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London 2014

International Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference 2014 – The Future of Performance Spaces

Having taken soundings around the sector, the late Richard Brett, the stage engineer of his time, discovered that many agreed with him that in the design and equipping of performance spaces, too many mistakes were being made.

The solution: to gather together all involved to discuss, to understand and to learn about the good and the bad.

The format: to be inclusive, welcoming as many as possible engaged in the design and construction of performance spaces - architects, consultants and engineers, as well as acousticians, technicians, owners and contractors - but also those who create the art; those for whom the spaces must work and whose needs must be understood to create the optimum environment for stimulation, comprehension and development.

In 2002, the Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference was born, followed by editions in 2006 & 2010, with delegates from across the globe, travelling to London.

It was with regret that the fourth instalment, ITEAC in 2014, opened not with salutations from Richard to the assembled delegates and speakers but with tributes to him, he sadly having passed away at the beginning of the year.

With London the setting once again, ITEAC 2014 was held at the University of London’s Senate House, on Sunday 8 June, Monday 9 June and Tuesday 10 June.

As in previous years, three strands of seminars ran throughout the programme but as an innovation, plenary sessions ran at the opening and conclusion of each day.

Furthermore, 2014 saw the establishment of an Editorial Board:

Many of the world’s leading practitioners explored the theme ‘The Future of Performance Spaces: The People – The Places – The Technologies’, sharing solutions, experiences and expert opinion.

No great conference can happen without dedicated support from supporters willing to commit not only their financial backing but also their encouragement and resources.

Once more Stage Technologies headed the list as Platinum Sponsor, followed by:

 

OVERVIEW: SUNDAY PROGRAMME

Keynote: Tod Machover

Tod Machover, “America’s most wired composer” (Los Angeles Times), one of the brightest thinkers about performance today – opened ITEAC 2014, the worldwide forum for sharing of ideas and best practice.

A Provocation: Sir John Tusa

Sir John Tusa started life as a journalist before going on to head the BBC World Service and subsequently the Barbican, Europe's largest multi-arts centre. His paper was a provocation - why do artists often prefer found spaces? Do we need any more buildings by star architect? Yet another horseshoe, shoe box or courtyard theatre - what are the new forms of theatre relevant to the 21st Century?

Creating New Cultural Districts

The traditional cultural districts of London, Paris, and Broadway have evolved over centuries. Some new and emerging communities and societies are not prepared to wait. They want cultural districts in a five or ten-year period. This panel included speakers from the Middle East, and China talking about creating vibrant cultural districts.

Speakers included:

Stage Changes in Modern Chinese Theatre

This session revealed the complex causes and influences that have affected the modern Chinese stage. These include the cultural impact of Western traditions, the decline of the Chinese traditional stage, theatre technology and arts imported from the West.

Projection & Imaging within Performance

The advances in both projection and LED video screens means the dream of creating scenery through projection is at last being realised, often in surprising and innovative ways. The session looked at the latest ideas and advances in this rapidly expanding area.

Speakers included:

King Kong the Musical – one project among many

A case study by our Platinum Sponsor

The Concert Hall of the Future

For more than a century, science has been used to help create the perfect concert hall. Sometimes it has succeeded admirably while on other occasions, significant sums of money have been seemingly wasted on a poor acoustic shunned by leading musicians. How will new techniques and technologies be utilised to ensure great halls are made every time?

Speakers included:

Touring Technologies

As the costs of large-scale touring continue to rise, the need to reduce set-up and break-down times is vital. However, producers have to keep pace with their audiences' appetite for spectacle. How can new technologies meet this challenge?

Speakers included:

Evolving Standards for Stage Engineering

The need for common standards in stage engineering has long been the goal for many engineers and manufacturers. However as different standards are being formulated in the US and Europe, is this goal now out of reach?

Speakers included:

Learning from Natural Disasters

In Japan, the 2011 Tsunami caused great devastation across the country. Many theatres were damaged. The rebuilding programme has given architects and engineers an opportunity to reassess what will best suit contemporary audiences. New regulations for auditorium ceilings are being introduced this April. In New Zealand not only has a conversion of a wharf shed into a multi-purpose space had to incorporate seismic strengthening, the construction also had to cope with two earthquakes.

Speakers included:

Creative Financing

How do we persuade other people to pay for new theatres to be built? We discuss examples where developers have been obliged to provide a new theatre as part of an overall building project.  What are the pitfalls with this? How can we avoid these? What other cunning financial models are out there?

Speakers included:

Engineering the Large Spectacular - The London Olympics

The opening and closing ceremonies of London 2012 received much popular and critical acclaim. Behind the spectacle was a considerable amount of innovative engineering and technology, particularly in the suspension of artists and scenic elements above the arena.

Speakers included:

 

OVERVIEW: MONDAY PROGRAMME

Keynote: Kjetil Trædal Thorsen

Founding Partner of renowned Oslo and New York architectural practice Snøhetta, Thorsen has led several award-winning design competitions for public buildings around the world. These included the museum built for the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina library and the new Oslo Opera House.

Sir Howard Panter

Sir Howard Howard Panter has over 40 years’ experience in the Arts and Entertainment industry gained in organisations such as The Royal Court Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company and Michael Codron Ltd. He was co-founder and and the tJoint CEO and Creative Director of the Ambassador Theatre Group Ltd (ATG), which has grown to be the world’s number one live-theatre group with a total of 40 venues in Britain and on Broadway.

Conservation & Restoration

To what extent should a project conserve a historic theatre, and to what extent should the building be changed to support the organisation's current activities? Differing approaches to this were presented, referencing listed buildings from 1700s and the 1960s.

Speakers:

Theatres for Education

What makes a good theatre for education? Should we approach the design as if it were any other theatre? How do we deal with the different demands of use, which are often needed - a room for the school play, the school orchestra, examinations? How do we stop the school theatre being a "sofa-bed": a bad sofa and a bad bed? What is an appropriate level of technology?

Speakers:

Broadcasting and Wallcasting

No longer is watching a live performance in a theatre or concert hall limited to those in the room, there is an ever-increasing range of ways to take the live performances to the audience. We discuss these new methods of taking the performances to the audiences with a number of people capturing and broadcasting these performances.

Speakers included:

LEDs

The use of LED sources for installed and stage lighting is continuing to grow and the prospect of a ban on tungsten sources is looming in many countries. We asked LED manufacturers and lighting designers to review where the industry is going: what do LEDs do well and what are they incapable of doing, now or perhaps ever?  Do the green credentials really stack up?  Are LEDs really as low power as we are led to believe? Is the quality of light good enough?

Speakers:

Dara Ó Briain - A Performer's View

Dara is a comedian and television presenter, noted for hosting television shows such as Mock the Week, Dara Ó Briain: School of Hard Sums and The Apprentice: You're Fired! Dara began his career by performing in comedy clubs in Ireland; he now tours both nationally and internationally. When not on tour, he works regularly as an after-dinner Speaker and awards host, having presented the Bafta Telly awards, the Bafta Video Game awards and the Empire Movie awards, amongst many others. Dara has also written a book; Tickling the English published in 2009 and has now written for most of the national papers in the UK and Ireland, including a year as sports columnist for the Guardian. Dara Ó Briain became a Trustee of The Theatres Trust on 1 April 2014.

Place Making

Creating places for live performance can be one of the most demanding yet stimulating commissions for architects. There are usually three distinct constituencies to satisfy: funders, producers and the audience. And where do the needs of performers fit? Two major architects presented their approach to place making.

Speakers:

Google Glass and Beyond Surtitles

Since the bleeping digital watch, personal information technology devices have encroached into the soundscape of theatre and concert hall. How will venues cope with an explosion of devices and more intriguingly how can personal IT be harnessed to enhance the performance?

Speakers included:

Building Management & Operating Systems

How is advancement in technology influencing how arts buildings are operated? What is future need and at what point in the planning and design process should consideration be made and by whom?

Speakers included:

Rod Ham Revisited

Rod Ham's 1972 book on Theatre Planning became an initial reference for designing everything from lighting bridges to dressing room make-up stations. The book was revised in time for ITEAC 2010. What should we revise next time? How do we make suitable provision for rigging moving lights on FOH bridges and iPad chargers in dressing rooms?

Speakers:

When the Show is the Theatre

The design of some large-scale shows is such that they become the fabric of the theatre. What are the implications of undertaking these large engineering projects where the demands of the building plan are dictated by the show’s artistic team.

Speakers:

Reuse of Existing Buildings

What do you do with an interesting empty building? Allow use for site-specific work, or convert it into a theatre? What makes a site-specific performance interesting to an audience? Why bother with the hassle of making an existing building meet modern building codes?

Speakers included:

Maintenance & Renewal

An increasing number of theatres are being equipped with advanced engineering systems. Unlike the simple counterweight systems that have gone before, these systems require increased maintenance, and ongoing service/replacement. What should be considered when implementing and running these systems?

Speakers included:

Big Data

Google, Amazon and Facebook were "born digital" and have been using big data for years to make predictions about you. The performing arts are beginning to look beyond demographics and box office data. How can the design and construction industry also benefit from big data.

Speakers included:

Accessibility - Inclusion should not be a performance

How do we define accessibility? How can we make performances accessible to a wider audience through new technologies? Performance spaces are workplaces too. How can we ensure disabled technicians are able to have a full and active role?

Speakers included:

Temporary Theatres

Theatres used to be built on a temporary basis in princes' ballrooms: now they are seen as something new and funky. What makes a good one? How temporary should it be? How do we avoid installing an overload of M&E services, only to be ripped out a few months later? Why does it need to be anything more than a big tent?

Speakers included:

Under stage systems - out of sight, and out of use?

Complex lift systems have been installed in many Opera houses and other theatres. Are they worth the money spent? How best can we engineer stage systems to facilitate and inspire the new generation of theatre designers.  How can we provide configurable stage systems?

Speakers included:

Un-cued Blackouts? How Modern Equipment Threatens Tonight's Performance

Almost all electrical equipment in theatres, factories, offices and homes causes pollution on the incoming electrical mains supply. This works its way back into the electricity network causing power outages that can stop and has stopped performances both locally and city wide. Industry expert James Eade and others discussed what causes the power quality to be poor and what can be done about it.

Speakers included:

 

OVERVIEW: TUESDAY PROGRAMME

Keynote: Adam Davis

Adam Davis has cemented his success within the live entertainment industry by developing some of the field’s most revolutionary technologies and design concepts. As president and partner of the TAIT group, Davis manages a team of over 600 skilled specialists across the fields of staging, scenic design, LED integration, show control and automated rigging.

Moderator: Robin Townley

Synergies & Conflicts in Theatre Design

The triangular balance between acoustics, architecture and theatricality could be described as the formula for the perfect performance space. This session explored historical examples and then considered recent and current projects. The impact of technical systems including lighting positions, mechanical noise and sound enhancement systems was also b discussed.

Speakers included:

Flexible Theatres

Crazy demands are made for flexibility in theatres. Does it ever really work well, or is it always a compromise? Speakers from noted flexible theatres which have been running for a few decades discussed what formats are actually used? What works well? What are the maintenance nightmares?

Speakers included:

New Directions in Stage Automation

Control systems used only to be able to execute point to point moves but now offer a host of features undreamt of a few years ago. This session provided a review of the current capabilities and what we can expect in the future.

Speakers:

 Small-scale, Low-budget Start-ups

Many building- based companies have started as small organisations and become established, respected venues. Focussing on the organisation, how have they achieved this? What partnerships were important along the way. What would they have done differently.? What (other than money) could have helped the process?

Speakers:

Acoustic Enhancement

Acoustic enhancement systems for some time have been a most useful way to repair the poor acoustics of some auditoria and to create variable acoustics in other places. Many owners however were not proud to have these systems installed. Acoustic enhancement was and often still is seen as second best to real natural acoustics. But times change and systems develop. Now acoustic enhancement systems are seen more and more as good and affordable solutions to a problem that can otherwise only be solved at a much higher cost. In this session architects, acoustic consultants and musicians shared their experiences and investigated the possibilities.

Speakers included:

Motors or Muscles? The Flying Question

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best flying system for your venue, it is not as simple as powered flying is newer therefore it is best. The impact of the production requirements, programme, budget, local legislation all need to be considered. This session heard a number of different points of view with the intent to finish with a list of points to be considered when selecting your flying system

Speakers included:

Challenges in Stage Engineering

An exploration of some of the current challenges in engineering that effect stage engineering design. A session for specifiers and engineers working in the industry to get up to speed with the latest developments.

Speakers included:

The Opera House of the Future

The first public opera house was Teatro San Cassiano, which opened in 1637 in Venice. The recent new opera houses with their orchestra pits, proscenium arch stages and horseshoe auditoriums are direct descendants of that theatre. Not much has changed on over 370 years. What is the ideal opera house for the 21st Century and what technology does it need?

Speakers included:

Arts Buildings in Urban Renewal

Arts buildings can play a major role in urban renewal and development. What role have they played in bringing businesses and communities to the area? To what extent has urban renewal influenced arts building design and encouraged arts development?

Speakers included:

Pre-Visualisation

Modern productions are ever more complex, whilst stage time is becoming increasingly expensive. How can new pre-visualisation technologies allow production teams to predict, plan and plot before the build and reduce time on stage?

Speakers included:

Twenty Ideas for the Future

A concluding session. During the conference, many ideas were expressed about the Future of Performance Spaces - The People - The Places and The Technologies. Four experts in their own fields assessed key points made during the conference and fed back their pointers to the future.

Speakers included:

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