Neatly tucked into space that was originally part of the parking garage for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, REDCAT (The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre) adds a new dimension to the performing arts scene in downtown L.A. Dedicated to contemporary work, REDCAT enhances the curriculum of its parent institution, California Institute of the Arts, by providing a showcase where students can perform in, as well as work on, productions from around the world. Modern dance, independent film, experimental theatre, new music, and multimedia events are all on the roster at REDCAT, which opened last fall with dumb type, a visiting company from Japan.
Frank Gehry, architect for the Disney Concert Hall, also designed the exterior and interiors for REDCAT (the Gehry signature is a ribbon of curvilinear stainless steel that creates an eyebrow marquee over the glass entrance doors). Immediately inside is a 3,000 sq. ft lobby that leads to the flexible theatre venue. The lobby has a large gallery that is wired for lighting, video, and sound so that it can be used for informal performances or installations.
The theatre is a dark brown/black interior space with a clear ceiling height of 37' over the 56' × 39' stage area (in the end stage configuration). CalArts staffers — set designer Chris Barreca, lighting designer Chris Akerlind, and technical director Bill Ballou — consulted on the design of the lighting, rigging, and seating in conjunction with Joshua Dachs and Richard Hoyes, theatre consultants at Fisher Dachs Associates (FDA) in New York City. FDA also designed The Modular Theatre on CalArts Valencia, CA campus.
Designed for ultimate flexibility, the 7,140 sq. ft. REDCAT performance space can be reconfigured into various seating arrangements: thrust with 245 seats; endstage with 185, arena with 266, projection with 227, and longitudinal along one wall with 122.
The seats themselves are black chairs with arms by Wenger that sit on custom-built risers by Steel Deck. “The seats can stack,” points out Barreca, during a tour of the space. “They are also self-supporting. They hook together and their weight keeps them standing. There is no need to attach them to the floor.”
Two rows of hinged panels along the walls also add to the flexibility of the space. The backs of these are acoustically treated, and when open they expose JBL surround speakers for a Dolby sound system used for film screenings. The two levels of catwalks run along the side wall and provide additional side lighting positions (the upper catwalk can also serve as an acting platform when the upper doors are open). The panels can also be opened to form a proscenium opening of 40' wide and 24' high, with wings 5' wide.
“Originally the wooden doors were to be covered in raw plywood, as in Frank Gehry's early work, but that was determined to be too limiting,” says Barreca. “However the intention was to keep a finished look that would enhance the presentation of the live music performance groups that need a finished elegant background. We went through many permutations of color and ended up with the plywood, but it has been stained very dark — not black — and the doors have been designed to allow for a 1/4" layer to be attached to any of the doors so that we can change the character of the space to a lighter or different tone. The color actually has a lot of red in it.”
There is one permanent balcony, and the two rows of seats in front of this structure can be lowered on a scissors jack from Hopper Elmore and Associates. The rest of the seats can roll away on foot-pumped casters, so that the entire room (excepting the balcony) can have a flat floor. “The goal is a changeover in one hour with just two people,” says Barreca.
Above the balcony are two levels of control booths: the lower level for sound, stage management, and lighting; the upper level for projection (where there are two custom-rebuilt 35mm projectors with bodies from the 1950s, fitted out with new technology) and followspots.
The sound booth has a 96-channel Yamaha DM2000 digital console, and the majority of the performance speakers are self-powered line array units by Meyer Sound. Other sound gear includes Denon CD and cassette players, processing by BSS Soundweb, and microphones by Shure, AKG, and Crown. The audio system was designed by Tom Young of Jaffe Holden Acoustics and sound designer Jon Gottlieb, who is also the acting dean of the CalArts School of Theatre. The sound and video equipment was provided and installed by Edwards Technologies, with the projection and video system designed by Andy Smith of Boyce Nemec Design.
The acoustician for REDCAT was Nagata Acoustics. The firm's largest challenge was sound isolation, as the theatre is adjacent to the parking garage. The result is a steel box in a steel box with the theatre actually floating on 72 rubber pads. Acoustical shell panels (16' high) that stack on top of each other are moved into place via winches. “These have trapezoid-shaped wings,” says Barreca, “and are used to meet the specifications for Dolby THX specifications for the film school.”
The lighting system by Strand Lighting, includes a 520i console, four CD80 Supervisor stage dimmer racks and one CD80 Supervisor house dimmer rack, a Premiere architectural lighting control, and a Strand ShowNet SN100 Smart Node with 24 SN110 dual DMX nodes. “There is Ethernet and interconnectivity everywhere,” says Barreca. “We made the backbone as current as possible especially where we had to close up the walls.” To help make changeovers easier, the stage is equipped with 294 stage lighting circuits.
Multiple rigging options that add to the ultimate flexibility of the REDCAT venue include three rolling gantries, or lighting bridges, built by Protech and provided by MICE/Creative, the system integrator for all of the rigging in the venue. Additional rigging by JR Clancy includes six 2,000 lb capacity motorized lineshaft winches (fixed speed) and six 1,000 lb capacity motorized spot line winches (variable speed). There are also two trolley I-beam tracks that run the length of the room with six rolling chain hoist trusses. “These are above the rolling gantries and can be used to hang lighting, sound, or scenery anyplace in the room,” says Hoyes. “A black box wouldn't have the catwalks that run perpendicular to the rolling gantries. They have a lot of gear in there for a small space.” The rigging is run via a JR Clancy Shamrock 5000 portable control system.
Executive director Mark Murphy and his staff have gone out on a limb to provide an inaugural season of innovative programming at REDCAT. “This is a small-scale, lab-style place,” he says. “CalArts students and faculty, as well as visiting artists will be integrated into the programming.” Small scale, maybe, but in terms of entertainment technology, it's just like one of the big guys.