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  1. theprofessor172

    theprofessor172 Member

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    I've just learned that my high school is in line to receive a complete renovation of our 40+ year old theatre space. Are there any recommendations, acoustic, technical, or otherwise, that you guys can make?
     
  2. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    That's just a wee bit of a general question and any responses could vary greatly depending upon the existing systems and physical space, the extent of the renovation, the envisioned general use and functionality of the space, the project budget and many other factors.

    While it is difficult to provide specific comments or recommendations without a great deal more information, in general I recommend that you lobby to get involved in the overall project planning and design as early possible and also to get the appropriate professional consultants/designers engaged as early as possible. Also start identifying and prioritizing your needs and goals, while it is great to 'shoot for the moon', in my experience if you can show that there was some concentrated planning and a 'reality check' performed in advance of starting to identify your needs then that often goes a long way towards actually getting what you really need.
     
  3. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    Given the general nature of your question, I think the best advice to offer is this: Make sure that the school/district/city hires a real theatre consultant. It is amazing how many theatres get built without a consultant who actually works on theatres. Having a real theatre consultant on the team will help minimize any wonkyness that tends to get built into many theatres.
     
  4. renegadeblack

    renegadeblack Active Member

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    Make sure you get a cat walk! I wish so bad that I had one!
     
  5. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I can't emphasize enough the importance of Icewolfs statement. Getting a Qualified Theatrical consultant is INCREDIBLY important. If possible have the school district interview and hire their own rather than just going with the first suggestion of the architects or GC. Often Arch's and GC's have their own consultants on retainer, and while this is convieniant < misspelled the hell out of that never could remeber how to speel that word, and my spell check is offline, maybe I should convert to Firefox.> it is not always the best thing for the venue. A cookie cutter plan or bill of goods is not way to go most times. There are huge advances in the last 40 years some of which may or may not easily "shoe horn" into your space. It's better to get a lot of little good up grades then two big upgrades that leave you scratching your head.
    What part of the Country are you in ? < yes, I ended a sentence in a preposistion but it's ok I read a Treatise recently which said " ending a sentence in a preposistion or preposistional phrase is completely acceptable especially when the machinations necessary to avoid doing so border on the ridiculous..." >
    Their may be several folks who could suggest some good Theatrical consultants and provide advice about bad ones. I suggest they do this in PM rather than open forum if only to avoid possible Libel or slander charges.
    There are also several threads on here dealing specifically with folks who have recently upgraded facilities so try the search function, if you haven't already, and read those threads. Even if they are about a new facility you might be able to glean some good info for your upgrade.
     
  6. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Admittedly some self interest here, but also do not necessarily limit yourself to a single Theatre Consulting firm. Only the larger Theatre Consulting firms can really provide in-house expertise in every facet from basic space planning to rigging, lighting, audio and acoustics. Do not let yourself get pushed into using a firm that you feel is not qualified in all areas involved. If that happens, you may be better served to have multiple firms qualified in specific disciplines rather than a single firm qualified in some areas but not as qualified in others.

    This is actually how many theatre consulting firms work, they are either formal collaborations of several otherwise independent consultants in various disciplines or they are firms that routinely team with other consultants. This is how I do much of my theatre work, teaming with one or more other consultants whose expertise complements mine so that we can provide a better overall level of service than any one of us alone.
     
  7. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    I read an interesting point on the stagecraft list about conflicts between technicians and consultants. Every technician thinks he could have done a better job than the venue's designers. I've said before I've never worked in a space where I thought something should have been designed differently. The consultant made the point that the building will, most-likely, outlive its occupants. While a user may think that the second electric should have been 2' farther upstage, it's the Theatre Consultant's job to look at the larger picture. Moving the electric upstage might have cost the venue two extra urinals in the men's room. Which is more important in the grand scheme?

    Start at American Society of Theatre Consultants to locate a Theatre Consultant appropriate to your needs.
     
  8. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Very true. The other situation that often arises is that the Consultant may agree with the Technician but may decide to, or be forced to, compromise on certain issues in order to not compromise on others.

    One of the worst situations is when different groups within the "Owner's" team have significantly different visions for the facility that are never reconciled. Developing and documenting a common vision and expectation for a project can be critical to the overall success of the project. An Architect or Consultant will often call this effort where the project expectations and requirements are defined a Needs Analysis or Programming. The more internal coordination and development of the goals and expectations, and reconciling of any differences, that can be achieved in advance, the more likely for everyone involved to have the same visions and goals throughout the project and to have a successful result.

    A very good suggestion, if you identified where you are located people may also be able to suggest some firms in that area, although with modern communications being physically local is no longer the issue it once was.
     
  9. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    As has been said, make sure to hire a real theatre consultant.

    Also, they'll hopefully spec this, but have at least 2 independent ethernet networks run in the space that are localized to the space (not run elsewhere in the school or connected to the school's network at all), one for sound and one for lighting. With terminations all over the place. This so that when the technology becomes affordable, if it isn't yet for the school, it's very easy to implement it.
     
  10. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Classic example. The New York State Theatre, recently renamed the David H. Koch Theater. Primary tenant (for whom the theatre was built in 1964) is the New York City Ballet, which requires a sprung stage floor. Secondary tenant is the New York City Opera, which desires a stiff floor for acoustics and to be able to roll heavy scenic pieces. For years the NYCO has tried to find an alternative venue, or raise funds to build its own. There may be truth in the old adage "A multi-purpose space is a no-purpose space" after all.
     
  11. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Also, make sure you anticipate (and a consultant may be able to help with this) the future. As an organization think about where you want to head and make sure your space will fit this plan for the next 20-30-50 years without major remodeling. We are locked into our limited building space because no one expected our theatre program to begin, let alone get to a semi-decent level. Now we are stuck and really can't improve because our space is too limiting in that there is no backstage room or storage for many large props and stock scenery.:evil::evil::evil:
     
  12. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Being a high school, especially a public high school, can have its own little twists. From requiring 'district standard' 30" wide doors on music practice rooms to having existing performance or equipment standards to not wanting any one school to have facilities too much nicer than any other schools in the district, school districts and the related politics can have their own impact.

    One of those relates back to some of the earlier comments and that is the concept of 'lowest qualified bidder'. Often public schools have to award contracts to the lowest qualified bidder and this can apply to Architects and Consultants services as well as to Contractors. That means that the qualifications for your consultant(s) may have to be defined prior to bidding for their services, if this is not done or is poorly done then it can simply become whatever firm offers the lowest price.

    Their are sometimes some options to this process but it might be worth verifying how the Architect and consultants will be selected and getting involved in that process.
     
  13. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I just moved into a new space; we were given owner-turnover one month ago, and within 10 days had our first production on stage. It is a school district facility, but thanks to a group of people (some hired, some volunteering) providing input to the school district, it was designed phenomally. There are some problems, of course. The scene shop that isn't large enough, but houses a 16' doorway onto the stage, but inside of the shop are fluorescent fixtures that hang down to 14'. There's no Telex station on the FS platform, and the only way to put gel frames in fixtures on the catwalk is to pry between the railings and lean out further than any student should.

    However, in the grand scheme, only a couple portions of the overall design are, in my mind, unforgivable. Both the Arts Center Manager and I have wandered the building, written down our comments on existing and potential problems, be it design flaws, install flaws, or just plain bad, and submitted them to the higher-ups for review. Now the higher-ups are going to look at everything and go after whomever they need to go after for each issue, be it an electrician to get stage work lights added to the ELTS system, or the general contractor for roof hatches that leak when snow is melting on them, or audio consultants for really dropping the ball.

    The most important thing you can do during the design process is make good with the people who fall into the owner category and getting them to let you look at the designs, and maybe even sit in on a couple meetings. Don't make suggestions without reasons and examples to back them up, and remember that you're a guest unless the owner says otherwise.

    Don't only look at what you've done in theatres, but what you could do, and see what portions of the designs may aid those ideas, and what might inhibit them. These are the issues you won't realize until you've been in the space for two years already and a touring group shows up and asks where to tie into that polyphase distro for their audio and lighting gear, but you can't seem to find because they either never installed it, or put it in a closet backstage, down the hall, into a side closet, up some stairs, and around the corner.

    When you reach the point that I'm at, you'll probably have a certain amount of time that your facility is under warranty before the contractors will only listen to your complaints if they're being paid by the hour. Take that time to test everything and find potential problems. You might not need a fourth monitor send then, but wait a couple years and then tie into it, only to find out that it doesn't work because the wiring was incorrect, that channel on the amp is bad, or the distribution matrix is misconfigured. Don't expect the building will be perfect, because it won't be; you'll have to anticipate problems and deal with them accordingly. In the past three weeks I've been on the phone with multiple tech support lines, and met with multiple technicians to come out and troubleshoot different problems.

    The worst misnomer is when something appears to work, but doesn't work as it's supposed to. Don't be afraid to ask if something is acting like it's supposed to. The last time I asked that question I found out we needed a CEM+ replaced, a preset station replaced, and the entire architectural lighting network reprogrammed.

    Another important question is, "How will this building be maintained?" That gets down into the details of maintenance and upkeep, which may mean no carpet in the dressing rooms, house lights you can replace without renting a Genie and an auditorium straddler, and other minute details. For example, they gave us a great surface on the front of the building for lighting, but they gave us LED lights. The upside is that they're low-maintenance, low-heat, and can be programmed for any exterior lighting we want. The downside is that they're low-heat, and won't melt snow on the lenses. That means each time we want to use them we have to pull out the 32' extension laddder and go on the roof to wipe the snow off of them. It's not terrible, but this is Wisconsin, and we just happen to have had record snow falls the last couple winters. I don't know that I would have gone with anything besides LED's, or that I would have put them on the top of the wave wall to make it so snow didn't affect them; it's just one of those extra steps of maintenance we will now have to account for.

    My final piece of advice is to be careful who you're working with. The only thing worse than a theatre consultant who has never worked on a theatre, is a theatre consultant who has never worked in a theatre. Watch out, and don't let them try to fool you into thinking they know more than they actually do.

    I had a bit of a different experience, because we built an entire new building instead of renovating our 70-year old dump of a space(which is now for sale), but earlier this year we also renovated a smaller space. It's funny how the school's plan of a small electrical upgrade of a 1250-seat venue turned into a complete $65k renovation, with an additional $40k media upgrade pending approval. Over the course of this entire year, I've sort of been there, done that with school renovations and construction projects, so PM me if you ever have questions. Hopefully it will go as well for you as it did for me, but in my favor I had a large group of administrative and maintenance staff that gave me free reign and entertained my ideas and suggestions.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2008
  14. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Get a theater consultant. Tell us where you are in the world and perhaps we can help recommend some to you via PM.

    Beyond that there is very little we can tell you without knowing details about what you already have and what your new purposes are for the space. There are many around here who would be happy to give ideas. But we need more focused questions.

    Please keep posting. Talking about designing new spaces is a lot of fun!
     
  15. mbenonis

    mbenonis Wireless Guy Administrator

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    I think it's been said above, but get a theatre consultant who knows how to delegate portions of the space to specialists. If a new sound system is in order, you need an acoustical consultant to help with architectural issues, plus a sound engineering consultant to help you select the right equipment. You need a lighting consultant to ensure you get the lighting system you need. Ask lots of questions, and think hard about odd situations that might require creative solutions. Also, err on the side of caution when it comes to connections and what not - always spring for the extra run if you can shoehorn it in.

    BTW, as far as sound goes, think long and hard about the gear you get. Spring for the best gear you can afford - but get gear you'll actually USE. It's amazing how much gear can go unused because someone thought it would be useful one day...
     
  16. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Doesn't leave much for the audio consultants to do. Keep in mind that consultants are being hired to put their best, professional work into a project, and a purpose is defeated in hiring one if you'll always be looking over their shoulder and giving your input on their every move, or worse yet, choosing each piece of equipment yourself.

    What you may end up with is one company who does the audio consulting, and another who does the install. The guys from the install company probably do a lot more work with audio equipment, especially for gigs, not just installing. You may want to ask them their opinion of the consultants ahead of time, as they very well are likely to be professionals who have not only installed the consultant's systems, but have worked in venues with their systems and know the little problems that usually get overlooked or ignored.
     
  17. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    Get several consultants. Call friends. Chat with your local vendor. Compare their notes, and stay on top of the contractor. We are just finishing a disaster of a build. The consultant is about 40 years out of date, and several vendors swindled the district, along with people at the top making decisions about things they know nothing about. Unfortunately, I was blocked from input during the process. Had I known what the end result was going to be, I would have pushed harder to be part of the process - brought in parents, press, whatever it took.

    Get opinions on paper, in email or typed letters. Carry them to whoever is in charge. Insist on the job being done right.

    At some point in the process they will start trying to save money by value-engineering items out (VE). My strong suggestion is to VE out equipment but not infrastructure. It is far easier to raise money to replace crappy sound amps than it is to run conduit and wire an extra couple of headset positions. As others have said, plan like crazy for the future, and leave lots of room to expand and grow with technology.

    Make sure you have a quality installation of audio runs, video capabilities, and networking for lighting and Internet. Equipment can come later - get the cables in place! Make sure they use quality cable - my house snake is useless because the wiring is so bad, so I had to purchase a snake and run it through the rafters to get audio from the stage to the booth.

    School theaters are multipurpose areas - try to avoid what happened to us. I would love to leave a few lights up for repertory purposes, but we don't have the positions because of the crappy install. Think about rentals and untrained individuals at your school.

    As you get closer to refit time, salvage everything. Don't count on the district or contractor to save anything. Often the contractor knows it's cheaper for them to replace something than to store it, but schools don't work that way. I walked away with extra raceways, pipes for scenery, and assorted other odds and ends from the previous install. A lot of it is in bad shape, but it's very usable, very safe, and came at a great price. I also salvaged every single light myself - I have a feeling they would have gone down with the building!

    I hear stories identical to mine when I speak with teachers from other districts and vendors. Good luck through the process. A new space is exciting, but don't rely on others to do the job right.
     
  18. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    Make sure your consultants speak to each other as well. My audio and lighting consultants never met, and the two groups designed installs where equipment from each side interferes with the other side.
     
  19. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    As an electrical engineer who has been on the A/E design team for several such projects, I will lend you my two cents. Above is much good advice. Especially regarding need of a theater consultant to advise on general layout, sightlines, rigging, etc., etc., and who is hopefully current with today's trends and technologies (not all are). Also, if possible, get good acoustic, sound and lighting consultants.

    Architects and engineers typically design many types of buildings, and simply can't be experts on every type. Most HS theaters are designed by school architects and engineers who try to remember the last HS theater they did, and hope to not repeat the previous mistakes and hopefully find a few improvements. But few are first class "theater" designers.

    If this project is part of a larger capital project, you will likely be using such an architect. If the project is just the theater, you might be able to push for one with more theater experience.

    Whoever is being considered, get examples of previous HS theaters designed, and get names and numbers and talk to those schools to see how they like their theaters.

    The biggest problems I've seen are ones due to non-communication of expectations and priorities. This can result in a super high-tech facility being built for a small rural district who has no ability or interest to run such a beast; or an average "yesterday" design for a school that has money and wants to really develop its program and give kids a chance to get exposed to state-of-the-art equipment and systems.

    It's a two-way street. The A/E has to ask questions, and the school has to make plain its desires, and be clear on priorities. Problems can develop when the school has too many people involved in the design, and they all have competing interests. Perhaps the A/V tech is a strong personality and gets his top notch sound system, but at the expense of a noisy A/C system or something more important. The school needs a small/select design committee that is a bit technically savvy and can develop those priorities within the budget parameters. You can't have every teacher meeting with the A/E or the process will get bogged down.

    Probably the best advice I can give is to put together (with the A/E) a list of recently completed facilities that have been used at least a year, similar to what you want to build or better, maybe some designed by your A/E, but also some not. Visit each facility, with the A/E, and get a tour given by the school's person most familiar with the theater. (Do not get a tour led by A/E only. You need the user's feedback).

    At each such school, ask the users to show you each item (arch., elec, HVAC) the school really likes, and the things they don't like or that don't work right. The things they have, but won't use, and the things they wish they had, but don't. Take good notes and discuss them with the design team.

    It is important that the architect and mech. and elec. engineers (and special consultants if possible) participate in these tours, so they learn along with you, the things to do and not do, based on your needs/desires. This will take their time, and the school should be willing to pay for it. But the best way for all to learn is to see examples.

    And of course there is the matter of cost. Yes, we might want motorized line sets, but is that worth giving up air conditioning or extra seats??

    Before design goes too far, the A/E and school should have a written list of all the significant design parameters, so there are no misunderstandings. At each design review step, take out the list, and run through it with the design team, to make sure things don't fall thru the cracks. Update/revise the list as priorities change, etc.

    Know that design compromises will have to be made, due to budget and/or existing infrastructure constraints.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!
     
  20. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Some great advice here! I think you may see a common thread in some of them that you want to be sure you coordinate who is responsible for what and to try to make sure all your bases are covered.

    Find out as early as possible how the design services are being contracted. On public projects it is quite typical for the Architect to be the 'prime', they are responsible for the entire project design services with all the design consultants contracted to them. This sometimes means an Architect gets hired with little or no consideration of the specialty discipline consultants that may be part of their team. In fact some projects may not even identify that they require any specific consultants, leaving it up to the Architect to decide what consultants they feel are appropriate. The risk there is that the Architect who uses the fewest and/or lowest cost consultants may likely then be the low bidder for the project, so be sure to try to qualify and assess the entire team and not just the Architect.

    One alternative is to delete the specialty consultants from the Architects scope of work and to contract those firms directly so that they work with rather than for the Architect. This definitely potentially puts more responsibility on the Owner to coordinate these entities but it also give more control of who they are. There are other options such as negotiating with selected design firms or requesting Architects to use a preselected firm or list of firms but those may not be viable in a public bid situation.

    Related to this, realize that when assessing past projects and designer's performance on them many administrators are likely going to be focused much more on issues such as whether those projects were finished on time and within budget, how the public received the spaces, whether they provided any increased revenue (or money from other sources), etc. The more you can address things in a manner that resonates with them, the better. It is often not just about how you can have better performances but rather how it helps educate the students and benefit the school and community.

    In my experience, it is assisting you through all the related procedural and process issues like this that can be just as important a role for a consultant as any technical aspects.


    Value Engineering (VE) is something most projects face. The concept is intended to be a way to have bidders or contractors offer suggestions to provide either improved performance without an increase in cost or comparable performance for a reduced cost. Unfortunately, it all too often becomes simply a cost cutting exercise or an attempt to cut back systems to fit an insufficient budget. I completely agree with Sayen that it is best to VE out things that can easily be added back in later. For example, as long as you plan for a specific mixing console you may be able to get by with something lesser initially and then later easily change consoles, but changing speaker systems at a later date may be more difficult. I also often suggest to delete entire systems rather than to delete or compromise on the components of systems, it is often much easier to later try to get funding to add an entire functionality deleted than to try to get pieces or upgrades.
     

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