A fading Atlantic City theatre gets a second wind courtesy of a $9.2 million renovation
When Harrah's Entertainment bought Caesars Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City a little over two years ago, it inherited the Circus Maximus Theatre, a former gem of a space that had become a specter of its nearly 30-year-old self. Everything about the theatre was archaic, from its traditional Las Vegas “tables and chairs” type venue to its out-of-date audio gear. Something had to be done to bring the theatre into the millennium and attract the higher end performers coveted by its new management.
Following a $9.2 million renovation, including a conversion to rack-style seating (which also involved increasing the seating capacity from 1,100 to 1,600) and the installation of new plush curtains and an enormous chandelier, the long overdue equipment renovation commenced (approximately $1.3 million of the total cost went to sound and lighting systems). According to Jim Esher, technical manager of entertainment for Harrah's Atlantic City Region, which also runs three other hotels and casinos — Bally's, Showboat, and Harrah's in addition to Caesar's — the gear overhaul was necessary. “Aside from tired and outdated equipment, it was important for us to insure that, moving forward, we not only target equipment that would significantly enhance the sound and appearance of the room but would also be artist-requested,” he says. Among the artists the management was interested in booking into the space were Grammy Award winners Sheryl Crow and Carrie Underwood. (Underwood performed at the theatre's reopening on Memorial Day Weekend in May 2007, while Crow performed in October.)
Esher, who had been with Bally's for 25 years prior to its acquisition by Harrah's two years ago, worked on the project as a head designer, with the theatre's front-of-house engineer Paul Swenson, monitor engineer Dave Wink, stage manager Ken Herman, lead LD Michael Bliss, and lighting technician Nick Garofolo all offering major input. “It was a joint venture,” explains Esher. “Obviously, with something of this nature, it was very important to me to make certain that the entire Caesar's tech team had input into the systems and venue they would be responsible for.”
Esher says another reason for the audio and lighting renovation was that “it was time. With the theatre's entire front-of-house being renovated, this created the need to redesign the sound and lighting as well. We finished renovating the entire second level of the casino earlier this year, and to not complete the technical renovations during the construction process would have been senseless and acoustically detrimental to the project.”
Although some of the conventional lighting was operational and left alone, the audio equipment was hopelessly antiquated. “The audio was old,” laughs Esher. “It was an old AMEK Recall, and the speaker system was an old Hi Pak/Low Pak Maryland Sound System, probably somewhere in the vicinity of 15 years old.” Most of the sound system has been replaced, except for the monitor system, which has been regularly updated and maintained.
When it came to choosing a new audio console, there was much debate about whether to go the digital or analog route. Although a lot of discussion focused on Yamaha, Digidesign, and DiGiCo, three brands Esher refers to as “premier,” the team ultimately went digital and picked the two DiGiCo D5s, one for front-of-house and the other for the monitors. These are mirrored with the front-of-house console tied to a redundant engine.
“Throughout history in an analog world, the tech riders were consistent,” says Esher. “You were asked to provide a 4K or a Midas, and those were pretty much the standards. I believe, in the digital world, it's really the preference of the operator and what the operator feels most at home being behind. In my opinion, an industry standard has not surfaced in the digital domain.”
“When we decided to rebuild the theatre from a sound point, we wanted to build it to be rider-friendly,” Esher continues. “We didn't want to continuously put speakers up and down, consoles in and out, things of that nature. So when we began this project, one of the first things we did was take the riders from the past two years and put them on a table in front of us and then compare them to the riders of all the upcoming acts that we were looking at, like Carrie Underwood and Sheryl Crow.”
After much examination, the team honed in on the DiGiCo's D5s. These specific consoles, from a technical vantage point, have touch panel LCD strips per channel as opposed to one large monitor, four MADI groups and 38 configurable output busses. Esher and company also liked its physical size and features, which they felt were more user-friendly to touring acts. Plus, the team found the overall service at DiGiCo to be excellent.
In addition to the D5s, the audio infrastructure was outfitted with a fiber optic backbone and Cisco network, Crown amplifiers, a complete JBL VerTec line array system, and new delays in the back of the house for the seating area.
Though the lighting system did not undergo a complete overhaul, there were still some significant tweaks made. “Like all the other theatres, we have the conventional PARs, ETC ellipsoidals, and so forth,” notes Esher. “Those were pretty much left alone. Prior to the renovation, we owned some moving lights. We grew that inventory during the renovation.”
Among the lighting instruments that were added to the theatre's arsenal were 10 Martin Professional MAC 700 Profiles, eight Martin MAC 700 Washes, four Vari-Lite VL3000s, 10 Coemar PARLite LEDs, and two Martin Atomic Strobes. Also included was an ETC Insight 3 lighting console. “These were perceived cumulatively to be the fixtures that gave us the most bang for our buck of the industry standards,” explains Esher.
The project ran for over four months. Although Esher anticipates that some more equipment might be added to the inventory in the future, for the most part, the bulk of the renovation has been completed. In the meantime, he and his team are delighted with the results. “This is a 180° turn,” exults Esher. “We could not be happier.”
CIRCUS MAXIMUS THEATRE GEAR
2 DiGiCo D5 Version 4 2X Live with Redundant Engine and P/S
1 DiGiCo D5 X-DR-HMA Stage Rack with Fiber
2 DiGiCo Local Rack with Fiber
2 DBX4800 Drive Rack
2 Summit Audio TLA-100A Compressor
1 Avalon AD2044 Compressor
1 360 Systems - Instant Replay
6 Crown I-Tech 8000
16 Crown I-Tech 6000
7 Crown I-Tech 4000
16 JBL VerTec VT4889
12 JBL VerTec VT4880
4 JBL VerTec VT4887
4 JBL PD5322/64
6 JBL MS28
4 Sennheiser SKM5200 Wireless with KK105 Capsule
2 Sennheiser EM3032 Receiver
LIGHTING, VIDEO, AND RIGGING
1 ETC Insight 3 Console
10 Martin Professional MAC 700 Profile
8 Martin Professional MAC 700 Wash
2 Martin Professional Atomic Strobe
2 Martin Professional Atomic Colors
10 Coemar PARLite LED
4 Vari-Lite VL3000
2 Eiki LC-X6A Video Projector
2 Eiki AH21091 Zoom Lens
2 Da-Lite Motorized 9';12' Screens
4 Tomcat 16"×16"×10' Truss Sections
4 Tomcat 16"×16"×5' Truss Sections
2 Tomcat 16"×16" articulating corner blocks