Renovating Proctor’s Theatre Meant Knocking Down Almost Everything With A Promise Of Restoring Its Historic Design
You might not be so familiar with Schenectady, NY. Located about 15 miles outside of the state capital of Albany, it's where Proctor's Theatre has sat since 1926, playing host to entertainers through the years from Duke Ellington to Mariah Carey. In fact, if you've seen Ms. Carey's music video for “Hero,” you've at least seen Proctor's. The video was shot there during a concert special in 1993.
Pedigree aside, last year the theatre was in need of a renovation that involved a bit more than an upgrade here and there. It was more like a full demolition and erection of a new stage house, all to be approved in advance by New York's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), since the theatre's interior is a landmark.
The goals outlined by the theatre's fundraising campaign included attracting larger touring Broadway-type shows to the 2,696-seat venue by increasing the main stage house to three times the area of what was there before (to 55' deep × 125' wide). This included major construction to the entire structure, adding a three-bay truck staging area, and installing a new state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. In addition, a completely new 450-seat theatre (GE Theatre), with large-format Iwerks film technology would be added as a multipurpose venue in the former Carl Company space. The campaign to fund the renovation was estimated at $22.5 million.
While the owners of the theatre were heavily involved in the planning of the renovation (there was no subcontracted work; all contractors were brought in directly by the theatre), it took a highly collaborative effort to get the project going. Specialized systems design and install was directed by in-house technical director/master electrician Jim Petersen, including lighting by Theatre Consultants Collaborative, LLC; audio by Michael Cusik of Specialized Audio-Visual Inc. (SAVI); acoustics by Marshall KMK; stage design and layout by Adirondack Scenic, Inc.; lighting from PRG; rigging systems by Pook, Diemont & Ohl; and additional lighting, dimming, and wiring by BMI Supply. Stracher Roth Gilmore (SRG) was the architectural firm contracted for the project.
A Plan For All Seasons
In order to accommodate the planned rigorous schedule of various touring acts and productions coming in, and to remain true to the theatre's original purpose as a vaudeville-type venue, the systems and spaces were designed to maximize efficiency of loads in and out. To ensure protection of the 49'×23'6" proscenium and theatre interior during construction (the only part of the original structure to remain intact), a steel supported wall was inserted behind it as a sort of guard wall.
“While technically a renovation, in truth it was a new construction of a stage house and renovation of the adjacent historic interiors,” says Curtis Kasefang of Chapel Hill, NC-based Theatre Consultants Collaborative, who designed the performance lighting system. Ben Boltin, also of Theatre Consultants Collaborative, provided review services on the rigging system.
Kasefang adds that the staff at Proctor's (including CEO Philip Morris, COO Dan Sheehan, and Petersen) were “sophisticated users” who were clear on what they wanted. “They were looking for someone to be a second set of eyes,” he says.
Specifying a new lighting and dimming system for the space meant designing something that could function like a touring system on stage but act like an installed system for the house.
“We chose a touring style lighting rig for the main stage, because of the regular amount of turnarounds we do in our season — anything from a bare house to a full-on rock or dance show set up,” says Petersen. “Having this volume of loose gear allows us to hang multiple shows at the same time, which has become a crucial need when there are back-to-back events.”
For a full complement of conventional lights, Petersen specified a rig of pre-owned gear from PRG. This equipment includes two ETC 48-way and two ETC 96-way Sensor rolling dimmer racks. For luminaires, PRG provided 120 Altman PAR64 units; 32 Altman 8" Fresnels; 10 Altman 3-Cell Sky Cycs; 20 ETC Source Four 50° ellipsoidals; 110 ETC Source Four 36°; 40 ETC Source Four 26°; 46 Source Four 19°; eight L&E Zip Strips; and one Strong 2kW Xenon Super Trouper followspot.
They also added automated units including six Martin MAC 2000 Performances, four MAC 2000 Washes — controlled by a Flying Pig Systems Hog 3PC with operator wings — and two Martin 250W Imagers. Also new are two High End Systems F100 fog machines; a Jem ZR24/7 Hazer; a GAM Chek tester; four Altman three-rung light ladders; eight 10' torm towers; one 30' genie lift; six 36" cable crossovers; and one lot of assorted feeder, extension, and control cables. The account executive for PRG was Bob Kliegl.
For the FOH lighting and house light dimming systems, Queensbury, NY-based BMI Supply provided the main theatre with two ETC 48+ Sensor Dimming Racks with 186 20A and three 50A dimmers and SmartSwitch relay panels, with control via a 1000-channel and a 500-channel ETC Emphasis system with an Expression Face Panel and architectural control via an AMX control system. The whole control system is via ETCNET.
For the studio theatre, BMI also supplied an ETC 12+ Sensor Dimming Rack with 24 20A dimmers, with control via a Unison rack. Architectural control here is also via an AMX system combined with the ETC Unison control system. All low-voltage wiring was provided by BMI along with a full complement of Cat 5 cabling with Neutrik EtherCon connectors and multi-cables by Lex Products Corp. Three Strong Xenon Super Trouper followspots remain from before renovation.
Circuit distribution throughout the audience chamber was installed, and permanent dimmers were provided for these circuits. “Most circuits were distributed with six-circuit multi-pin connectors to minimize the faceplate size,” says Kasefang. “No FOH bridge location was provided because of the sensitivity of the structure. Instead, heavy circuit distribution at box booms, the balcony rail, and a JR Clancy Power lift truss in the proscenium arch were provided.”
At each of the three house locations — box boom, balcony front, and forestage truss — power is provided for moving lights. Ethernet cable drops for large channel count control paths run throughout, and portable two-port Ethernet-to-DMX nodes are provided.
“On stage, the system is really a control distribution system,” says Kasefang. “The dimmers are portable with company switches provided on the deck and at the jump for dimmers and stage machinery power.”
For architectural control, Kasefang provided a combination of a lighting playback controller (LPC) and a logic controller. “The goal here is to use each specialized device to do what it is optimized for: logic controller for day-to-day user interface and LPC for DMX control and preset programming,” he says. “The logic controller tells the LPC to switch specific submasters and presets. The LPC holds the preset and submaster contents. This allows a relatively rigid and secure control structure with completely flexible preset contents. The LPC has the familiar console interface, so changing presets is second nature to master electricians.”
The control system allows the room to be configured for either “show” or “work” mode. In each mode, the buttons on the local light switches turn on different presets. Changing modes is a matter of hitting a button.
“We also offer a convenience night mode button that looks throughout the system and turns everything off,” says Kasefang. Control booths, catwalk zones, and other areas in the performance environment are included on the system. At the master console, both show and work presets are available for each zone of control, allowing the system master to be overridden. “Perhaps one of the most convenient aspects of this is that, after a load out and after the crew leaves, if you realize somebody left the grid lights on, you can turn them off at the master panel without walking all the way up there,” he adds.
Kris Nutting from BMI acted as lighting project manager and ETC field tech during the renovation. “There was extensive flooding of the basement during construction,” says Nutting. “There was a wall in the drawing where the dimmer racks were going to go, but in reality, the wall didn't exist. In fact, there was an inch and a half of water down there, where about 100 pipes were going to go through, so we moved stuff upstairs to a room that didn't really exist before; we made it exist. It's like a stage left hallway, which works out better anyway because we're in better communication with them than if they were in the basement.”
Adirondack Scenic was charged with redesigning the performance space, including developing the extended stage layout, pit renovation, power, HVAC, general backstage areas, and rigging system. “We developed the original and subsequent final specifications for the new grid and loading bridges in conjunction with the structural engineer, Jim Brzezinski, and designed the new fire curtain and rigging system,” says D. Thomas Lloyd, president of Adirondack Scenic, Inc. In addition to replacing the house main valance curtain as custom fabricators, Lloyd recommended Pook, Diemont & Ohl (PDO) as an additional contractor for the rigging systems.
PDO became heavily involved on the installation side, according to Andrew Plumer, the firm's project manager. “It was nice to be so involved and to see the theatre grow,” he says. “It wasn't quite a pit in the ground when I got there, but they had torn down the entire place. Where the stage was supposed to be was just this big pit. We were involved from that stage until the first show went up.”
PDO supplied and installed a new proscenium hoist, a motorized fire curtain, 85 counterweight line sets, two lock rails with index lights, and a chain motor with trolley for hoisting materials to the grid. Rigging equipment was a mix of custom pieces from PDO, including the company's own guide system, I-bar, as well as gear from JR Clancy (rigging and curtain) and chain motors from Columbus McKinnon.
The new building structure was largely prefabricated and assembled on site. “It was terrifying to watch it go up,” adds Plumer. “The pieces were so massive, the equipment to put it up was so huge, and it went up so quickly.”
Sounds Like A Plan
To renovate the 25-year-old sound system, Cusik went to work looking for a new speaker system though a series of demos, the final decision of which was made by Proctor's own staff. The sound system renovation not only involved a new series of speaker clusters (left, center, right), but also 30 additional fill speakers, surround speakers, and delay speakers for the audience area and part of the lobby.
A system of d&b audioteknik Q Series clusters was “the favored line of speakers for its musical fidelity and naturalness and clarity,” notes Cusik. “We then worked through several computer models of arrays and coverages until we came up with an arrangement for the left and right clusters.” That arrangement turned out to be four Q1s on top focused on the balcony; a cardioid subwoofer array of three Q-subs; and four more Q1 speakers for the orchestra level. The center clusters above the proscenium are four over four Q1s — balcony over orchestra — without any sub complements. Each speaker cluster, powered by d&b D12 amplifiers, is equipped with a targeting laser (remote controlled on/off) and a digital inclinometer with remote readout. The house console is a Midas Heritage 2000.
Extensive rigging had to be done to be able to protect the theatre's plaster ceiling to install the speakers. These three clusters also have associated hoist motors (two each) and a motor control system. “We actually installed six new points on motors above the proscenium attic area and had to do some carefully calculated holes in the architecture, fitted with custom collars that enabled us to rig these speakers to the motors above,” says Cusik.
Additional speakers include six d&b E3s in the front fascia of the stage for front fill; five surface-mounted EAW UB-12/JF-80s for box fill; two EAW JF-80s (one per side) for column edge fill; five EAW UB-82es built into the ceiling for under balcony fill; and 10 Meyer MM-4 speakers mounted in the back glass wall of the theatre to fill the back lobby area. For a dedicated 5.1 surround system, an additional 13 EAW JF-80s were installed around the main orchestra. This movie configuration was set up in conjunction with Dolby technicians to provide standardized playback for Dolby film sound.
Acoustically, the room did not undergo any changes. The room still has the same type of original wall and floor covering materials as when it opened in 1926. “What was a factor, acoustically speaking,” notes Cusik, “was the control over coverage and patterns exhibited by the d&b speakers. These reduced sound reflection from ceilings and walls, and I can only attribute that to pattern control.”
Especially notable is the digital matrix set up around BSS London processors — three BSS London Blue 80s, three Blue 32s, and two Blue 10 control pads. The 48×48 output DSP processor/matrix manages signals to all loudspeakers, driving all 32 output zones in the room. The matrix gives the venue the ability to interface itself easily with incoming productions, ranging from the smaller show with a single mixer giving the house one output, to something like Chicago, where they want to access each of the theatre's systems individually.
“They can literally just take one mono feed, and everything from that point is then routed, delayed, equalized, and processed perfectly, so that one signal feeds all,” Cusik says. “Or they can work with a variety of feeds, as more complex tours require more discreet access to the various sections of the sound system. All those configurations are stored and just get called up whenever they're needed.” Integration and routing of the Dolby processor signals is also done via the processing matrix.
Also designed in is an infrastructure of Cat 5E network cabling and fiber optic cabling, so they can grow into the future; an extensive backstage monitoring and paging system designed around Peavey MediaMatrix® PageMatrix™; and an eight-channel intercom system using the Clear-Com digital matrix. The entire sound system was built and tested in SAVI's shop before sending it for the install.
Construction on the overall project continues with the renovation work on the vacant adjacent building, the future site of the GE Theatre. The entire project is expected to be completed by mid-2007, with a grand opening planned for May.
Proctor's Renovation Team:
Stracher Roth Gilmore
Acoustician: Marshall KMK
Audio design: Specialized Audio Visual Inc (SAVI)
Stage design/layout/theatre consultant:
Adirondack Scenic, Inc.
Rigging: Pook, Diemont & Ohl
Ryan-Biggs Associates, PC
Lighting project manager:
Kris Nutting, BMI Supply
Philip Morris, CEO
Dan Sheehan, COO
Kathleen Cetnar, CFO
Keith Schmitt, production manager
Jim Petersen, technical director
Paul Kazee, house manager
Did You Know…
Proctor's was the site of the first public demo of television, courtesy of the folks at General Electric working about a mile up the road. It was around this time that they were working on the first TV tubes, transmission systems, and cameras. On May 22, 1930, Swedish-American electrical engineer Ernst Alexanderson transmitted a signal from two locations in Schenectady to the theatre and projected onto a 7' screen the image of a conductor, who then led the live orchestra in the theatre.
Adirondack Scenic: www.adirondackscenic.com
Altman Lighting: www.altmanlighting.com
JR Clancy: www.jrclancy.com
Lex Products Corp.: www.lexproducts.com
Lighting & Electronics: www.le-us.com
Marshall KMK Acoustics Ltd.: marshall-kmk.com
Meyer Sound: www.meyersound.com
Peavey Electronics: www.peavey.com
Pook, Diemont & Ohl: www.pdoinc.com
Proctor's Theatre: www.proctors.org
Ryan-Biggs Associates, PC: www.ryanbiggs.com
Specialized Audio Visual Inc (SAVI): www.saviusa.com
Stracher Roth Gilmore: www.srgarch.com
Strong Entertainment Lighting: www.strongint.com
Theatre Consultants Collaborative: www.theatrecc.com