Many regional theatres that host touring productions face a dilemma when it comes to an in-house audio system. If the majority of shows bring their own systems with them, is it worth having an installed system that could get in the way? But not having a permanent system can make the venue less attractive to other productions, as well as making it harder to exploit commercial opportunities, such as advertising.
This issue was addressed recently by Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) in two of its UK theatres, the King’s Theatre Glasgow (main picture) and the Bristol Hippodrome. ATG describes itself as the world’s leading live-theatre company, with a total of 45 venues in the UK, US and Australia. The King’s and the Hippodrome are both housed in historic buildings, making the visual aesthetics of their speaker systems a key requirement as well as audio quality.
Stuart Graham, ATG’s head of technical operations, is a driving force behind this move.
“There’s a big gap in the quality of how toured shows fill our auditoriums with sound, especially the shows that come for one day only and don’t have time to put delay systems in across our balconies,” he explains. “This means that we are potentially losing that sound if the house is full, or if people want to sit in seats that aren’t in the main part of the auditorium. As host venues, we want to aid that, but with a solution that works for every part of our business; we also needed to think about what happens when we want to include advertising before the show or during the interval. Without a house system, we have to rely on the visiting show’s PA system. If we want to generate revenue as a company, we need to have independent audio and not be reliant on visiting shows.
“We then looked at the usability of the system. Would it be the right thing to put a big line array system in? Probably not. So we looked at other systems. In our regional venues, 80% of the time a toured system will go in no matter what you have in there. That meant we needed to make a decision on what our investment should be and what is useful to us.”
Having already worked with Stage Electrics on a number of projects, Graham turned to the installer to find the right solution.
“I don’t profess to be an engineer, but I have worked in audio and I know what I like and what I don’t like and it’s difficult to find something that fits all the criteria,” Graham continues. “I went to Stage Electrics’ Bristol headquarters where I had a demo of a K-array system. I was blown away by it, mainly by the clarity at distance and the punch you get for such a little box, but also the consistency of top vocal all the way. Add to that the size of K-array cabinets and the fact that we’re in listed buildings with narrow prosceniums and not particularly great rigging positions, we needed something that could bolt to the wall and stay there, but leave the rigging points free for touring productions to bring in their own PA.
“In some of the old cantilever theatres with large balconies, some restricted views, more and more automated equipment and more and more equipment in the air, we don’t want to be restricting sight lines any more by putting big speaker boxes up, and that’s where we get the benefit from K-array. It’s a compact, powerful, well-toned system that doesn’t get in the way of anything. It’s given us what we want, which is full audio across the venue at a reasonable cost.”
Both King’s and the Hippodrome now have systems based around the K-array KP102 – a passive speaker array speaker comprising 12 3.15in neodymium transducers housed in a stainless steel chassis. In Bristol these are supplemented by four KU210 subs in the upper circle and two KMT18P in the stalls; in Glasgow there are two KMT21P subs in the upper circle boxes, and a total of four KU201 subs in the proscenium and stalls. K-array KA84 amplifiers are installed in both venues.
The systems were designed by Stage Electrics’ James Gosney, with installation and commissioning by the team at Stage Electrics and back-up and support from Dave Wooster at K-array’s UK distributor, 2B Heard.
No need for hire
“As long as I can remember Bristol hasn’t had a sound system,” adds Peter Tovey, technical manager at Bristol Hippodrome. “The touring musicals that come in tend to bring their own equipment. They want to use their kit. And because for around 45 weeks of the year, our product is larger-scale musicals it’s always been felt that having a sound system would get in the way; we’d spend more time taking it down and putting it in storage to put in the big shows than we would actually using it. But we do also have around 20 nights a year of one-night concerts, tribute acts, comedians, that kind of thing, that need a smaller-scale system. Perhaps half those tour a system, although they’re happy to leave that on a truck and use the house system, and about half of them don’t.
“We used to have to contact local companies to hire in a system for those times. That’s frustrating, because it makes us a slightly less attractive venue than one where you turn up and there’s a system already in place.
“We knew that it would be nice to have a system installed, but it was vitally important that whatever it was wouldn’t get in the way of our main priority, which was the big productions.”
Tovey is pleased with how the K-array set-up is working. “It’s a very discreet system,” he continues. “That was important to us. It needs to be permanent and for us to be confident that it won’t ever get in the way of the big shows that need to have first choice of where they position their boxes. The way it’s been installed, not only is it out of the way of the touring systems, but it’s positioned so that even when a line array is hung from the usual rigging points, it’s not obscured by them, so it still works whatever is in front of it.
“It shoots out to the back of the balcony and underneath the shelf of the upper circle, which I was a little bit worried about. We’ve done a couple of shows with it and it’s worked very well. I’m very impressed with the coverage of the system from such small boxes.”