MidKent College, Gillingham9 November 2009
An education in AV activity. A brand new college in south-east England has seen its arts production facilities equipped with a digitally networked audio, video and lighting solution, writes James Christopher.
A comprehensive, state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting installation at the Medway Campus of MidKent College is at the heart of a brand new £86 million purpose-built educational facility for the Medway Towns.
The high-technology campus contains classrooms, workshops and laboratories alongside library, refectory and social zones in a bright, modern environment. The college hosts National Diploma pathways in musical theatre, acting, dance, and the Production Arts course – a two-year Level 3 course, equivalent to A Levels.
Performing Arts lecturer Nigel Wren comments: “Most students either progress into the entertainment industry or go on to higher education, to study their chosen specialism, which may be stage management, production management, lighting or sound. It’s a very vocational focus; a lot of the learning happens through actually doing.” He adds: “Some have gone on to nationally renowned institutions, including Central School of Speech and Drama, Rose Bruford and other institutions. In the past, 60-70% of our students have gone on to higher education. All the others who have gone straight out to the industry have found work, some through local theatres, some through hire companies. Overall, it’s a very good progression rate.”
Some 18 months before the new building’s completion, a Stage Electrics project team, headed by business development manager Darren Beckley, was asked to propose a complete technical package to include a central theatre, a television studio, two radio studios and a recording studio.
The concept involved working within the parameters of the new architecture, which included a glass-walled theatre – originally designed as a performance pavilion – as its centrepiece. Typical usage includes the college’s own drama, musical theatre and experimental theatre, public performances and commercial hire – emphasising the need for maximum flexibility.
Wren explains: “We wanted a flexible theatre space, to accommodate everything from end-on theatre for musicals as well as drama both in traverse or in the round. Flexibility, in fact, was the key ingredient. Prior to Stage Electrics’ involvement, very little thought had been given to how the space was actually going to work. They worked with us and achieved a very good, workable space, and delivered every aspect of the project successfully.
“Their proposal included some highly creative solutions, including a theatre truss grid that can be lowered to the ground for simple reconfiguration and maintenance, and an Ethernet backbone to carry all video, audio and lighting data around the building. This sounded a little scary at first but has worked out extremely well.
It simplified the cabling and kept costs to a minimum, as well as having many other technical benefits.”