When approaching the David H. Koch Theatre (pronounced "coke") at Lincoln Center, a huge light wall draws you into the glass entrance and box office lobby, and into a venue that recently experienced its most expansive renovation since it opened in 1964 as the New York State Theater. New York City Ballet and New York City Opera coordinated this renovation jointly. New side aisles redefine the look of the main floor, while many other improvements are to the technical systems, orchestra lift, and acoustics.
In the spring of 2007, New York City Opera started talks with New York City Ballet, engaging initial consultants and starting renovation planning. Late that year a feasibility study was started and completed in November. In mid-December both companies committed to proceeding with development and established financial parameters. The consultants (to name a few) were Schuler and Shook, theater consultants, JaffeHolden, acousticians, and JCJ architects.
Barbizon Lighting already had a long-standing relationship with the theatre and provided the lighting system, including dimming, control, company switches, fixtures, and installation and integration services to the theatre. The company's project management team in New York (Brian Dunn, project manager, and T. Luczak, system sales) worked closely with Polo Electric and ETC to supply, deliver, install, energize, test, and program the dimming and control system that incorporated 21 dimmer racks, seven control equipment racks, more than 2,000 circuits, as well as hundreds of terminations for the network, ETC Paradigm system, and cue lighting control.
Michael Moody, former production manager at the Manhattan Theatre Club, interviewed some of the technical people, designers, and consultants involved. This Q&A offers key responses from those interviews:
Michael Moody: So your team developed most of the changes and guided them through to fruition?
Christopher Sprague, Schuler and Shook: Yes, we worked with the architects and did a lot of mockups, and specified systems with input from the ballet and the opera, who worked together like never before. We were asked by both companies to do a very fast facelift beginning in October 2007. The Opera brought to the table making the orchestra pit movable and larger. The power for the building and the dimmers were all in the basement where the old dimmers lived. For the new layout, a lot of power in the basement had to run up to the roof and back down to the new dimmers. The circuits had to run upstairs where the positions are located, and first we had to run a new system, which ended up being a whole new duplicate system which was redundant until the last minute when we flipped it over to the new system. In June of 2009 we had to make sure that the new system was going to work before we demolished the old system before the deadline of November 5.
Michael Moody: How was the project managed in keeping with the Ballet schedule?
Ken Tabachnick, former general manager, New York City Ballet: From April 2008 to June 2008, New York City Ballet performed its Spring Season. In Spring 2008, the initial project parameters were set, and scope set for first dates of construction. During Fall 2008 (July through November), initial construction and infrastructure undertaken, then November 2007 through January 2008 New York City Ballet performed Nutcracker and its Winter Season, while additional projects were contemplated in scope of work. February 2008 through April 2008 was the second construction window, when the decision was made to add orchestra aisles. April 2009 through June 2009 New York City Ballet performed its Spring Season. July 2009 through October 2009, major construction work completed. November 2009 New York City Opera performed its Fall Season.
Michael Moody: What were the main changes in terms of lighting?
Mark Stanley, resident lighting designer, New York City Ballet: We needed to upgrade the old dimmers. We had 200 10kW Kleigl dimmers dating from 1963. Now have 2000 ETC Sensor dimmers (circuit per dimmer) located in two positions: half are in the basement (four floors below street level) where the old Kleigl dimmers where, and the other half are behind the followspot booth. We had to run conduit from the basement up the back wall of the theatre to the followspot booth, then run the circuits back to the stage via the ceiling, above the drop ceiling in the theatre….
This is a huge improvement for repertory, considering what we used to have to do with the old Kleigl patch panel. Now its all soft patch. We also got a balcony rail, new box boom positions, and new side rail positions on three levels tucked under the side balconies.
Michael Moody: In any large renovation at the State Theater, acoustics was a major concern….
Mark Holden of JaffeHolden Acoustics: I think the very first thing we did was try to understand the goal of both the Ballet and the Opera. The Ballet felt that their voice had not been adequately heard regarding the acoustics. And that everything had been Opera focused. [We had to] understand what the Ballet wanted to approve and didn't want to approve, what were the issues? Well that was an exploratory process that took us a few weeks and meetings with many members of the Ballet, Peter Martins.
One key meeting was with George Steel, general manager and artistic director of New York City Opera, to determine his goals, dreams, aspirations and passions... No one has ever asked those questions, It had been approached more mechanically, like a technical mission project, rather than from a more holistically and emotional standpoint.
We had to document the State Theatre with more measurements to understand the plaster, the backstage, and the stage floor. We held a series of additional meetings to get everything in priority order. We took some readings on the walls and one of the things we had discovered was that the hall was not as bright or clear. It had presence certainly at the high-end and there were certain areas of the room that were better than others, it wasn't a terrible room.
The Ballet was concerned mainly about "footfalls,” a very Balanchine-esque concept: that the girls be very quiet, especially so their toe shoes do not sound like a herd of elephants.
The floor at the Koch and floors like it have the ability to absorb the impact of the hard shoes on the deck, and it's very good at doing that. The deck is a very important part of the room and to a lesser part the hall. The room did not support the sound of the toe shoes very well at all. That was the Ballet’s major concern.
The Ballet also felt their pit orchestra was not projecting as well as it could into the auditorium. And that was a shared concern with the Opera, who also felt the orchestra was not as clear and as bright as it could be, or should be. At the same time, the Opera wanted to make sure that the voices would carry in the room; that's one of their big issues.
Given that we understood all of that, and that we'd measured the toe shoes with microphones and with level meters as well as measured dancers dancing, with all that data we were able to acoustically model some improvements to the hall, which would allow for both improvements for the Ballet and the Opera.
Michael Moody: What’s new in the sound department:
Abe Jacob, head of sound, Koch Theater: I deal with video and sound. I was here for the last two of the three phases—in the first phase we got some of the heavy construction done. The second phase was putting in the video media suite, the lighting system, and the new orchestra pit and running new wire all across the building replacing all the wiring that was destroyed in the first part of the renovation. Any of the lighting and the sound control wiring that went through the orchestra pit was all destroyed.
Michael Moody: What do you think of the new system?
Abe Jacob: The improvements to room are actually quite good for the most part. It has increased the apparent reverberation time. There is more liveliness to the room from taking out the carpeted walls and putting in new chairs and removing the carpet in the aisles: adding aisles with no carpet has given this theater more surfaces to reverberate from. The new orchestra pit has a much more unified whole sound for the orchestra.
Michael Moody: What happened with the acoustic panels?
Abe Jacob: The temporary MDS panels, at the end of all the rings, were removed, and there are new acoustic walls built further back from the audience. They're not quite as visible and awkward, which opens up sidelines and do help significantly bounce the orchestra and the vocals back at the audience. These panels are right at the edge of the ring close to the proscenium.
The system from Acoustical Control Systems—the company from the Netherlands, a.k.a. ACS—was a temporary measure to increase reflections and reverberations in the Hall. It is disconnected at the present time, because of the success of the architectural renovations. The hardware is still there, the wiring for all the speakers is still there, and the speakers have been moved: they have not been thrown away. The system could be used in the future for special effects or surround sound, or as a reinforcement system rather than the architectural system it was designed for originally.
The major thing that we did sound-wise was put in a new console in the new sound booth, which was decreased in size by half, to accommodate a wheelchair lift for ADA requirements. We went to a digital console, and installed a DiGiCo SD 8. The board can do everything the old one did but it's half the footprint. Integrating that with the existing sound system was a major function, at least for us.