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 and as welcoming as possible to not only those engaged in the design and construction of performance spaces - architects, consultants and engineers, as well as acousticians, technicians, owners and contractors - but also to 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 & 2014, with delegates from across the globe travelling to London.
Author, recent President of Lincoln Center. President of the Robin Hood Foundation. Senior advisor to the private equity firm, General Atlantic. Adjunct Professor at Columbia University's School of International Affairs. A Director of First Republic Bank. A member of the board of overseers of the International Rescue Committee and the Council on Foreign Relations. A trustee of the National Book Foundation. Fellow in the Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Theatre consultants and engineers are still managing the myriad changes created by the transition to solid-state lighting. Predicting the rate of that transition is challenging, and this session will present an updated review of new design techniques.
A look into what future venues can do to run effective multiple events to fulfill their missions with long term sustainability.
The process to convert an aging movie theatre into a multi-purpose venue in Brooklyn, New York.
What is it and how will it change video in theaters?
Today's theater artists choose to perform in an ever-wider assortment of spaces - purpose built theaters, adapted buildings, temporary venues, and found spaces. As the definition of theater space continues to evolve along with the art form it contains, and as technology, commerce, and economic pressures impact artistic desires, its increasingly important to remember what it is about theater space that we truly value – our Core Values.
Dynamic social changes, Title 9 requirements, diversity policies, and the politics of accommodating the LGBT community and others are leaving performing arts space planners wondering: What are the issues we're trying to address and how far ahead should we should be looking? Join the panel for a provocative discussion of the history, issues, and considerations of creating inclusive public - and private - spaces in performing arts venues.
Modern venues need to support a wide range of programming to be successful and ensure a full calendar. These may include lectures, rock concerts, drama, orchestral and choral performances. To ensure the best possible experience for the audience and performers, the acoustics needs to be adjusted for each of these. Thankfully, today's acousticians have a rich set of tools available to meet this challenge. We'll look at the capabilities of both passive and active acoustic systems, and in particular how active systems have made acoustic transformation possible at several venues, in many cases providing results not feasible with physical architecture alone.
Experienced industry professionals discuss what System Integration really is. The discussion will focus on both installer's point of view and what is expected by the Specifying Consultant. It will include what works and what doesn't work in writing specifications for these projects.
Sustainability initiatives surrounding new construction, retrofitting and facility management of theaters has developed into a hot topic over the last few years. Come hear what experts have to say about their endeavors in the new frontier of greening Theatrical Spaces.
Exploring the rise of the Mega Club and Interactive Theatre. The fourth wall is coming down as multimedia artists and designers leverage technology to create interactive and immersive experiences for an audience raised on video games. A discussion on this emerging trend and what it means for audiences, performers and the built environment.
Do you need Cat 6? Fiber or Copper? Managed switches? When should you use wireless? Certification? Routing? These and other questions will be addressed by a panel of networking experts, and Q&A time will be provided.
The architect is a collaborator in every production in any theater. The architecture most decidedly determines the possibility of lighting positions and hence the design of the lighting as well as that of the sound and scenery. The production team; a director, lighting designer, sound designer and set designer, will discuss their experiences with the effect architecture has had on their work.
ANSI E1.6-1 - 2012, Entertainment Technology; Powered Hoist Systems, establishes requirements for the design, manufacture, installation, inspection, and maintenance of powered hoist systems for lifting and suspension of loads for performance, presentation, and theatrical production. Presenters will discuss some of the underlying principles of the standard and review the basic requirements as they pertain to mechanical design. Some examples of component selection will be offered followed by questions and answers with the audience.
A warm welcome is taken as read; but does your lobby work hard enough for you, your audiences and your artists? Two award-winning theatre architects, Jonathan Marvel and Haworth Tompkins present and discuss their work in forging exemplar lobby spaces in the US and UK. John Owens, Principal of Charcoalblue's New York Studio, chairs the session and brings his own perspective on having toured War Horse and Billy Elliot into a multitude of venues around the world.
Facilities such as warehouses, industrial buildings, churches, and every other building type imaginable are often repurposed as performance and event spaces. Furthermore, ballrooms and special event spaces are sometimes constructed without infrastructure to support the rigging required by today's events. This session will explore the challenges and solutions in adapting these spaces to accommodate rigging and associated elements for ongoing production use.
In the style of those beloved 70's game shows, forget what your contract says, we ask the question "whose scope is it anyway?" Whether you are a designer, a contractor or a manufacturer in pursuit of the best end product possible we ask and then answer the hard questions that you are dying to know.
David H. Rosenburg, Theatre Projects Consultants
Details of the stage apron modular retrofit at NYC's Lyric Theater will be presented as well as advice on when to worry about resonance in performance/practice floor design.
The ESA and ESTA are working together to write standards and to promote them to help people have safe events, whether those events are plays, concerts, fashion shows, rodeos--anything that brings performers and audience together. Key to most of the standards, and certainly to safe event planning, is clearly understanding the nature of the event: what people are putting it on, who the audience is, and how the event will interface with the safety officials (e.g., fire and police) in a community. Really great event venues are designed to go beyond what building codes require to address the broad and varying needs of event planners.
Yes, they can be configured – but are our "Black Boxes" and configurable drama theatres providing sufficient artistic value for their operational costs? Two theatre consultants and an artistic director will examine tough questions related to flexible venues.
A discussion on the impact of standards on duty of care, insurance, client/designer communications, contract provisions and ways to minimize risk (practical as much as legal).
What happens when the client wants a venue that can present a musical, straight theatre, boxing, civic receptions, circus, local dance schools, cinema, the football club's annual dinner, the touring symphony orchestra, a rock band and an out of town convention – some of these in the same day. As designers and as operators, we fit 'em all in and make the place work well.
Two leading design firms offer their views on the form and function of performance spaces in the coming years.
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:
Gold – Unusual Rigging, Ambassador Theatre Group & J&C Joel
Silver+ – Stage Electrics & ETC
Silver – Waagner Biro, SBS, Tait & Theatre Projects Consultants
Bronze – Serapid, Philips Entertainment, Multistage, Theatreplan, Triple E, White Light, Anne Minors Performance Consultants, Harlequin Floors, Charcoalblue, Centre Stage Engineering, Clay Paky, Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, Gala Systems, Global Design Solutions, Hawthorn, AECOM & RHWL Arts Team
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.
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 architects? Yet another horseshoe, shoe box or courtyard theatre - what are the new forms of theatre relevant to the 21st Century?
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.
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.
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.
A case study by our Platinum Sponsor
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
Moderator: Mark Stroomer Theatre Projects
Sir 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 Joint 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.
Interviewed by Petrus Bertschinger
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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
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 discussed.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
ITEAC 2010 – the final full Conference under the directorship of Richard Brett took place at the Central Hall, Westminster, 13-15 June.
Delegates, speakers and sponsors from around the world were welcomed to London for the third Conference on Theatre Engineering and Architecture – the pattern of the event following that of its predecessors by including a range of topics based largely on early responses received from many individuals and groups.
While it was anticipated that new performance spaces would feature highly, the considerable interest in sessions about the principles of stage engineering and covering essential theatre and technical planning was unexpected.
Overall the programme was a mix of basic and advanced presentations on theatre planning, engineering, lighting, sound and acoustics, as well as on the processes of design and procurement.
This variety enabled delegates and speakers to come together and understand enough of the values of each other's related disciplines to improve future plans and the resulting building of the performing arts.
At a time of financial stringency, the performing arts suffered their share of the savings that governments in many countries were having to make, and the resulting reduction in donations from philanthropists.
Although little doubt that live performance will survive, there were discussions about whether we needed more theatre and further consideration to the use of found spaces and the transmission of live performances to distant audiences; the magic of a live show must be engendered in today’s youngsters to challenge the march of presentational technology in computers, 3D cinemas and similar.
That the atmosphere of the venue, be it a disused factory or the latest ‘stararchitect’ auditorium being an important part of the attraction, the delegates were tasked to ensure that theatre buildings play their part in drawing audiences and also providing properly for players and technicians.
This meant that all venues, from school halls to opera houses, must be fit for their purposes – the continuation of live performances.
Interest had been shown by a number of people in holding the Conference in another country; Bob Shook of theatre consultants Schuler Shook had suggested Chicago could host, John Coyne and others from Theatre Projects Consultants were interested in having the event in the US, while consultants Gerbrand Borgdorff and Louis Jansen of Theatreadvies proposed Amsterdam as a future location. But one person from the States who had been a regular attendee at the ABTT Theatre Show and who was knocked out by his attendance at the 2006 Conference, came up with a serious proposal to stage the event in New York in the summer of 2008.
Bill Sapsis of Sapsis Rigging was prepared to undertake the setting up and the financial risk of staging a North American Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference. To use the registered name, the event had to be structured similarly to those that had been held in the UK and be of a similar standard; to this end Richard Brett was one of the 15 members of an advisory board created to help Bill with the planning. Most of the background organisation was undertaken by Donna Frankel, and she and Bill were able to call on the services of a number of friends and young volunteers from the industry to assist them. Bill wrote about his reasons for going ahead in his introduction in the Conference brochure. The purpose of the Conference is well summed up in the mission statement: "to promote communication between the architects, engineers, consultants and manufacturers responsible for designing and building new theatres and renovating existing facilities in North America. It is also our goal to promote a higher level of interaction between these professionals and the end users of their facilities."
The Conference venue was the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University in Lower Manhatten. The university offered the 740 seat Michael Schimmel theatre and two flat-floored lecture theatres, with a separate room for catering. In fact the weather was again superb and many people took their refreshments outside. The conference programme was scheduled over only two days but began on the Saturday night with a cruise around NY City Harbour at which everyone met old and made new friends. The programme replicated that in the UK by having three sessions in parallel in order to provide a choice of subject and try to engender a mixing of disciplines
The topics for discussion were of particular interest to those involved in planning, designing and equipping theatres in north America and Canada, but there were a number of visitors from the UK, Europe and further afield. Richard Brett was honoured by being asked to make a keynote speech, along with architect Hugh Hardy, who has a distinguished career which includes many theatres, such as BAM, the renovations to Radio City and the New Amsterdam Theater. The sessions included a number of case studies; the construction of a theatre in a parking garage for the Philadelphia Theatre Company, single purpose theatres as in Las Vegas and beyond, Mega Churches and creating 'greener' theatres.
Design issues ranged through the role of the architect in theatre facility design, compliance with ADA regulations for performers and technicians, educational facilities, function versus form, and designing for value - understanding what can be deferred and what can be lost when the real costs become apparent.
Acousticians also participated; Mark Holden and Larry Kirkegaard spoke about meeting increasing audience expectations from theatre sound without breaking the bank or ruining the aesthetics of the auditorium. In the engineering field, the regulatory issues of Technical Standards were examined by Karl Ruling, the Technical Standards Manager for ESTA, along with Ron Bonner from PLASA in the UK, and consultants Bill Conner and Jim Niesel.
The future of stage machinery, both overhead but also in the floor, was explored, as well as the implications on the building structure of the increasingly motorized theatre world. This linked in with the issues, attitudes and strategies involved in project commissioning and with the importance of regular inspections and maintenance of equipment, a topic close to the conference organiser's heart and on which he spoke!
Eddie Raymond, Vice President of IATSE Local 16 led a session on designing safe work spaces, and the effect of the ever-increasing technical requirements on historic venues was considered in a number of case studies. This rich mix of topics also included consultants Chris Buckley and Robert Long teaming up with scenographer, lighting designer and production manager Stan Pressner to discuss how alternative performance spaces, the empty warehouse or abandoned power station, can be used in the way required by creative actors, dancers and directors.
The closing plenary session was moderated by Stephen Ehrenberg, Vice President of Technical Production, BASE Entertainment, and David Taylor who had recently taken up post as leader of the Performing Arts Business Sector for Arup. One of the memorable quotes from this most successful inaugural event was from David, "As theatre folk we are really good at triumphing over adversity. But when it comes to building buildings, we're really good at introducing new adversity so we can triumph over that!"
Visits to venues in New York were arranged for Conference delegates and a large group enjoyed the tour. This included seeing the upgrading work being carried out in the State Theater in the Lincoln Centre, visiting the Rose Theater and the spectacular Allen Room forming part of 'Jazz at the Lincoln Centre' (which had been described fully by Chris Darland of Artec Consultants at the 2006 Conference) and seeing from the top to bottom of Radio City Music Hall courtesy of Eddie Kramer of IATSE Local 1.
Ellen Lampert-Greaux, Consulting Editor of Live Design and LDI Conference Director, caught the mood of Conference in her reports: "NATEAC has brought together a stellar group of roughly 250 people - primarily architects, theatre consultants, and acousticians - about 75 of whom are panelists. The conference got off to a fabulous start on Saturday evening, July 19, with a Circle Line cruise setting sail from South Street Seaport." "The best panel I attended was on the role of the architect in the theatre design and building process. Moderated by theatre consultant Bob Shook (who announced at the beginning of his session that they had no PowerPoints to show (a statement met by a round of applause!), his panelists included consultant Joe Mobilia, acoustician Mark Holden, cost consultant Joe Perryman, architect Leigh Breslau, and owner's rep Rick Pfannenstiel. What ensued was a lively discussion based on a series of questions posed by Shook, and it was great to hear such an intelligent group of people really discuss such issues as the architect versus the 'starchitect', the role of the end user in the design process, etc."
"The second day of the Conference confirmed its success and importance. In the Alternative Spaces session, Chris Buckley, Stan Pressner, and Robert Long looked at recent technically challenging productions such as the Macbeth at the roof-less tobacco warehouse in Brooklyn and Die Soldaten at the Park Avenue Armory, using them as prime examples of the what's, how's and wherefore's of using such spaces, from proper permits to having enough power."
"The Greener Theatre session talked about LEED-certified buildings and ended on a pretty funny note. Architect Scott Georgeson had shown an image of a theatre with a grass roof so that people looking down on it from the bluffs above would see a park rather than an industrial roof. Later in the session, someone suggested that wool, right off the back of the sheep, would make great acoustic material and be a very organic option. So moderator David Taylor suggested putting grass on the top of all fly towers for the sheep, to keep them nearby. Taylor continued to be very funny and spot-on during the plenary session he co-chaired with Steve Ehrenberg - who had just moderated the Single Purpose Theatre panel, using Vegas as an example, and even showing the numbers of how these $100 million venues recoup their costs quickly.. in just two years for a sell-out show."
There is a lot of support for another event to be held in North America in 2012.
After the success of the 2002 Conference, plans were laid for another to be staged four years later, on a cycle that would not clash with Showlight (another UK-based conference) or with Showtech (a biennial theatre equipment exhibition held in Germany). The phasing of the event was also so that it remained important - a sufficient period since the last and not so frequent as to be treated as just another annual get-together. It was felt that the venue must be able to accommodate increased numbers, up to 400, and provide the necessary breakout spaces and catering facility. It also had to provide the right atmosphere for the event, something that was lacking from some of the hotels and larger venues inspected. Many of the professional institutions offer lecture rooms, but few could handle the total numbers: the exception was the Institution of Civil Engineers at No 1 Great George Street.
No 1 Great George Street, as it prefers to be known, also had the advantage of two raked auditoria as well as the Great Hall which was used for refreshments, lunches and the plenary sessions. A third breakout space, the Smeaton Room, was fitted out with raked seating on rostra by Steeldeck in the form of a debating chamber, allowing far better contact between delegates than the conventional theatre-style rows. This building had permanently-installed audio-visual facilities in the two main theatre spaces and provided similar for the sessions in the Great Hall and Smeaton Room.
Left to right: Telford Room, Smeaton Room, Mitchell Room
Three speakers addressed the opening plenary session. Theatre consultant Iain Mackintosh suggested that theatre engineering and architecture belong together because the lifespan of a stage engineering installation is about as long as the theatre in which it is found. He also rejoiced because there was now less conflict between modern architecture and the acting profession, and also at the international nature of the Conference. He also explained how nobody wants to hear about the realities of cost at the outset of a project, and that flexibility in a design is usually a sign of the client failing to make up his mind! Arts manager Jodi Myers examined what the audiences wanted, saying that she had recently experienced more powerful theatre in disused swimming pools, gardens and car parks than on stages. She reminded conference that audiences are changing and that theatre management and buildings need to embrace that change. The third speaker, Stan Pressner from the United States, a lighting designer, scenographer and production manager, focused on the practical aspects of theatre spaces, a memorable statement being "Don't install it if you can't get it out of the way later!" He went on to talk about flexibility and how he had to create venues in the most impractical locations, reminding everyone that theatre as an art form will stretch the boundaries of whatever spaces we provide for it. Sobering thoughts at the start of Conference.
There was no shortage of topics to be discussed. Suggestions came from many quarters and were shaped into suitable sessions on the cost of building theatres and financing arts projects, backstage planning and the problem faced by disabled performers who seem to be the last people to be properly accommodated backstage. Many theatres were presented, from Curve in Leicester, through the Wales Millennium Centre, theatres in the Netherlands, Italy and Singapore to projects in New York, Dallas, Malaysia and Bogotá, Columbia. A paper on the factors for success in arts building by Prof. Alan Short of Cambridge University demonstrated that most arts building projects go through a series of crises, many of which are predictable.
Major projects were examined; architect Jonathan Adams spoke about the Wales Millennium Centre, Neil Morton about the design of Copenhagen Opera and Spencer de Grey of Foster and Partners on the development of the Dallas Opera. In contrast, some relatively uncomplicated drama spaces also featured: the Young Vic, Northern Stage and the Cottesloe Theatre, while Himanshu Burte from Goa, India gave an in-depth paper on Indian performance culture. Engineering focussed on automation, power flying, theatre grids, stage floor surfaces and the whole process of obtaining meaningful tenders. There was also a session on the European standard for engineering installations, which was being developed at the time. The importance of the brief and business plan was directed at consultants and those starting out on new projects, and different auditorium forms, orchestra pit problems and proscenium zone designs were examined by consultants and practitioners raising many issues in discussion. Adjustment to the programme on the Monday and Tuesday allowed the major sponsors time to address interested delegates just before lunch, and a closing debate, moderated by the past Director of The Theatres Trust, Peter Longman, and theatre consultant and lighting designer, Richard Pilbrow, was held in the Great Hall. This created a number of quotations that bring some of the issues faced when designing a new project into sharp focus.
Catherine Cooper, known to many delegates from 2002, again undertook organisation of the event, achieving great praise for her helpful attitude and attention to detail. The target number of 400 was breached, with some late bookers once more not being able to be registered. The atmosphere was great and despite again suffering a heat wave, during which some of the air-conditioning at the venue was out of service, the event was very successful and appreciated by everyone, especially those who travelled considerable distances to be present.
More than 430 people registered and the average for the three days exceeded the attendance in 2002 by 29%. Nearly 55% of those present were from outside the UK and represented 31 countries, once again beating the 2002 figure of 20 countries. While most visitors were from the United States, the second country represented was Greece, followed by Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany. Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Finland, Ireland and Spain were well represented, while smaller numbers attended from Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Norway. It was particularly good to see attendees from Italy, Iceland, Latvia, Portugal and Turkey.
The interests of those attending ranged from theatre, acoustic and technical consultants, who actually made up less than 30% of the total, through clients, owners, operators or venue managers (around 15%), and manufacturers and suppliers of systems and equipment (also around 15%). Architects, cost consultants and project managers represented around a further 15% and the balance was made up of technicians, crew, structural and services engineers and some undefined occupations. Everyone found suitable sessions to attend and the universal comment was that the high quality of the presentations and debate often made it difficult to decide which session to join!
Numerous speakers and delegates commented on the value that they found this event offers to those planning and designing for the performing arts, and many requested that another such Conference be held. The range of topics and speakers also appears generally to have more than fulfilled the expectations of those attending. The venue and the organisation of the event received high praise although, as is to be anticipated with a conference focussing on presentation spaces, many people found the smaller lecture theatre the least comfortable. Almost without exception the debating chamber which had been constructed using Steeldeck rostra provided free by the manufacturer, and chairs, kindly loaned by the National Theatre, an excellent venue for discussion and debate.
A relaxed and friendly atmosphere on the 2006 River Trip
Visits to venues by delegates after Conference were again popular. Some 21 people stayed through to Friday and flew to Copenhagen to make a tour of the new opera house with the theatre consultant, Richard Brett and the then Technical Director, Nikolaj Jensen. A group of 8 went to the Wales Millennium Centre and were shown round by the project manager, Roger Spence. A trip to the Sage, Gateshead and the Tyne Theatre and Opera House was also attended by 8 people and led by the consultant, Iain Mackintosh. Theatre consultant Andy Hayles took a group of 11 to the temporary Courtyard Theatre for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon. London visits included the Hampstead Theatre (8), Hackney Empire (6), the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall (26), the Siobhan Davies Dance Studios, Menier Chocolate Factory and the Unicorn Theatre (12).
The first Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference, in 2002, was really a bit of an unknown quantity. After taking soundings around the industry, it became clear that many people agreed with Richard Brett that too many mistakes were being made in the designing and equipping of performance spaces, but were not sure that those involved would want to get together to talk about what was good and what was bad. Talking publicly about mistakes on expensive building projects was not going to be easy.
The people who really did give early support were those firms involved in supplying equipment. Many of them felt that there was a need for the people planning and specifying such projects to get together and discuss some of the basics.
This view was supported by many theatre consultants who felt that their professional contribution to the creation of performance venues was often not appreciated, and that much could be done through organisations such as the ABTT's Theatre Planning Committee to broaden the appreciation of the reasons for many theatre design principles.
It was clearly going to be important to create a format for the event which would attract as many of the disciplines involved in theatre design and construction as possible: architects, consultants and engineers, but also acousticians, technicians, owners and constructors. The topics for discussion had to be devised to interest each of these groups while also being broad enough to allow the essential cross-fertilisation.
The Conference would only be successful if a wide range of people attended and those of different backgrounds learned something of the others' problems. This led to a programme with three breakout sessions running simultaneously, allowing every delegate a choice of subject and the chance to attend those outside his or her normal remit.
Catherine Cooper of Catherine Cooper Events was retained to undertake the background organisation of the whole event. This included finding the venue, administration of the delegates and speakers, marketing and PR, and running the event with Richard Brett. The search for a venue which could provide three suitable conference rooms as well as accommodate and feed the anticipated 250 delegates and speakers led to the Strand Palace Hotel, right in the West End.
The need to be near Theatreland had been high on the priority list and the Strand Palace provided an excellent starting point. In order to try and ensure that people involved in planning and designing theatres got acceptable sightlines, the rear seating in the largest of the three flat-floored seminar rooms was raised on Steeldeck rostra, a complimentary service which Steeldeck repeated in 2006. To accommodate all the delegates for the opening plenary session (see main picture above), this was held in the main Lecture Theatre of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, a few hundred yards from the hotel. An additional feature of this Conference was a meeting of the Technical Committee of OISTAT held on the preceding Saturday.
Financial support was forthcoming from the equipment supply industry and from architects and consultants. This was led by Waagner-Biro, a major supplier of stage engineering equipment world-wide, as Platinum Sponsor, and by Stage Technologies and Unusual Rigging as Gold Sponsors: all three companies have continued their support to all three London Conferences. A number of other engineering firms, control system developers and curtain suppliers became Silver Sponsors, while a variety of other partnerships and companies participated at Bronze level. A small amount of money was provided by the government through Trade Partners UK and physical help came from ETC Lighting and White Light.
Booking for the event was quiet after an initial influx, leading to concern that numbers might have been over-estimated, but a limited amount of advertising and press interest was initiated with the result that "house-full' signs had to be posted. Many international delegates who only learned about the event late on were disappointed.
After discussions with the hotel, the maximum number was increased to 300, but with one-day speakers and chairpersons the Conference throughput exceed this by a dozen or so.
The Conference coincided with a heat wave, requiring additional fans in some of the rooms, but making the main social and networking event, an evening trip down the River Thames a particularly pleasant and memorable experience. A boat trip has become a feature of the TEA conferences, being repeated in New York in 2008.
Many UK venues were suggested for visits after the Conference. The trips to those venues selected were very popular, again enabling people to see how others design, equip and operate other theatres and also to get to know other delegates.
The programme shows the range of topics covered and the speakers, who either volunteered or were sought out to bring their expertise and experience to a wider audience.
The keynote speaker was Don MacLean, Senior Supervisor of Theatre Projects for Cirque du Soleil at the time. Don gave a thorough review of aspects of theatre planning, construction and equipment based on his extensive experience and set the scene for the following thirty sessions.
The three strands were defined loosely as Engineering and Technology, Architecture and Planning and a miscellaneous theme which ended up covering Operations, Safety, Cost and Risk. The coverage of the subjects is best described in the books of the papers, published after the event, but the main focus was on the design of the auditorium, exploring its form, the increasing interest in found spaces rather than conventional theatres and the effect superstar architects can have on a project.
Theatre consultant Richard Pilbrow gave an in-depth description of the development of the auditorium, accompanied by two theatre architects, Barton Myers from the US and Tim Foster from the UK. Richard also called in scene designer Bill Dudley and theatre critic Michael Billington for their views. Other topics included audience safety and the role of the theatre consultant, while the legal aspects of risk management and the practical working of project management were described. In the session on making the performing arts accessible to everyone, the paper by a one-armed counterweight flyman created particular interest.
Many different approaches to the design of future venues were explored and the eternal problem of the underfunding of arts projects examined by experienced cost consultants. Stewart Donnell pointed out that, in the States, commissioning a 'starchitect' on a theatre project could well create the 'postcard' or 'wow' factor but could increase costs by 11%! The engineering aspects of theatre spaces was covered by papers on the strain on the body when using counterweights, through to modern stage control systems and their safety. Methods and equipment used to raise and lower elevator platforms, move stage wagons and fly scenery and lighting were fully described, as were the techniques used to change auditoria forms and recommendations on electrical power system design.
Speakers came from throughout the industry and from many countries allowing interesting comparisons in approaches and the broadening many peoples understanding of how issues are handled elsewhere. There is little doubt that most delegates learned a considerable amount and made new contacts during the three days. Without exception the sessions were well-attended and, on occasions, those that were in the smallest seminar room were found to be particularly popular, necessitating standing. But the reaction from everyone from the start indicated that the industry needed this sort of professional event - one at which different views can be expressed and discussed in a relaxed but lively atmosphere. The Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conferences had begun.