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New Theater Recommendations?

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by MrDoItAll, Feb 18, 2009.

  1. MrDoItAll

    MrDoItAll Member

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    So my dream has come true, and we are building a new theater. We are in the planning stages right now, and my superintendent wants a list of recommendations. I have been working out of the loop for a long time...an auditeria <sigh>, so I don't even know where to begin.

    It appears that we are looking at a house size of about 500-600 (though I am not sure of that). No balcony. Your generic high school new construction. It will have to be multipurpose for theater productions, choir/band/orchestra concerts, community groups, etc. I am sure if I don't fight well, I'll get screwed in the process. I want to know everything.

    What do you have that you can't live without?
    What do you really wish you would have done?
    What mistakes can you help me avoid?
    What was a huge waste of time and money?
    What questions should I be asking myself that I haven't thought of?

    And specifics... How much electricity? What kind of boards (sound and light)? How many dimmers? Fly system: yes or no. How much storage space? What kind of seats?

    I am just a little overwhelmed.

    Help!
     
  2. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    First things first, do a search, we have a lot of info on this subject. It has not come up lately, but when Gafftaper was building his new space we all walked through everything together. I'll bite off one question.

    It depends. Is there always going to be a full time TD around? Will the space be able to be secured, or will classes be happening onstage?

    The "new building" plans are somewhat in the works at my school. We are looking at 5 years at least however. I have already said that I will not put in a counterweight fly system. I do want a system though and I will be pushing heavily for winches. Yes, it will cost more, but then again I don't worry as much.

    The HS I went to had a fly system and I learned a lot from it. That being said though, I do not feel comfortable flying large scenic pieces with students around. They are fine once you get them up in the air, but asking a 10 students to handle 2 bull lines with an 750# piece on the ground is not a fun thing to do. I trust them to operate the system and throw weight, but I do not trust them to get stuff off the ground.

    So, that being said, I would push heavily for a winch operated system, either a Vortek or a JR Clancy rig. If you call these companies, they will be out there in a second with every safety figure to let your administrators know why the extra expense is worth it.

    Vortek ? Automated Stage Rigging Systems, Hoists and Controls for Theaters, Auditoriums and Arenas.
    Theatre & Stage Equipment Products - PowerLift Automated Hoists
     
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  3. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Take a deep breath and don't be overwhelmed. You should have a warm fuzzy feeling, you're getting a new facility! This is a happy, Joyous time!
    Ok it'll be a PITA too, but you should be Joyous and happy for a bit first.
    Number one, use that search button, if you haven't already, there are a ton of threads on this subject, as a matter of fact one of the reasons Gafftaper signed up in the first place was the he was in a situation exactly like yours. < he may prove to be an invaluable resource for you as he has gone through this same process inside an educational institution.>
    Second, Dream a little! Make a list of what you like to have and what you think you need.
    Third, don't worry that you'll have any say in the matter of what you wind up with when all is said and done. You district is going to choose an Architectural firm. They'll have a "Theatrical Consultant" on retainer, who will at least have a clue as to what a Theatre looks like and some inkling of what it's used for if not how. You can make requests, require certain elements, but at the end of the day the Archi's and the contractors, and the funding gurus are the ones that are going to get the final say as to what gets installed.
    Check through some of the threads here on the subject, you get a good heads start on a lot of issues that may crop up later that way.
    Congrats on the new facility, and be sure to keep us informed as the process moves along.
     
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  4. MrDoItAll

    MrDoItAll Member

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    Thanks both of you. I've been digging around for a few weeks here (and decided to join just recently). Maybe I haven't yet mastered the search functions, because I hadn't run across much in this vein. After digging more (and looking at Gafftaper's posts), I found some. I'll keep on digging. Surely I'm just looking for the wrong thing.

    Luckily, the community is looking at this auditorium as a trophy for the area, and it seems that they want to do it right. But, as many have said, budget will have the final word. I am indeed excited. Terrified and excited.
     
  5. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    We didn't have a fly system in high school, and I feel that helped us a bit, though I wish the ceiling were higher, or we had the opportunity to run basic hemp lines in a safe manner.

    the biggest thing I think you need is speaker access. In my high school the speakers were inaccessible, so when they broke, we really couldn't get to them, and they stayed broken. Make sure you have places to hang speakers, and areas to run lines through.
     
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  6. hsaunier

    hsaunier Active Member

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    Call me. We just completed a High school / Middle school with a $10mil auditorium.
     
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  7. ishboo

    ishboo Active Member

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    One thing I'd be careful of is who specs out your lighting and sound systems. I'm not sure exactly how it worked out with our new theatre that was built last year but the school accepted bids on someone who would put together the lighting, sound, etc. systems of the new venue. The school then accepted the lowest bid not knowing anything about this and we got some guy who either doesn't know a whole lot about lighting and sound or just gave us the cheapest stuff so he could get his paycheck. (I would put my money on the latter) Either way we ended up with an atrocious lighting system. Bottom of the line lightboard of which I couldn't even begin to list off the problems we've had with it. Along with that we got a bunch of unreliable dimmers and with all that, awful customer service that recommends we open up the light board and jostle cables when it is broken. The bottom line is double check these kind of recommendations and make sure you are getting reliable technology so you don't end up regretting it.
     
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  8. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    Take Heed of this warning.

    We had the same thing happen, and we ended up with a Horizon Lighting Console (free, discontinued, computerized board system) in our main theatre, a 25 channel lighttronics board in our blackbox, and dimmers we can't find anywhere (thrown in a closet we can't find somewhere?!), add to that the fact that the dimmers are unreliable as anything, and have terrible problems with phantom current.

    Our sound system had some decent money put in to it, but had terrible execution. The speakers were inaccessible (blame it on the architect), and the wires were too long, and too high of a gauge so we had terrible drain on quality, and the wiring was terrible.

    In the end - make sure you know what you are getting for the money, look over the purchase orders and bids. Do your homework, have fun.
     
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  9. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    The above will wind up being one of your biggest headaches. The facility you wind up with is only as good as the budget you have, the Architects, and the Theatre Consultant.
    No matter what you ask everyone is going to have a particular area which they will tell you is THE MOST IMPORTANT. When all is said and done, what matters the absolute most is that you have a facility which works for everyone involved, and hopefully inconveniences everyone the same amount. There is no way around "the lowest Bidder" debacle, that is the way government institution are run. The School and the General Contractor are obligated to go with the lowest bid, that is the law in most States. The biggest, most crucial part of the process is writing up the actual "Specifications for Bid" or the peice of paper that goes out to the contractors that tells them what they are going to be offering to work on or supply. If my specs said ; " Contractor to supply 20 lekos, 10 fresnels,12 parcans, 24 1.2k dimmers, a control board with a minimum of 12 channels of control."
    then a contractor could deliver 20 360q's , 10 6k hmi Fresnels, 12 par 36's and 2 old EDI racks with an analog controller.
    "Everyone would scream But that's not what I wanted!" to which the contractor could respond, " that's what you spec'd"
    and he'd be right.
    Typically during the spec's process you are not allowed to single out a particular manufacturer, you can't say, "24 ETC Source4's" you can however say, " 24 Ellipsoidal lighting units with; a rotating barrel, dichroicly coated reflector with the following properties....."
    you get my drift. You can tailor you spec's to get what you want. A lot of times a Theatrical consultant wil just use a cookie cutter because they havea good relationship with so and so, or they've always had good luch with such and such. Remember they work for the people paying the bills, If the people paying the bills ask you to lend a hand and oversee the specifications, then you drive the Consultant batty with demands.
     
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  10. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Also, most manufactures will have "spec sheets" available. You can usually copy those onto your final spec and that will save you SOME grief. Your going to constantly feel like the entire place should burn to the ground, but in the end you will have something.

    This is kind of like a pregnancy. Your happy at first, then it starts getting bigger and bigger, you start buying things, and hope for the best. It will open one day, and you will see how it turns out.
     
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  11. rwhealey

    rwhealey Active Member

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    Put the sound FOH mix position in the house!

    Run much, much more conduit than you think you need between the house mix position and the amp rack. We're in a bind where we're out of conduit space and need to run a few more lines.

    Make sure everywhere gets data (internet) cabling.

    I say yes to fly system. We have no problems, but we have an auditorium manager position (it's a half-day thing- he teaches classes half the day and does theater stuff the rest) and nothing goes unsupervised.
     
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  12. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    Elaborating on the above:

    If you have the money, have 4 discreet, distributed networks installed. Ports in a few places in the house, stage left and right, the booth, any other control position, and anywhere else where you might want to hook up a console or computer to ethernet. Also down to the dimmer room. These are to be separate from ANY school network infrastructure and will simply be for things like ETCnet (or the ethernet protocol of whatever control systems company you end up with), Cobranet, remote connections to booth computers, etc. If you only have the budget for 2, only get 2, but 4 is really ideal considering the increasing dependence on computers and ethernet in theatrical situations.

    Also, have 3" conduit run wherever you think you might need it. This is one thing that you really can't add later unless you tear the place up.
     
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  13. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    If 'twere me I would find a good theatre architect, and not some architecture firm that thinks they can design a theatre. They can save you a bundle and help direct your money at the things you need, versus the things that somebody might want.

    We used Peter Smith when we built the Ron Maslin Playhouse. He designed a performance space we could afford to operate and managed to juggle all the constraints to get us the best space possible within our budget. One example of the kind of savings he found include classifying the stage as a "performance platform" which may sound trivial but saved several hundred thousand dollars since different building code and fire regulations apply (in Ontario anyway) when the auditorium and stage are treated as a single room instead of two.

    We still had challenges when the construction bid went to a local architecture firm with more experience in office buildings than theatres, and a few more challenges working with the city and their silly guidelines, but many of the pitfalls were avoided.

    Feel free to PM me for more details.
     
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  14. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Occupation:
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    I went through this whole process 5 years ago, and am about to go through it again for another group. It can certainly be tedious and overwhelming. A lot of good info has been given so far. The more specific you can be about the bidding specs that go out, the fewer surprises you will get. The most helpful advice I can give to someone who has not done this before, is to sit down and make a list of your must haves and your ultimate goals / uses for the facility. Any good architect and consultant will be able to work with you and your committee to achieve those goals. Arrange tours of facilities that you enjoy or think produce quality productions and see what they have, or what they recommend. Most people are happy to show off what they have and talk shop with you. The budget is always your worst enemy. I have bidding specs and all sort of documents and info I saved from our process. Please feel free to PM me if you have any questions or would like to see how we dealt with things. Our facility is 636 seats, with a fly system, 45,000 sq. ft. facility, and was done with a $10M Bond Issue, just so you get an idea of the scale of our project. I strongly caution against saying you can just buy certain fixtures and equipment "later". Many people begin to move money around and use this as a rationalization, but have no plan in place to fund such purchases down the road. This leaves them empty handed.

    ~Dave
     
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  15. jwl868

    jwl868 Active Member

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    Along the theme of the last couple posts, it sounds like you still haven't selected an architect/theatre designer. That will require a specification/scope of work, too. (I suspect even those services go to the lowest biddder - you should check into that.) Require that each firm bidding on the design to provide a history of some number of sucessful theatre designs of the general size that you are looking at. Have them submit references and then check them and visit them and talk to the owners. Try to tie this type of technical requirement to the acceptability of the award. Include requirements of the architect to either have the experienced designer(s) on staff, or if the architect has to subcontract that out, then that individual/firm must be identified as part of the design team and must provide the same sample projects and references.


    Good Luck


    Joe
     
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  16. MrDoItAll

    MrDoItAll Member

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    Thank you everyone for your great input. And keep it coming. I am printing all this out to pass on to the superintendent/ school board who wants to see it done right. The more it doesn't come from me, the better. I will probably be in contact with some of you as the process develops, so thank you for the offers.

    This is all happening faster than I originally thought . They are talking breaking ground this summer already!
     
  17. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Hello...

    Step One. Hire a theater consultant you can trust. If you leave this up to an architect you will have a disaster. At theater consultant will get you close to the result you want.

    Step Two. Don't trust the theater consultant and watch his every step. He is designing a theater but he doesn't understand the personal touches you want. (I hate the fact that my raceways don't have pigtails... one detail I missed).

    Three. You or someone on the ground who knows theater needs to be at every design meeting to make sure that they listen and follow up on your changes. This person needs to be given full access to all drawings and needs to be given some authority to make decisions. It took me 6 months of meetings to get the architect to put in a single door on the drawings. "oh yeah we'll do that too." Is it in the drawings at the next meeting? No.

    Four. Research. As part of being that person on the ground and watching the consultant you need to be researching every detail that comes up in design meetings. Researching is what brought me here to CB. There are experts here on everything and we can help you find the answers you need.

    We can help you with details here. Fly or no fly... which console... things like that we love to debate. But get the big picture strategies first.

    Our theater was in design for over a year. You could break ground this summer but you will have a cookie cutter theater that may not meet your needs.

    Fight to get a separate budget for all lighting and sound gear that doesn't require installation. You my pay more than twice the list price if you buy your ellipsoidals through a contractor. Have them install the dimmers, raceways, amplifiers, consoles... etc. However YOU purchase all the instruments, cable, microphones, stands etc... You will save an amazing amount of money. Ask the consultant to put a package into the bid as an alternate. When the bid comes back ask the district to give you 75% of the amount bid as your budget and turn you loose to purchase what you want to equip the space ( They save money and you will have so many toys you don't know what to do with them all).

    Be prepared to be frustrated by the process. It is not friendly and it wants you to turn all decisions over the the architect... who knows nothing about operating a theater. State purchasing laws can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Make friends with the purchasing department.

    It's unlikely that you will be able to purchase what you want from whom you want. You may be forced to specify something like, "All dimmers and control systems must be made by either Strand or ETC". Fight for that level of control at least. You may not be able to actually chose your board but you may be able to specify one or two brands. Again, watch your theater consultant. He is putting all kinds of things in the specs. Ask for regular updates on the specs.

    You wouldn't believe how many hours I spent irritating the purchasing department trying to find a way to specify only S4 instruments. In my case state law required that I find a physically measurable functional difference between it and all other fixtures. I finally determined that I couldn't specify the instrument but I could do the lamp... "all lighting fixtures must use an HPL lamp because it has the highest lumen output and longest life in it's class"... and I had to back that up with charts of lamp life and output. It was insane. Hopefully your state purchasing laws are easier to get along with.

    Good luck and stay in touch here. We are happy to help.
     
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  18. dhorn

    dhorn Member

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    I would like to add my two cents worth to this Thread. I have worked in dozens of facilities with Stages of many sizes and types in my 30 year career as a Crew Head and Lighting Designer. I have come to realize you can never have enough dimmers in a theatre, unless you always rent and have enormous budgets! The trick is to plan for enough dimmers for 80 percent of your productions needs and put in extra Camloc Panels for rented/ borrowed portable dimmer racks. I have put together some good rules of thumb for estimating dimmer quantities/ power requirements over the years for different types of performance spaces. You can PM if you would like to discuss your facility.

    Also don't forget to plan for power and control wiring for the Rigging System! Even if you put in a manual counterweight system, it can be upgraded in the future with winch assist or be replaced with any sort of motorized linesets. Put in as much power as possible near the Fly Rail in you build one and/ or power at the Grid level. If you can't afford 200 or 400 amp services at these locations, at least run conduit for future 400amp/ 3-phase services from these locations to the building's Power Service Distribution Frames.

    Best of luck with you new facility,
    Dave Horn
     
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  19. jwl868

    jwl868 Active Member

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    While you are putting together your wish list, consider "support" facilities: A storage room for scenery and props and costumes and lights. Tool storage room. Loading dock with rollup doors. Double doors where large things may pass. Dressing rooms (though class rooms usually get pressed into service). Bathrooms nearby for patrons or performers. A green room. Office. Box office. Lobby.

    Another cost item that you may not have any input on is the outdoor finish. There are aesthetics and function considerations that come into play. If the theatre has to match the existing building or if it's on the front side of the property, it'll take cash from what you can do inside.

    [Our school district did a major renovation of the auditorium, but as far as I can tell, there is no place to store sets and scenery. The stage is crammed with the stuff and I don't know where the extra stuff goes for performances. (In fairness, the auditorium is in the middle of the school structure, on all sides are hallways and classrooms, and topography wouldn't have allowed expansion anyway.) We've rented other venues where the wings are just crammed with stuff.]

    Joe
     
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  20. rwhealey

    rwhealey Active Member

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    We have two small storage rooms and a shop room and we've still got flats and boxes of costumes up against the back wall of the stage.

    We just can't seem to win no matter how much we shuffle stuff around. We talked about an addition, but we'd have to match the existing exterior which would push it over the edge as far as cost goes.
     
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