The phrase ‘London theatre’, usually prompts images of the West End with its dazzling array of productions, from Chekhov to Disney and almost everything in between. There is however an extraordinary strength in depth to London’s theatre scene, with numerous more intimate venues dotted in and around the capital, presenting a mix of productions no less diverse and relevant than their big-city siblings.
From a technical viewpoint there is certainly now an issue of trickle-down expectations, as audiences (perhaps without realising it) generally expect to enjoy the key production values found in the larger auditoria regardless of location. As dialogue and music remains central to almost all shows, the quality of audio presentation is perhaps the single most critical operational requirement in contemporary theatre.
Kilburn’s newly-refurbished Kiln Theatre is a perfect example of how smaller venues are equipping themselves with state-of-the-art audio systems that not only fulfil audience expectations, but provide enough operational flexibility to handle a broad portfolio of productions.
Kiln Theatre opened in 1980 as the Tricycle Theatre, designed as the permanent home of the Wakefield Tricycle Company. The company was known for its new writing productions, community theatre and also performed plays to young people in schools and community centres. While the company continued to tour occasional productions after 1980, the theatre also became a receiving house for a number of other alternative theatre companies.
In July 2016 a £7m refurbishment project was initiated to update the theatre’s auditorium and front of house spaces and in September 2018 the theatre announced its reopening as ‘Kiln Theatre’, starting with a season of plays running well into 2019. Artistic director Indhu Rubasingham’s new season opened with Holy Sh!t by Alexis Zegerman and features nine plays, including seven world premieres, one British premiere and a major revival of a musical.
The auditorium has been completely refitted and features a flexible stage and increased capacity (up to 292 seats), with eight wheelchair positions with access at stalls level, increased accessibility at front of house and backstage areas, additional toilets and an upgraded façade with street-facing café.
The theatre’s new audio infrastructure was specified by sound designer Alexander Caplen (who also designed the first show after the reopening), featuring an eclectic mix of products installed by the in-house team and supplied by Autograph Sales & Installations. A longstanding friendship and professional relationship between Caplen and Rubasingham led to him also fulfilling a broad consultancy role to ensure that the finished result was a fully operational theatrical venue equipped to contemporary standards. Caplen was assisted in the specification by Tim Middleton (who also designed the venue’s network infrastructure and configuration) and by Nicki Brown who helped ensure that operational requirements were met during the design stages. The planning and installation of Caplen’s design was subsequently handled by production sound engineer Jon Sealey.
The main house PA is by d&b audiotechnik, with four Y10P full-range enclosures and two V-SUB subwoofers, all powered and processed by a pair of D20 DSP-equipped amplifiers. Surround, delay and on-stage monitoring requirements are all covered by a mix of EM Acoustics products including 24 EMS-51, six EMS-61 and four EMS-121X, all powered by six EM Acoustics AQ-3 amplifiers.
A Yamaha QL5 digital mixing console at FOH provides extensive audio mixing capabilities, with a single Rio3224-D input/output device and two Yamaha Ro8-D Dante interfaces located in the amplifier room and accessed via a comprehensive Ghielmetti patch field.
Autograph Sales & Installations also supplied a ready-to-roll rack, built to the theatre’s own design, for the Dante redundant playback system, which includes the new X-DANTE Dante Network Audio Changeover unit from its own Signature range of products. They also supplied eight Clear-Com RS-702 beltpacks and applied asset labels to all items before delivery.
Jon Sealey describes the project from his vantage point as systems integrator: “Having worked closely with Alexander on a number of other projects, I was thrilled when he approached me about looking after the installation. As soon as I met the team at Kiln Theatre, I knew we were all pushing towards offering a world class theatre and the quality of the production resources on offer is extremely high.”
“Due to the comprehensive nature of the core infrastructure spec’d by Alexander, we pretty much hit the ground running. The control position was built and configured in one of Kiln Theatre’s rehearsal rooms before the installation project began, which meant as soon as we were granted access we were online and able to test. I’ve been really impressed with Autograph’s XDANTE and the updated XUSB2 is very pleasing on the eye.”
Sealey continues: “Dante was the obvious choice (of digital protocol) for Kiln Theatre. We can patch to and from multiple sources without limitation, and can drop off or pick up audio signals from all areas of the building, while the Ghielmetti patch field offers great versatility for our own equipment and integration of sub-hired equipment on larger shows.
“We have a great selection of equipment to offer to visiting designers and can easily integrate with equipment sub hired for larger shows. Kiln Theatre’s first Play With Music involved a band on stage with Aviom personal monitoring and 16 ways of Sennheiser 5212’s/3732’s. This was easily implemented through existing infrastructure, plus an additional Rio3224D and Aviom MY card hired from Autograph. We moved the control position from the control room at the back of the circle to a more traditional position at the back of the stalls with very little effort and after a simple re-patch of our backbone network we were up and running as if nothing had happened.”
“We made the decision to upgrade the theatre’s show relay package to HD-SDI quite late during the installation project. Whilst the initial outlay was larger it has been well worth it, with compliments on the quality of both the colour and infrared relays from FOH staff and stage managers alike. It has also allowed us to simplify the show relay to the later comers monitors in the foyer. We embed the show’s audio onto the HD-SDI signal and simply patch this through the facilities panels in the FOH areas.”
The theatre’s proximity to Autograph Sound is clearly a happy bonus as Sealey concludes: “Autograph were happy to assist with a hardware failure during rehearsals for our second show last November, sending us a spare unit across from Kentish Town in a matter of minutes, not hours, and we were able to just about rescue that afternoon’s rehearsal. I’m sure our close relationship with Autograph will continue to grow over the coming years.”