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Why you need a theatre consultant...

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by derekleffew, Apr 7, 2009.

  1. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Thanks to Jason Haislet for posting this on the SML: Repairs to Stivers' new theater will be costly.

    Among other issues, such as poor sightlines, non-code compliant wiring, and "a catwalk that sways" (at least they have a catwalk), is this minor detail:
    [​IMG]
    Dayton Public Schools construction chief John Carr cited the sound absorbing panels in Stivers School for the Arts' new theater as an architectural error. The panels should reflect sound.
     
  2. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    "as school district officials, architects, theater consultants and others work on flaws that could cost up to $2 million to fix"

    Makes me wonder if they had theater consultants beforehand or if they only hired them to help fix the mess.

    Reminds me of when I was TD of a roadhouse and had architects come through who were building a new theater complex in town. I took them on a full tour and when we got to the fly system, they said something like "why's that important and what does it do?"
     
  3. maccor

    maccor Member

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    Having a theatre consultant doesn't guarantee things won't be done incorrectly. From what I could tell on our recent project, the consultant was asked for input on only specific things, not an overall "expert" on the facility. Even with a consultant, we have 30' electrics on a 50' wide proscenium, no sink in the scene shop (Architect: "What is a scene shop for anyway?"), a front hang position that is way too steep for much good (and we need to hang in such a way to miss the hanging line array's). I assume budget draws the line where the theatre consultant's "input" stops...or when the architect's "presumed expertise" kicks in.
     
  4. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Budget, politics, ego or any of a number of factors and that is just for the agreed to scope of work. Beyond that, aesthetics, personal conflicts, timing and so on can also affect how much of what is recommended is then incorporated into the design, especially when the Consultants work for the Architect and thus make recommendations to them rather than to the Owner.

    I'm definitely not saying this is always true, I have worked with Architects where we were an integral part of the process from day one and with whom it really was a collaborative effort throughout. It is also not always the Architect's decision, sometimes the Owner drives this, be it in trying to minimize design fees or as a result of Value Engineering.

    I just realized that there was an important distinction in what I said. To a great degree most theatrical related consulting is recommendations. Unlike electrical, mechanical, structural, civil, etc. where you are greatly designing to code and the criteria and process is not as subjective, most theatrical systems involve a significant subjective element in the design. While there are objective and code based criteria for elements such as seating spacing, exiting, fire curtains, etc., there is no standard criteria or legal requirements for good theater acoustics or sightlines or lighting or sound. They have to be installed safely and to code, but the acceptable or desired performance of these systems is purely subjective. And that means that the design is also subjective and thus more a recommendation. I can make very detailed recommendations for acoustics or present a carefully design audio system but I cannot identify a code requirement or generally accepted standard that would prevent an Architect or Owner from ignoring or changing every single recommendation made. Please keep that in mind as sometimes what ends up in the project is not necessarily what the Consultant intended and in those cases there is often not much they can do (not that we don't sometimes really try).

    What I found interesting in the story is that design professionals on public projects are usually required to carry Professional Liability Insurance coverage, often referred to as Errors & Omissions or E&O coverage, in addition to General Commercial Liability Coverage. This is essentially coverage for costs resulting from what is determined to be blatant design errors, not that someone didn't like the result or it wasn't what they wanted, but where accepted design practice was not followed, sort of like malpractice insurance for Doctors. I'm a one person shop and because it is required for many projects I carry $2,000,000 total/$1,000,000 per occurrence Professional Liability coverage. While you never know how accurate some reports are, it at least sounds like this is the type of situation that is meant to cover. If the school files a claim on their insurance then I would guess that the school's insurer might go after the Architect, perhaps that is easier or more politically preferable than the school going after the Architect directly. Anyaways, something else to consider when hiring any design professionals.
     
  5. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    Almost sounds like we work in the same place, except many of our errors come from a theater consultant who has no right carrying that label. The district flew in the consultant who, after talking to us like children, had their team leave poor designs that fly in the face of common sense. The downside is the district has sided with the designer every time over staff and outside experts.
     
  6. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Having just finished a new construction project I have to say that theater consultants are good and bad. On the whole you are much better off with one than without one. However, you still need to constantly watch them. In the end there are many things that are much better because of the consultant's presence. But there were a lot of other minor crazy ideas he had that we have had to fix later.

    Get a theater consultant... but watch him like a hawk and demand to see every drawing WELL before it goes to bid.
     
  7. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    It doesn't sound like this is what happened on your project, but this reminds me of how important it is to get clear who are the people giving direction to the design team (Architect and Consultants). I always try to establish a single point of contact that is the Owner's rep for the technical aspects, but who that actually is often differs as does their place in the overall decision making organization. I have had many clients where the decisions and direction for the design come from some other than the tech contact, and sometimes where it differed from what I or the tech staff felt was best.

    I can think of one particular project where the TD will probably tell you how terrible the venue is and from their perspective they would be absolutely right. However, most of their issues come down to being that what they want for the facility differs significantly from what was defined for the facility when it was initially designed (they weren't hired until will into the construction of the facility). Their concerns are valid, but weren't shared by the people who had the actual authority.

    I can be a very awkward situation when you have to balance what the end users want and what you think may be best with differing input or goals from those who control the checkbook and decisions. While it doesn't guarantee a better result, at least understanding the process and being aware of any such decisions and direction can help.
     

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