Multi-Purpose Spaces

By Mitchell, Kevin M. | Stage Directions, August 2011 | Go to article overview

Multi-Purpose Spaces


Mitchell, Kevin M., Stage Directions


Theatres are figuring out how to get more bang for the buck

There was a time when the artistically inclined shunned the word "multi-purpose" when applied to the space where his or her art was to be created. What's needed from a hall to enjoy ballet is different from what it takes for an opera to soar. But technology, creative designs and sheer demand have all collided. There result is that there are some amazing multi-purpose spaces being created, both as renovations and from the ground up.

Death to Dead Zones

Mark Holden of JaffeHolden says the theatre building industry learned that often "multi-purpose" equaled "no purpose." "A number of halls built in the 1950s and 1960s did not function well, especially acoustically," says the CEO of JaffeHolden. Compromises left no one happy. But at JaffeHolden "We've been working for many years to create sonic environments that can be spectacular - just outrageously good for every type of performance."

One recent project they did was the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas. The sPace is home to the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Austin Lyric Opera, Ballet Austin and community arts groups.

"For a symphony you want a rich reverb that persists and engulfs the listeners. For that Broadway musical with amplified sound, you want it to dissipate quickly and be tight and clear. So you need to be able to tune the room." This was achieved at Long by a series of acoustic banners that are tucked into "garages" that go unnoticed by the audience when not in use. 'You don't see them," Holden adds. "And above the topof the ceiling are thousands of feet of acoustic banners completely motorized."

Another feature is the "transparent" balconies, which are designed so sound can pass through to get to those seated below. 'The balcony itself is made of concrete, but there's an open grill that the sound goes through," Holden explains. This did two things: First, 'rt eliminated the dead zones. Secondly, it has allowed the balcony to be brought out further, closerto the stage and thus increased the number of seats without reducing acoustic quality.

A Different Approach to Dimming

The Theatre Guys - Charles Swift and Larry Graham - have been working on a major mufti-school project for Jefferson County, Ala., including Center Point High School. For a new high school theatre that will have to serve many needs, they're taking a next-gen approach to solving the school's dimming needs and forgoing the traditional dimmer room, instead installing Strand distributed dimming strips in the grid. The result is savings on future electric bills and also during the construction process.

"We're talking savings in the tens of thousands of dollars," Graham says. 'The client is really loving it."

Installers still have to run a substantial power circuit to each of the strips, but hundreds of runs of wire are eliminated, as well as the dedicated room full of equipment that needs cooling. Plus, with the way lighting is headed, Swift and Graham feel the idea of a 20-amp dimmed outlet every 18 or so inches in the grid is obsolete.

"We're surprised that so many people are still forwarding that notion," says Swift. "Because it's clearly not the direction that the fixture loads are going in at this point." They believe LEDs are now of sufficient brightness to be used effectively in the theatre, and will only get brighter and cheaper - which means more and more theatres will use them. And LED fixtures (along with most automated fixtures) don't need a dimming power source. "LED fixtures are looking for a non-dimmed power source and signaling. That's all they need. And then everything else is taken care of inside the fixture. So that's really what's forwarding this notion for us at this point."

Ifs a Shell, If s a Wall

Charles Cosier of Cosier Theatre Design is in the final stage of work on a mufti-use hall within a new student center at Molloy College, Garden City, N.

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