How does a theatre with a 1980s lighting system cope with the demands of today's technology? Peter Rogers, Strand Lighting's vice president of marketing in the United States and Asia, recently spearheaded the company's involvement with new architecture for the lighting at the Herberger Theatre Center in Phoenix. "The Herberger was struggling to meet the needs of people coming into the facility who want to control moving lights, distribute DMX, and share information between its two theatres," says Rogers--but now it has a complete ethernet network running in each of the theatres.
Home to six resident companies, the Herberger Theatre Center houses the 815-seat Center Stage and the 330-seat Stage West. "These companies fill up our season from September to June," points out Mark Mettes, technical director for the Herberger. "They bring in their own shows with their own designers. We just provide the venue." For Mettes, the goal in updating the lighting system was to "have a system that is reliable and could change with us as the technology changes. More and more shows are bringing in moving lights and scrollers, and we want to be able to deal with them as simply as possible."
"We wanted to update a late-1980s design to current technology and make it last as long as it can," agrees Jerry Gorrell, technical director for the Phoenix Civic Plaza complex, which includes the Herberger. "Hopefully the new system will last at least five years or at least a couple of changes in console," he says. With an eye to the future, Gorrell and his team ran 100-base-T twisted-pair category 5 wiring throughout the theatre complex.
Structurally, Gorrell found that the existing drawings for the theatre were not always correct. "We abandoned the existing conduit and did a new install from the ground up," he says. "We did run into some problems of running wiring in an existing building and had to drill into some concrete to penetrate the walls. We also did two theatres, which meant twice as many problems as one." The ethernet runs were planned to be as generic as possible, according to Gorrell, so that they could be used by whichever console manufacturer was selected.
By the time Strand Lighting was chosen to provide the control consoles for both theatres at the Herberger, the ethernet installation had been completed. "We delivered our part of the job in 14 days from the time it was ordered, including the electronic addressing," says Rogers. Each theatre now has two new consoles, which replace Strand Lightpalette 90s. The main console in each space is a Strand 550, with a 520 available for remote programming. "The 520s can float to any of six connections in each theatre," Rogers points out.
These consoles allow the partitioning of control for any given show, so that one designer can work with a board operator on conventional lights on one console and an assistant can work with another board operator independently to program moving lights on the other console, for instance. "At showtime we turn off the partition and just one operator can run the show," says Rogers. "All entries on the 520 are sent to the 550 in real time."
The DMX distribution system at the Herberger includes eight SN103 DMX nodes in each theatre, with four DMX lines per node. These are placed in the theatres at all points where cable is usually run. "These nodes can be assigned any range of numbers to control any desired equipment," says Rogers, who notes that the system at the Herberger is similar to the one recently installed at the San Francisco Opera House, but much smaller.
Other features include a video node for remote video at the stage manager's station. This allows the stage manager to see a video display of the cue sheet at all times. "It cuts down on headset communication," says Rogers, "and the stage manager can see what's happening with the cues." The file server allows a secure place to store show data where various people can have access to it. The technical director can look at what's happening with the system without leaving his office, for example.
Rogers also points out that ethernet cabling is a much more economic solution than DMX cabling. "I'd say there is a 10-to-1 installation savings for ethernet distribution over DMX distribution," he says. "It's also easier for electrical contractors to understand. There's no soldering like with DMX cabling. And you don't need DMX splitters, so there is a hardware savings at the same time." In the case of the Herberger, the single run of ethernet cabling between the consoles and the ethernet nodes represents four runs of DMX cabling. "There is a great cost benefit," says Rogers. "The system worked the first time we plugged it in. That's the amazing thing. Ethernet systems either work 100% or not at all. It's very cool in that sense."
The systems in the two theatres are now identical but separate, each one having two consoles that can be used in any combination of one to four in either space. The file server allows show data to be removed and edited. "The capability to link the two systems is there, and the wire is run but not connected. They could be used in tandem if desired," says Mettes.
"The system is much more flexible than what they had," Rogers confirms. "The concept was to give the two theatres completely interchangeable equipment. The network is easy to expand and can be updated by software. At the same time, the system is cutting-edge for today with lots of room to grow in the future."