number of firms that can advise on acoustics, AV, lighting, and rigging under one umbrella. Especially as you get into the smaller independent firms, you very well may have to hire a separate person to assess the acoustics requirements from who looks at your lighting systems -- or you'll end up hiring a theater consultant who subcontracts an AV or acoustics consultant to fill in the gaps. I'm in the fortunate position where my group does comprehensive consulting, but that is far from the norm.
 

Ben Stiegler

Well-Known Member
I might be able to help you - we can talk. I'm currently (briefly) in MN at Carleton College, where I built and maintained theatrical systems as a student many moons ago, and continue to advise on venues. I'm flexible, and have acoustics, audio, and lighting credentials as well as construction and project management experience. There's no avoiding the travel but we can make it as efficient a time as possible.

I'll be back on the pavement 6/30 :)
 

JohnD

Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
Since you mention three spaces in your first post you might consider addressing them here at CB. You might start with a post in the Sound, Music and Intercom concerning the speakers in the Student Center. Oh, remember that we love photos and diagrams here. Share what you have for a sound system and why it isn't working properly.

Also with the other two spaces acoustic issues really need serious design work. It is much too easy to waste money on treatments that are the wrong thing for the space.
 

TimMc

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
College? This is where you approach the alumni development office. Raising money for a project is easier than raising money for the general fund.
 

teqniqal

Well-Known Member
Ben, We do this type of survey and recommendation reports frequently, and we are multidiscipline, too, so you wont need multiple consultants. We are an independent consultant with no ties to sales, installation, or manufacturers. Please reach-out to me at: [email protected] and I can send you a brochure and we can chat. You are just an airplane ride away, and I sure could use a visit to a cooler climate this summer.
 

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