TFA examines the appropriate specification of theatre audio with an interview with Steve Alexander, the head of audio at the Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, Australia.
Some might call it careless to let your prime venue burn down after some 20-odd years, but for the Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, Australia, 1933 was just the start of what’s become a glorious, if protracted rebirth. “Within nine months the theatre had been rebuilt to what we see now,” said Steve Alexander from the Theatre’s technical department. “This fantastic Art Deco proscenium is an outstanding example from the period and is now Australian Heritage listed. Consequently any changes at the theatre have to fulfil more than just technical expectations.”
Toowoomba, a city of over 100,000 residents located just two hours from Brisbane, has fought hard to preserve its theatrical jewel; the theatre was a popular movie venue until it was closed in the early 1970s. After sitting basically un-used for almost 25 years, the run-down venue was purchased and renovated by the local Council. During this renovation in 1997 an extensive civic funded re-build saw improved and up-to-date front of house facilities added, and backstage, a new fly tower was created. “That really brought the theatre into the 21st Century,” said Alexander. “When I joined as head of audio two years ago the only thing that required attention was the PA system, not through neglect, but just the fact that it had been well used and was in need of some attention.”
Alexander, a native of Toowoomba, brought 20 years’ experience to the Empire. “Previously I’d devoted my time to numerous productions and musical theatre. I worked nine years with a production company in Brisbane, and another 11 touring productions around Australia and Asia.” The perfect job for Alexander, he set about assessing and justifying the improvements needed. “We’re all very proud of our theatre including The Friends of the Empire who are a large group of volunteers involved in ushering etc. So in
suggesting change I had to work towards consensus. We now have a d&b audiotechnik T-Series system supplied by National Audio Systems and we’re really happy with it. However, to get to this point we conducted several in-house tests, and I created a decision matrix against which we judged the contenders.
As a civic owned venue, Alexander had to justify the purchase decision very clearly. “My touring experience gave me a good idea of what sonic performance markers we needed and what would suit the venue. We don’t get a lot of rock and roll in here so the majority of our performances are theatrical related. It also needed to be physically discreet; we didn’t want some large visually intrusive system ruining the aesthetic beauty of the proscenium. We took a long look at people’s riders to see what the leading preferences were. The d&b system ticked all those boxes. The system was colour matched beautifully to the proscenium’s colour, and the coverage across the auditorium is excellent. The final factor was support; if we needed more cabinets or spares it was good to know that just two hours away was a sizable stock of d&b rental gear readily available in Brisbane.”
At just over 1500 seats, the Empire is the largest regional auditorium in Australia, and it is, in the words of Alexander, “Not too dry, not too reverberant, but just right.” The balcony is deep and wide but Dave Jacques from NAS who made the installation design is rightly proud of the fact that he was able to rig the d&b T-Series system in such a way as to negate the need for under balcony fills completely. “We did just add a pair of Ci80s right at the very back, but only as a mix delay for the desk position.”
Low end could have been another issue. “We didn’t really want subwoofers stacked at the bottom of the pros’,” said Alexander. “Dave and I decided to try the d&b B4-SUBs in the Juliet boxes. The system gives good low end delivery across the stalls and the balcony.” To complete the picture Jacques placed just three of the tiny d&b E0 loudspeakers across the front of stage for fill. Alexander concluded: “We’re all just very pleased. With the 100th anniversary of the founding of The Empire in 2011, we’re in perfect shape for the next century.”