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Technology trends – theatre lighting and audio

Stage Electrics has installed lighting and audio infrastructure within the newly-built Caryl Churchill Theatre at London’s Royal Holloway University. TFA looks at what equipment was chosen.

Stage Electrics has installed lighting and audio infrastructure within the newly-built Caryl Churchill Theatre at London’s Royal Holloway University. TFA looks at what equipment was chosen. 

Affiliated to the University of London, Royal Holloway University prides itself on its reputation for having one of the UK’s leading drama and theatre departments with an international reputation for the quality of its research in many different aspects of drama, theatre and performance studies. The innovatively-designed Caryl Churchill Theatre, which is due to open in September 2013, replaces the University’s pre-existing 30-year old black box ‘Studio Theatre’ with a new, flexible, future-proof facility that also incorporates two large rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, a workshop and a new foyer. Its new auditorium offers an increased seating capacity of 178 seats arranged around three sides of the auditorium and over two levels, with a third level entirely dedicated to technical operations and control.

Stage Electrics was appointed by builders Morgan Sindall to supply and install the infrastructure elements as specified by theatre consultants Theatreplan. These include all dimming solutions, house and working lights, DMX distribution, cabling and customised facilities panels. Theatreplan’s John Whitaker worked closely with Sean Brennan of Royal Holloway University and the Stage Electrics’ team of design and commercial manager, Mark Larcombe, and technical project manager, Martin Woodage, to establish the best solutions for each element and deliver a theatre that was functional, flexible and future-proof.

Lighting infrastructure
New dimming solutions were chosen for the production lighting in the form of two ESR24 ETC Sensor dimmer racks with 38 dual 2.5kW/3kW dimmer modules and 10 dual 2.5kW/3kW non-dim modules.
“We chose the Sensor dimmers because they appear to be one of the best products on the market in terms of functionality,” says Brennan. “I had worked with them at a previous venue and was impressed by their reliability as well as the back-up and support offered by ETC. The department had been using an Ion desk for a number of years and ETC makes quality products that are industry standard, so installing Sensors seemed the most obvious route to follow.” To handle the DMX distribution, Stage Electrics installed 19-inch rack-mounted Swisson 10 DMX splitter and merger boxes. DMX patches have been provided to allow the use of multiple desks throughout the venue and guarantee the system’s future longevity.

Stage Electrics supplied full house lighting and working light systems which comprise 12 iLight Ican 10A dimmers operated from push-button control panels and touch screens located around the venue.

Audio infrastructure
In addition to the lighting control systems, Stage Electrics was tasked to provide and install the audio, video and Ethernet infrastructure which includes over 5000m of audio cabling and 3000m video cabling. Stage Electrics’ custom-built communications racks are sited in the amplifier and control balcony, each with mains distribution as required, and incorporate Kramer video processing and distribution modules. Patch panels for loudspeakers and microphones are installed across the building allowing them to be moved and relocated as required for maximum flexibility.

A new paging system has been installed comprising an RCF amplifier and Penton paging speakers. Show relay is provided through RCF wall/ceiling-mounted show relay speakers which are controlled by Stage Electrics-manufactured control panels and supplied with microphones and a number of desktop and wall mounted paging points.

Stage Electrics has also supplied an intercomm system of Altair dual-channel belt pack and single muff headsets complete with extension cables, breakout cables and master station, with outlets on the facilities panels. Front-of-house, Stage Electrics installed a Sennheiser Infra-Red Assisted Listening system with two channel modulators which has been proven, in previous projects, to be the most efficient and versatile system to aid audience members with hearing difficulties. All customised lighting, audio and video facilities panels were manufactured in-house by Stage Electrics and labelled according to requirements at each location. In addition, architect Foster Wilson specified a precise RAL colour for the panels throughout the whole building to ensure uniformity, which Stage Electrics was able to match because the company’s in-house manufacturing capabilities allows complete control of every step of the fabrication process.

“We were pleased that Stage Electrics won the technical outfitting contract,” says Brennan. “We have used them for equipment purchases over the years and have always been satisfied by the level of service we have received. Stage Electrics are a large national company but they maintain a personal approach. They were communicative and helpful throughout the building and commissioning process and encouraged us to phone with any questions or concerns. There was some hard value engineering on this and I was impressed by the various options and alternatives they brought to the table.

“The college and department are extremely satisfied with the technical installation in the theatre which is neat, intuitive and functional. The Caryl Churchill Theatre has become the flagship venue within the department offering a level of flexibility and user interface that makes the building a pleasure to work in for researchers, students, academics and technicians.”

Photos: Foster Wilson