Disney Opens a New Proscenium Venue at California Adventure

Walking through the Hollywood backlot at California Adventure is like a stroll down memory lane. It's an architectural confection of faux facades behind an entranceway flanked by great golden elephants inspired by the set for D.W. Griffith's Intolerance. Recreations of Los Angeles landmarks, ranging from the Pantages and El Capitan theatres to the former Bullock's-Wilshire department store and the Roosevelt Hotel, give this fantasy version of Hollywood Boulevard architecturally correct bones under a contemporary veneer.

A case in point is the facade of the new Hyperion Theatre, the first proscenium venue to be integrated into one of Disney's parks. In fact, the faux facade of the Hyperion Theatre is a recreation of a piece of the facade of the Los Angeles Theatre, an historic old movie palace. The facade is part of a trompe l'oeil of forced perspective of extra blocks on the street, and a large wall painted with a backdrop of sky and clouds, imitating an old camera trick.

Guests enter through the facade to find themselves outside the Hyperion Theatre, in a corridor that leads to a large outdoor courtyard queue area. Here guests wait to enter the 2,000-seat theatre, which does not have a traditional lobby area. “We wanted flexibility both in the use and design of the theatre,” says Duane MacLeod, senior architecture and engineering manager for Walt Disney Imagineering, which provided the basic concepts and design intent for the venue.

Architectural considerations for the theatre included the side-loading entrance, the guest queue line, the possibility of five shows each day, and a maximum load-in of 20 minutes. “The goal is to be able to get 2,000 people in to see the show and out again in under an hour,” explains McLeod. “We are very excited to have this quality of venue to offer our guests a Broadway-type show that is much higher caliber than your ‘typical’ theme park song-and-dance revue.” To help make this possible, and for the first time in one of Disney's in-park venues, the Hyperion has built-in dressing rooms and a formal green room, as well as spaces dedicated to costume storage and maintenance.

As the project took shape, WDI worked in collaboration with Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer of New York and LA, and Theatre Projects in South Norwalk, CT. “Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer brought in their theatre expertise, and Theatre Projects worked on the rigging, sightlines, and laying out of the balconies,” explains McLeod.

The 58,000-sq.-ft Hyperion is themed like the rest of the Hollywood Backlot. The idea is that this is a theatre built within a working soundstage. “The interior perimeter walls have exposed metal fabric over acoustical material dressed with painted scenic elements as if it's left over from a movie shoot,” says McLeod. “The space is flexible enough to work with whatever show is in there. The show's sets add visual interest.” For now, the box-office attraction is Steps in Time, a 20 — minute salute to the music of Disney's films and Broadway musicals. In the future, the Hyperion could also be used for full-length Broadway tryouts, road shows, movie premieres, or awards shows.

“For a 2,000 — seat theatre, there is a very intimate feel,” notes McLeod, referring to the two rather steeply raked semi-circular balconies, which have attractive undulating fronts. There is a single elevator to take patrons to both balconies, as well as an escalator from the second to third level. There are no restrooms in the theatre, but as McLeod points out, “there is room to add them in the future.” For the time being, with a 20 — minute show and no intermission, this is not an issue, and there are restrooms not too far outside of the theatre in the park.

The Hyperion stage measures 120' wide × 55' deep, with a proscenium opening 60' wide and a trapped floor area of 60' × 30'. In other words, the playing area is 60' wide, with a 30' wing space on each side. The height from deck to grid is 78'. The rigging by SECOA consists of 74 counterweight linesets 75' long, and eight electrics: three motorized, three manual, and two side pipes. The orchestra lift is a Spiralift by Gala, 55' wide × 14' deep with a 29,000lb dynamic capacity and an 87,500lb static capacity.

A lighting control booth is located at the back of the first balcony, with an audio booth at the back of the orchestra level. The follow spot booth is located above the second balcony with additional positions on a crossover catwalk located at a midway point in the auditorium.

In front of the proscenium arch, the stage is flanked with floor to ceiling scaffolding tucked behind painted perforated metal scenic pieces, designed to carry through the look of a sound stage. "They provide a nice backdrop to the sets on stage," notes McLeod. There are also faux side boxes in continuation of the Los Angeles theatre theme.

As in a sound stage, the theatrical lighting is all exposed, and the architectural lighting includes MR16 versions of fresnels and PAR cans to add to the look. Pipes to accommodate lighting fixtures bend gracefully to follow the curved balcony fronts. Under the balconies are gilded rosettes with old-fashioned looking bulbs with silver reflectors. WDI designed the architectural lighting for the theatre.

The contemporary-style theatre seats are upholstered in green to blend with the red, green, and gold pattered carpet and the red and green scenic paint on the perforated metal set pieces. The house curtain is red. The back walls are covered with acoustic material under a layer of protective mesh.

The audio system in the theatre was designed to accommodate various types of productions, as well as mount a new show while another is still running. A solid sound infrastructure solves this particular challenge. The front of house audio console is a Yamaha PMID digital console, with all audio routing done by a Peavey Media Matrix system. The audio sent from the Media Matrix is carried by cobranet to an ethernet switch and then to the main amp room. The Cobranet data is distributed via a QSC Rave unit to Crown MA series amps with USP-2-PIP cards for the speaker processing.

The main left-right-center speaker clusters includes three EAW KF-861s per cluster, with four EAW SB-1000 sub woofers per side, 24 EAW JF50s used for front fills and delay, and 26 EAW CR-58s for side and rear surround sound. An audio-specific Cat5 network runs throughout the theatre for digital access from any location.

The lighting control system includes an ETC Obsession II dual processor console with full remote focus and video interface, as well as an ETC Unison architectural processor for auditorium and worklight control. A Grand MA console provides moving light control. There are a total of 1056 ETC dimmers in the theatre (768 for theatrical use; 96 relays for theatrical use; 192 for exterior and architectural lighting).

The fixture inventory includes 52 Vari*Lite automated luminaires (VL5, VL6, VL6B, and VL2201 units), over 100 Morpheus color faders, over 300 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals, over 100 ETC Source Four PARs, 4 Gladiator III followspots.

A handsome interior space with cutting-edge technology backstage, the Hyperion Theatre creates what McLeod calls "an architecturally interesting and exciting space." At the end of the day, Disney has created a new benchmark for theme park performance venues, and a perfect home for the next generation of Disney’s theatrical productions.