Theatre One, the larger of the two theatres at new purpose-built Manchester arts venue HOME, features an Solid State Logic Live L500 digital mixing console at the centre of its new PA system.
HOME the organisation was formed through the merger of two of Manchester’s arts organisations, Cornerhouse and the Liberty Theatre Company. Marking the completion of a £25 million project largely funded by Manchester City Council and Arts Council England, the new performing and visual arts complex on Tony Wilson Place includes a 150-seat flexible theatre space, digital production and broadcast facilities, five cinema spaces, a 5,300 square-foot gallery space, plus a bookshop, bar, café bar, and cinema bar.
The 447-seat Theatre One is one of the first theatres in the UK to have an SSL L500 permanently installed. “We moved here in April,” commented technical director and head of production Jasper Gilbert, “and had our official opening towards the end of May. Since then the building has been very busy. It’s one of the first new buildings in this area, and it’s helping to regenerate part of the city. We’ve been astounded by the amount of people who have come to rediscover an area of the city that has been a construction site for many years. For it to be as vibrant as it is now is great.”
HOME’s first theatre production ran from mid-May to mid-June. “We held a couple of test events,” said Gilbert, “and then had a seven-week run of our first HOME-produced work, the world premiere of a production called The Funfair.”
“The L500 offers a lot of bang for the buck,” added sound supervisor Paul Gregory (pictured). “The automation has been very well thought through and comes at no extra cost. We have also had show operators who couldn't wait to come to work in the morning and use the console!”
The main contractor for the theatre infrastructure was Stage Electrics, while HD Pro Audio assisted in setting up the console. “Our L500,” Gregory continues, “is equipped with 16 local analogue inputs and outputs along with four fibre and eight MADI in/outs. We’re using an SSL ML 32.32 Analogue Stagebox remotely via a MADI coax connection. This lives in the rack/amplifier room. From the rack room there is extensive connectivity – analogue, fibre, data and coax – to the Theatre One stage as well as to the entire building. We have a playback rack that is connected to the console via fibre and additional MADI boxes for connecting computers, etc.”
Gilbert and Gregory “have a fantastic relationship with SSL and HD Pro Audio and are really happy with the products," said Gilbert. "SSL have come up with some upgraded features that will be built into the latest release for the console, all of which are things we’ve helped develop.
“Prior to moving into the building, we had a couple of ‘industry days’ that were very successful. We hope that over the next few months we can arrange a few more of these, whereby SSL and HD Pro Audio can come into the building and use it as a training base for the L500 and a number of their other products. People can come in, look at and try the products, talk to some of the users, and let it serve as an introduction. It’s an ongoing, proactive relationship and we’re delighted to be a part of it. The console is terrific and we feel extremely well supported by SSL.”
Gilbert and Gregory had previously chosen an L500 for HOME’s Summer 2014 theatre season, , during which performances were held in locations throughout Manchester, including a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet staged in the city’s historic Victorian swimming baths. This production served as HOME’s trial for the L500, cultivating the decision to install it in the new venue.
As Gilbert explained: “Paul was the sound designer for our production of Romeo and Juliet. He had a number of conversations with different suppliers, and became very interested and impressed with the capabilities of the SSL desk. Bearing that in mind, he very much designed a sound system that would allow him to present Romeo and Juliet across three Edwardian swimming pools at the Victoria Baths. As you can imagine, this was a live and echoey space – not necessarily suitable for complex Shakespearean language. The console was purchased with that particular project in mind, but we knew that we’d use the desk in the future and that it would be eminently suitable for what we would be doing in our new space.”
“I had 'auditioned' several different consoles from the usual suspects,” continued Gregory, “and my reaction to them was indifference really. From my first demo of the Live L500, organised by HD Pro Audio, I felt that SSL had moved the goalposts. I felt a bit of a 'rush of blood', something quite rare for me these days! The flexibility of the desk is what made me want to have one for the new theatre. It so closely matched an idea that I‘d had for many years, whereby you could build a console to match the requirements of a show, from very simple set-ups to shows requiring incredible complexity. The sound quality goes without saying, as does the build quality. We have had many positive comments about the quality of the sound.”