J&C Joel has designed and installed a 27-way manual purchase counterweight system for the main auditorium at the new Leeds Carriage Works Theatre. The new theatre is part of an ongoing cultural strategy designed to widen the City’s range of lively, accessible cultural and entertainment options. J&C Joel’s Tony Griffiths acted as project manager.

Incorporating the historic structure of an early Victorian carriage works and old Electric Press Building, the new venue is part of a £12 million commercial development of bars, cafés and restaurants grouped around a historic glass-roofed and heated courtyard. Replacing the existing Leeds Civic Theatre, The Carriage Works offers two performance spaces--the 350-seat main auditorium and a Studio Theatre--in addition to rehearsal and conference/meeting facilities.

The theatre required a fully flexible rigging and performance solution, so J+C Joel manufactured a full stage depth counterweight wall frame to accommodate up to 37 counterweight sets. Initially, 21 five-line manual single purchased counterweight sets were installed, each with the added benefit of operation from the fly or stage levels. To further increase stage flying flexibility, the system also features two side masking counterweights (one on each side). In addition, because of the theatre’s height restrictions the front five counterweights are double purchased to allow the suspension bars to pass through a grid opening–allowing the convenience of the pros borders and house curtains to be fully flown out.

This unique flexible approach allows for the theatre to have a quick and practical conversion from a traditional proscenium setup with colored front header and proscenium curtains, to a more contemporary black box setup if required.

Suspended from the ball-raced multi-pulley and steel-core suspension cables, each of the 11m long ladder frame suspension bars have telescopic ends to maximize the stage width between both galleries as each performance dictates.

To compliment the counterweight system, J&C Joel also installed twin hardwood cleat rails running the full stage depth, and belaying pins for the theatre’s spot line use.

When completing the contract, J&C Joel also installed side lighting ladders, portable lighting racks, vertical access ladder, grid access and lifting winch, full guards and guard rails to the counterweight system, fly and loading floors, cross over gallery and grid. Along with a full set of stage curtain blacks for performer and equipment masking, with coloured tabs for the proscenium and header and white gauze for the rear wall. To compliment the rehearsal space, J&C Joel installed a tubular steel lighting grid suspended from the main steels.

“The new system (which replaced the hemp set era of the old Civic Theatre) is totally flexible and offers us all the options needed for a modern performance space and a busy producing and receiving house,” says technical manager Peter Waddicor.