TheStage at TheTimesCenter is a jewel box of a theatre, with cherry walls and ceiling, rich red Italian opera seats, a white oak floor, and blond walnut stage. Located in New York City, at 41st Street and Eighth Avenue, TheTimesCenter is part of The New York Times Building, a new 52-story structure designed by noted Italian architect Renzo Piano as the new home for The New York Times. The sophisticated architecture adds a transparent new skyscraper to the landscape of Times Square.
“As you enter the building from Eighth Avenue, you see two large marigold walls and a hallway with an art installation on the sidewalls, which is titled Musical Type, two walls with tiny video screens with letters moving across them, and a soundtrack of typing,” notes Abbe Ruttenberg Serphos, public relations director for The New York Times. The marigold plaster walls are actually five layers of plaster, with the last three having marble dust of a different color rubbed into each surface. These walls are located on all outside surfaces, so you can see them through the glass.
Inside the structure, an open-air, glassed-in core runs through the length of the building. This grassy area has birch trees, and through the trees, you see into TheTimesCenter. “The whole notion of transparency was key to the design — you can see right through from 41st Street to 40th Street,” adds Serphos.
John Bredehorst, project manager for Flack + Kurtz, engineering consultants for the project, confirms, “All of the building structure is exposed steel — painted gray — and glass, with steel scrim supported by pipes that go up the entire length of the building. The pipes pick up the heat and cool of the season, and the mechanical systems use that energy to help them heat and cool the building.
“The pipes and steel scrim also divert the sun into the mechanical systems as needed. There are automatic programmed shades that are for the sunlight to stop glaring sun or let daylight in at different times of the day and year,” Bredehorst continues. All of The New York Times Building has below-floor HVAC, allowing for easy office changes in the future and making this a totally green building although not LEED certified.
TheStage, a state-of-the-art space with 378 seats, opened last fall. In keeping with the overall transparency of the building, the performance venue has a back wall of glass that looks out into the central core and the birch trees. The wall also allows those outside to look into the space when all the shades are open. Blackout screens or a translucent covering can be used to mask the windows for performances. The architectural concept was a series of cubes: the lobby, the courtyard, and the theatre, in a row, with the theatre as a jewel box to echo the cube shape of the lobby and the courtyard.
The space is designed for small theatrical performances and recitals, as well as film and video presentations, plus live broadcasts. “We have video everywhere, and we can direct it anywhere in the entire building,” says Ryan McMahon, director of operations. “There is an archival camera in the booth. It is robotic, and we can move it around via remote control to pick up whatever you need around the theatre.”
AMX panels control all the video and screens in the space. “You can also do some different lighting looks from this panel,” adds McMahon. “There are five locations for the AMX control panels, one on stage right, two in the booth, one downstairs, and one in my office.” The AMX panels also control the shades on the glass back wall. “There are three looks,” McMahon explains. “There is a blackout drop, which is vinyl, and solar shades, which are layers of vinyl scrim where you can see through to Eighth Avenue. These are the same shades that are throughout the building.”
There is one large screen — measuring 25' wide × 12.5' high — by Stewart Filmscreen Corporation, which can fly in against the back wall, with or without the blackout screen in place. “We have a Barco RLM RG+ Performer digital projector,” notes McMahon. “Whatever digital format they bring in, we can play it. We do so many different types of events; we do jazz concerts, dance concerts, meetings, and almost any kind of music.” To meet the needs of this kind of flexible performance schedule, a rep plot was designed for the stage lighting with an ETC system centered around an Expression console. PRG Lighting supplied the lighting gear and the AMX control panels.
“The first four electrics we can easily get to with the Genie lift. For the rest of the electrics, we have to use the ladder,” McMahon points out. “We can refocus as needed.” There are eight camera positions in the space, with cable at each location that runs to the loading dock for an outdoor video truck. There is also a 400A disconnect box at the loading dock for a video truck and a second 400A service backstage for additional gear, such as automated fixtures or TV lighting that might be brought into the space.
As the lead theatre consultant for the project, Robert Campbell, principal-in-charge at Fisher Dachs Associates, explains the result of discussions about the design. “The first thing that came out was that the stage was never going to be deep enough to do the kind of dance they wanted to do,” he says. “We put a depression at the front, so that if they wanted to have the deeper stage, they could take out three rows of seats and then have an extension on the stage. This added flexibility. We put in a lighting system to do full-scale productions, with a multitude of lighting positions. The most difficult thing for us was integrating the lighting positions with the audio positions.” The seat count is 378 — they wanted it to be as close to 400 as possible — with seats by Poltrona Frau, based on a design that Piano did for the Morgan Library.
In terms of the lighting positions, Adam Huggard, project manager for Fisher Dachs, adds, “The room is one big box with no hidden places for positions,” he says. “Instead, there is an array of linear horizontal lighting pipes dead-hung on the ceiling and some shorter vertical pieces on the walls. The lighting is as wide open as possible, given the constraints of the room. The pipes are used for lighting and video gear, as well as for the electronic reinforcement system, which alters the acoustics of the room using microphones and loudspeakers.” The architecture of the room does not allow for moveable acoustic panels or drapes.
The acousticians for TheStage, Jaffe Holden Acoustics, met with some specific challenges set by the architect in designing the electronic architecture for the room. “We went through many scenarios trying to edit just what we could use in this space,” says Russell Cooper, principal designer for Jaffe Holden. “We couldn't get the level of reverberation that we would normally want for chamber music, so the architects and The New York Times decided the room was just going to be for speech. We went into construction, and The New York Times hired a programming consultant firm who asked what the room was capable of, acoustically. He called us, and we said, ‘Well, it's a lecture hall.’ He knew that we had the ERES system in our toolbox.”
To make TheStage more than just a lecture hall, Jaffe Holden's ERES (Electronic Reflected Energy System) solved many of the acoustic challenges. “It's kind of a mixed acoustic bag, so the ERES is on the lighting pipes and throughout the room,” says Cooper. “Microphones and speakers are also spread out through the room where you can't see them, and it works. They can change the reverberation time; normally, it's about 7/10 of a second, and the highest setting is about two seconds. We did a series of two rehearsals before the opening and had various types of artists in — piano and voice, string orchestra, voice, violin, and brass. We ended up with about five settings, and so far, it seems to be working well. We also changed some of the architecture to make it more diffusive. All those cherry panels have perforations in them, and behind some of them is acoustic material, and behind some of that, there's nothing. These soft/hard materials alternate around the room to balance the acoustic signature.”
Harvey Marshall Berling Associates designed the audio and video systems, with the gear provided and installed by Ace Audio Visual. “The audio system was designed to accommodate jazz, voice reinforcement, and surround sound,” notes David Harvey, principal at Harvey Marshall Berling Associates.
TheTimesCenter in itself is gorgeous — a state-of-the-art environment for any company that uses the space — and in the end, it is well equipped to do almost any media event or small-scale live performance.
TheStage at TheTimesCenter
SELECTED LIGHTING GEAR
1 ETC Expression Console
6 ETC Source Four 26° Ellipsoidal
42 ETC Source Four 36° Ellipsoidal
12 ETC Source Four Zoom 25°-50° Ellipsoidal
24 ETC Source Four PAR EA
12 ETC Source Four B-size Pattern Holder
14 Strand Bambino 1kW Fresnel
48 6" Tophats for Source Four
12 3" Tophats for Source Four
24 Barndoor for Source Four PAR
SELECTED AUDIO GEAR
EAW and Meyer Loudspeakers
1 24-Channel Midas Venice 320 Mixing Console
4 Shure ULX24/57Wireless Microphone
8 Shure MX418 SE/C Microphone
1 Shure MX418 S/C Microphone
10 DPA 4060-Bm Microphone
1 Denon DN-T625 CD/Cassette Combination
1 Barco RLM RG+ Performer Projector
1 Stewart Filmscreen Corporation Screen 25'×12.5'