“It's unique,” says David Emmes, producing artistic director of South Coast Repertory, a 35-year-old regional theatre company in Costa Mesa, CA. What he's referring to is the fact that everything at his theatre company is now under one roof. Emmes, along with artistic director Martin Benson, had an incredible theatrical vision; a vision that was translated into a $19 million renovation and expansion project that doubled the size of South Coast's facility. Now called the Folino Theatre Center, the new three-theatre complex was designed by architect Cesar Pelli, who added the new theatre to the end of the old building, and put it all behind a sweeping new facade with a 300' glass wall that makes as much of a statement outside as Emmes and Benson make onstage.
The existing 507-seat Segerstrom Theatre (facing page bottom, formerly the Mainstage) was refurbished, the new 336-seat Julianne Argyros Stage (below) was added, and the 95-seat Nicholas Studio will be used for workshops and conservatory productions. Also under this new roof, which expands the facility from 40,000 sq. ft. to 80,000 sq. ft., are all of the technical support facilities (except the paint shop in a nearby space), administrative offices, and an educational center. “There are no seams from the old to the new,” says Emmes. “Pelli pulled off quite an architectural accomplishment.”
Emmes adds that “the new 336-seat proscenium theatre gives us all the creative tools we need to fulfill our mission as a major commissioner of new American plays. We encourage playwrights to paint on the broadest possible canvas, and the new facility does not limit us technically. We now have the advanced lighting and sound capabilities to undertake creative technical challenges.”
Part of the inspiration for the new theatre was the Leo K. Theatre at Seattle Rep. “Martin had directed a play there and liked the space,” says Emmes. Theatre Projects Consultants in Norwalk, CT, had designed the Leo K. and thus became the theatre consultant for South Coast Rep, along with Engineering Harmonics in Toronto, Canada, as sound system consultants. Benton Delinger, senior consultant at Theatre Projects, served as project manager.
“Originally we weren't going to touch the Segerstrom Theatre,” notes Delinger. In the end, the venue was refurbished, with new seating by Theatre Solutions Inc. (TSI) in Quakertown, PA. “We bought seats for the entire complex from TSI,” Delinger adds. The new seats in the Segerstrom have wooden frames with green and brown patterned upholstery that is in keeping with the earthy color palette of the room, echoed in the fabric-wrapped wall panels and acoustic panels painted with stripes in the same tones.
The stage in the Segerstrom has a new front, now curved, instead of a plain forestage. The room does not have a fly tower, but it does have a counterweight rigging system by H&H Specialties in South El Monte, CA, who also provided the rigging for the new theatre. A new paging system was also installed, using a Peavey Media Matrix. “They decided to put in the new paging system near the end of construction and we needed to pull new wiring. We had made sure there was conduit so we could pull from the old amp room to the new one,” says Delinger. “We also tried to remain constant in terms of equipment, and tie the old systems into the new.” With this in mind, the in-house audio system includes LCS components that mesh with the new LCS equipment in the new theatre.
In the Nicholas Studio, the changes include a new resilient Masonite floor, as well as new wooden seating risers at one end of the theatre, making it a fixed, rather than flexible, space. A small ETC lighting system is in place, with fixtures hung on a pipe grid.
“It's a very intimate proscenium venue for new work,” says Delinger about the newly built Argyros theatre, which has one balcony level above the orchestra and two boxes on each side wall. “What's important here is the close relationship between the actors and the audience.” While based on the Leo K. Theatre in Seattle, there are various changes in the Argyros, including a grid iron and a lower stage height to add to the intimacy.
The stage is designed so that there is no dividing line between the orchestra pit and the trap room. “It's one big space under the stage,” says Delinger, pointing out that there is often a concrete wall below the proscenium arch. The open option allows a seamless transition from the apron to upstage. “You can trap the stage from front to back, or create an orchestra pit if needed,” Delinger explains.
Provided by Staging Concepts in Brooklyn Park, MN, the stage platforms consist of a manual system using SC90 bridging frames. “You can bridge from one bay to another,” notes Delinger. “There are telescopic legs to create different levels.”
The color palette in this room is a burgundy-red in the upholstery of the seats, and a warm reddish wood used for the seat frames, acoustic panels on the ceiling, and the Pelli-designed wall behind the side boxes. “You enter the boxes from behind this beautiful floor-to-ceiling wooden wall,” explains Delinger.
Acoustically the goal was to design a quiet room for the spoken word. “The idea is to reinforce the voice and deaden reflections using fabric-wrapped panels,” says Delinger. There was also an effort made to isolate the theatre from the education center behind it, by using multiple layers of steel and drywall with air spaces.
A sound reinforcement system, designed and engineered by Engineering Harmonics, and installed by Southern California Sound Image in Escondido, CA, includes a Crest X8-24-HS console, Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers and sub-woofers, Shure wireless microphones, QSC amplifiers, a Peavey X-frame for processing, LCS playback with LX3000 mainframe for 16×32 routing, a Tascam DAT recorder, and TC Electronics effects processor.
The lighting system has an ETC Obsession console, ETC Net2 system with portable Ethernet nodes by Pathway Connectivity and ETC, and ETC Sensor dimmers with 416 circuits for stage lighting and 48 circuits for the architectural lighting designed by Tom Ruzika, who also frequently designs lighting for South Coast Rep productions. Theatre Projects specified and engineered the lighting system, but as Delinger explains, “we worked closely with Tom to create one big system and use just one processor in the dimmer room.” In this case it's an ETC Unison CMEI processor, used for one unified lighting system for stage, house, and lobby. “As a designer, Tom had some really good input as to lighting positions,” adds Delinger.
The lighting fixtures hang on three visible catwalks, two over the audience and one that wraps around the rear of the auditorium like a gallery. Additional positions include a pipe over the balcony seating, the balcony rail, vertical booms at the proscenium line on each side of the stage, and a horizontal position on each side atop the wooden walls behind the side boxes under the catwalks. “This is a good sidelight position,” notes Delinger.
The lighting fixture inventory was developed by South Coast master electrician Shamus McConney and includes a mix of units by Martin Professional, Vari-Lite, and ETC, as well as Wybron color scrollers, City Theatrical accessories, and Altman Zip Strips. The rigging by H&H was installed by Stagecraft Industries in Portland, OR, who also provided the stage draperies.
“The space is very elegant and intimate, and people can hear very well in there,” says Delinger, who adds that the sightlines in the new theatre are good, even on the sides. “The room has a nice feel and shape, and a tight relationship between the performers and the audience. Cesar Pelli did a really great design. He has a real sensitivity to theatre spaces.”