Over 100 axes of automation control and machinery have been installed at London’s celebrated Royal Festival Hall (RFH) at Southbank Center, transforming the functional properties of the venue. ISG Interior Exterior, the main contractor for this project, hired Stage Technologies to design, manufacture, and install the over-stage suspension machinery and control system, as well as the control systems for the stage elevators and the variable acoustic elements.

A busy venue with many performances only a few days or less, the production staff must often do the load-in, rehearsals, performance, and load-out all in a single day. One major refurbishment carried out at the Royal Festival Hall over the last few years added to the infrastructure in order to make this process easier and quicker, while adding to the flexibility of the venue. Stage Technologies worked with theatre consultants Carr & Angier, the South Bank Center management, and architects Allies and Morrison to develop the scheme now been implemented.

Just five Solo handheld controllers running Stage Technologies’ Chameleon software control the huge number of moving elements inside the RFH. The small portable controllers offer an interface that allows the stage crew to operate the system from the most suitable location by connecting to one of the many control points located around the venue. The Solo controllers also offer variable speed moves and synchronized groups.

During the refurbishment the auditorium ceiling and all the services above it were completely stripped and the 1950s asbestos was removed, creating a new working space over the stage area. The floor of this attic is formed of precast concrete planks with many openings to allow suspension and electrical cables to be lowered. Suspended above this technical floor is a network of secondary steel supporting the winches that move the equipment suspended below.

Four large movable, lighting bridges were installed in the Hall, three of which can also be traversed up- and down- stage. Concert lighting bars are attached to the three traversing bridges and these can be lowered to stage floor lever for crew to position platform lighting to maintain a safe working height. The Solo controllers make it possible to synchronize a number of axes for load sharing and use the combined lifting capacity of the bridges. This is extremely useful for lifting large mother trusses for a touring production and increases the range of events that can be staged without the need for lots of custom rigging. Further over-stage suspensions are provided by three hoists for loudspeaker clusters that can be moved up- and down- stage to set the optimum position. There are also three flying bars provided just in front of the refurbished organ for suspension of drapes or lighting equipment. All the flown items are wired with a mixture of lighting circuits, audio, and data circuits for maximum production flexibility. To help the technical staff move production equipment into the attic, a goods hoist was fitted that descends from the center of the ceiling in the auditorium to ground level where equipment can be wheeled on and off.

Three large acoustic reflectors (specified by Kirkegaard Associates) were also installed. These can be raised, lowered, and changed in angle from near horizontal to near vertical in order to change the acoustic properties of the Hall. In addition to the three reflectors, there are 32 roller banners, 3 concertina banners, and 10 tapestries that can all be deployed. These variable acoustic elements were provided by J&C Joel.

Delstar Engineering supplied 11 lifts to form the stage platform. These allow the stage layout to be reconfigured in many ways to suit the nature of the performance taking place. Each lift is driven by two motors so that if, in the unlikely event, either motor fails, the lift can still be moved using the other. Two small lifts are also provided in the auditorium to create a small pit for a sound desk when needed.