The Theatre Consultant plays an important role in helping to design a practical and effective auditorium in which the performer and audience can draw together in their common experience
Forming a brief
The Theatre Consultant can assist you from the inception of the project:
- Helping to define your vision in ways that help you to communicate it to designers and funders. Often it helps to identify existing buildings that accord (in some part) with your intent and those that do not. This assessment should include testing that the vision addresses a full range of opportunities rather than concentrating on solving an existing issue.
- Helping to define a business plan that defines the major drivers within the building so that designers and funders will recognise important elements. This might include mechanisation to help in the creation of productions, appropriate seating capacity to meet production costs (with or without support funding,) catering and beverage returns to cover standing establishment costs. Again, testing the plan against other venues practice will give funders confidence.
- Creating a brief for discussion and development with the architect and design team. This should include an outline schedule of accommodation and relationship of spaces for technical production reasons (such as ensuring quick and efficient get-ins, straight routes from workshop to the stage for long pieces etc.) and should consider through-life cost. It is important that this outline brief should be the basis for engaging an Architect and building design team so that they may be involved creatively in its development into an architectural brief from a firm base.
The Theatre Consultant plays an important role in helping you and the Architect to design a practical and effective auditorium in which the performer and audience can draw together in their common experience. Core principles will be defined in the outline brief but the Theatre Consultant will collaborate with the Architect as design proposals come forward on practical aspects such as sightlines, regulation of seatways and gangways. Stage lighting locations and any mechanical or other adaptability.
The Theatre Consultant is an essential guide to other design team members:
- Structure – Setting parameters for structural loadings and where and how they will be applied to the structure. In specialist areas there may be requirements for the structure to follow a form that matches the use requirements (fly grids, lighting galleries and lift machinery spaces).
- Mechanical – Advising on means of ventilation in the auditorium and acceptable temperature levels in technical areas and practical local control. Give guidance on typical daily population through the day to indicate how short the period of full ventilation will be and also the get-in potential for large exchanges of internal and external air temperatures. Sustainability will be an issue where experience from other venues may inform approaches.
- Electrical – Advice to the Electrical Consultant on electrical loadings and where they will be applied within the venue, in particular helping to advise on diversity of supply take up so that the supply is not oversized. Define the many specialist control and signal cables that will be required throughout the building, their containment bulk and separation requirements, so that routes can be integrated at early stages in the design.
- Acoustics – With the Acoustician, they will help the architect model the building to provide the essential voids for technical equipment without impacting on the desired acoustic.
- Costs – For the Quantity Surveyor, the Theatre Consultant’s experience in other projects will help in constructing a cost plan and the appropriate form of building contract.
- Fire – For the Fire Consultant guidance on populations in various areas and regulation on means of escape and fire containment. Often this will include anti-terrorist protection including methodologies for containment of the audience and artists when required under police advice.
In all these disparate fields the Theatre Consultant’s experience will be important in helping the design team to create the best possible venue within the budget.
Outside the core performance space the Theatre Consultant will help the design team check the effectiveness of the building by understanding the various necessary routes through the building:
- The customer’s route – External poster cases, entrance, reception/box office, catering, lavatory requirement number and positioning, foyer areas and distribution at various seating levels in the auditorium and signage to help people around.
- The scenic route – Scenery get-in to the building and get out, route to and proximity to the stage, point of access to the stage for ease of work; costume, shoes, distribution of materials around the dressing rooms, laundry and wig room, property stores and setting-out space for properties for the show.
- The artist’s route – Stage door, green room, dressing room, toilets, showers, a place for a moment of readiness before the stage and a convivial unwinding space after the show. For dance, spaces for practice and warm-up and physiotherapy rooms. For musicians, warm-up facilities within the principals’ rooms, for orchestras, proper secure space in which to leave instrument cases, coats and hand bags and small instruments. For large production houses, catering for performers away from the public areas may be important.
- For management, including house managers – Appropriately located office space, rooms to receive VIPs, funders and support groups (friends & membership lounges,) front of house staff changing spaces, programme and ice-cream storage, merchandising etc. are all important. Above all box-office, customer reception and telephone and digital sales provision.
- The technician’s route – from stage door to cloaks, maybe a crew room or green room, to workshops for scenery construction or repair, costume making, maintenance and storage, control rooms and safety at work at high levels. For producing houses, recycling of waste is an important element.
- There is also a caterer’s route – cloaks, rest room (even caterers’ dining before service) ensuring the catering equipment supports the proposed catering offer. Adequate cold and dry stores, special prep areas, and above all waste handling.
The field of specialist stage machinery has changed over the years with the increasing adoption of power flying, powered lifts and the lateral movement of scenery in view with ever demanding sophistication using integrated computer control which enables these to be used with precision and synchronisation safely and economically. The understanding of the appropriate standards to be specified for the safe operation of these systems in theatre conditions is essential.
Stage lighting has been revolutionised with the development of powerful solid state light sources with suitable colour temperature and rendering attributes and the use of moving head lighting fixtures. These require extensive data distribution and specific power distribution for their control that often needs to be integrated with existing tungsten-halogen sources. Control systems have a wide variety of abilities and selection or advice to end users is important. Increasing use of video projection integrated into the scenery and action adds a further dimension to the design of the stage lighting installation and show control.
Sound control and loudspeaker technology have expanded over recent years to add an increasingly complex palette of options from which to design and select, often with large and heavy loudspeaker arrays with integrated amplification to be installed. Latency issues need to be considered with digital systems.
Particular visual, audible and video communication systems are needed for the control of all staff throughout the stage and support areas during performances and rehearsals.
Auditorium ‘house’ lighting is important in setting the mood for the production yet addressing the needs of programme reading, sufficient but not too much maintained lighting, and for means of escape.