By Jean Danielson, Director of Web Integration
The Shaw Center presents an untold number of creative opportunities for GU students and faculty. The building itself has been transformed into a larger space to not only show artistic passion but to mentor its growth in all aspects of artistry. Central to the use of the funds provided by the Shaw family was to purchase state-of-the art sound, lighting, and video equipment to enhance the musical and theatrical experience of all who come to the Shaw. Recently, I took a tour of the new areas to see these additions.
Jon Whatley, director of the Shaw Center, began my tutorial in cutting edge theatrical technology in the sound/control room of the JR Theatre. First, when looking at the theatre room itself, one is immediately aware of the all-black walls, a dropped ceiling made of a black wire grid, and riser seating on both sides of the room that are five seats high. The floor is also black. The room itself is intimate, the size of a large classroom. The risers are on platforms that can be moved anywhere the director chooses.
For the JR Theatre, the sound designer wanted a larger and portable active speaker system so that a line signal can be sent through an automated digital console. The ETC ION has essential and expansive functions, including a parametric EQ built within it, a digital mixer, and a multitude of nuanced sound effect capabilities and settings. In addition, the sound stage has a Mac Pro that can be utilized as a recording studio. Whatley reinforced that these instruments and technologies are not easy to learn and that he and his crew will be able to assist individuals in need of tutorials and on-the-spot help.
The lighting console for the JR Theatre implements the latest in LED technology for the stage. The color tones of the LED can be created through dialing console knobs up and down, providing amazing variations to enhance the stage production itself. The theatre has a seven-color LED fixture whose hue saturation capabilities are for both warm and cooler lights. The coupling color system for the LEDs is such that it is capable of putting out as much light as two-1,000 watt PARs, however, these LEDs use technologies that keep them cool. Whatley later shows me the 1,000 watt PARs that are above the orchestra pit on the main auditorium stage. These lights have been industry standard for years, however the heat that is generated can be overwhelming for those who just want to read their music scores. Also, he notes, the potential for fires are greater, as the heat generated is by far greater than the newest LED theatre lighting technology. “Being green has always been important,” he continues, “and the newer lighting helps us do that.”
We walk up a side stairwell to climb to the walkway that gives us access to the black tension wire grid that is placed a couple of feet below the building’s ceiling in the JR Theatre. The tension wire grid is sturdy and safe to walk on, with a central function of being about to shine lights through the grid. New speakers are also permanently hung to the grid in each of its four corners.
Dimmers can be found nearly everywhere, as the new LED technology cannot be plugged into dimmers and must be routed through a bridging technology that allows the dimming to take place. SineWave dimmers have been purchased in order to have the light equipment remain silent as its functions are executed during a performance. The central dimmer machinery itself is housed in six to seven-foot tall cabinets and, as Whatley noted, they are the best there is.
Included in the new lighting technologies is a Paradigm touch screen that allows for presets and therefore increased lighting complexities without using a lot of time to recreate a lighting sequence. The theatrical lighting itself is not designed to be on full strength all the time. It is designed with the expectation that it will be turned on and off, and used at a range of lighting strength.
Carol Hall is a state-of-the-art stadium theatre that has over 100 seats. When designing the hall, the sound designer took not only acoustics into consideration, but aesthetics as well. The color of the wood on each seat matches the color of the wood on the walls and on the stage. Each seat purchased for this auditorium is of such a specific quality that the audio acoustics will be the same in the room if one, 45 or 100 people are sitting in the chairs and without regard to where they are sitting.
The booth above the seating has a new projector, lighting and sound console, automatic recording capabilities, including an ETC element for the lighting console. The Shaw family required that there be a top of the line Midas analog console (Venice F32) for use in the hall. The speaker system has line array technologies built into it and the lighting technology can provide three lighting configurations: warm, cool, and on/off.
Whatley noted that while all these new technologies, in the JR Theatre, Carol Hall and in other places throughout Shaw Center, will be at times challenging to learn, students need to be exposed to different types of theatrical equipment in order to be well-prepared to use technologies in jobs they will have throughout their careers.