Open Forum

Subject: New Theatre Input

1.  New Theatre Input

Posted 08-07-2014 16:47
Hello! My school is building a new Fine Arts Building and I've been developing a list of needs, wants, & desires (the crazy things that just might come through!) Other than the basics (lighting, pulleys, sound, etc) can you please share with me: *what your theatre has that you love and wouldn't want to do without *what you wish your theatre had but doesn't *what classrooms surround your theatre, if any *do you have a construction area *how big is your stage & is it big enough *how much wing space do you have *how many seats do you have *any special lighting you have or would love to have that would be used a lot *how many curtain pulleys *what would you love to have that would make your life so much easier in rehearsals/performances I know there's much more than that, but it just gives you an idea of what I'm looking for. I look forward to hearing all your needs, wants & desires!! ------------------------------------------- Connie Sandoz Theatre Director NV -------------------------------------------

2.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-07-2014 19:19
Your architect should have a GOOD professional theatre consultant helping the architect prepare the plans, and stay in the loop. Doesn't seating depend on use and size of school? Orchestra concerts, chorus, graduation, etc.? ------------------------------------------- Phillip Rayher Director, Theatre Dept. Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts San Francisco CA -------------------------------------------

3.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-08-2014 06:32
Phillip, There will be plenty of seating and it will be used for every public event the school has - concerts, graduation, meetings, etc. I just want to make sure I have everything imaginable on paper for wants, needs, and desires for putting on productions. ------------------------------------------- Connie Sandoz Theatre Director Henderson NV -------------------------------------------

4.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-08-2014 08:55
As Phillip has said, be certain that a theatre consultant is part of this conversation.
If the powers that be are uncomfortable with that, tell them that a consultant will likely save them money in the long run.  

I will add that of all the things you may wish to have, the only thing that can't be added later is space, specifically scene shop, classrooms, costume construction and storage of all kinds. Fight for the space you envision that you will need.

Of things I wish I had (or finally got)....more linesets for rigging, adequate constant power on stage, a company switch to power equipment that uses 240v or when I simply want to add more dimmers, storage for everything from lumber to costumes to lights. Digital audio control and a light board capable of easily controlling newer technologies.
Best Wishes,


Dana Taylor
MSD of Mt. Vernon
Evansville IN

5.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-08-2014 15:16
If you do musicals really push for an orchestra pit, a real pit so many high schools leave that out and then ask the question where do we put the orchestra for our musicals. That is a question I face every musical and it is a real sound shame. ------------------------------------------- Kelly Thomas Mesquite TX -------------------------------------------

6.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-08-2014 15:48
I would also push for a pit. We don't have one and have to purchase VERY expensive tracks every show so we have a decent sound. I know this sounds silly, but make sure you get an apron. My stage doesn't have one and I have had to do some pretty creative staging to work around this issue. 

I would try to get enough dressing/male-up room space to accommodate large casts. I would also see if you can get them to build a well-ventilated area so you can use spray guns when painting. We do have a scene shop and it has a loft area, a paint area, and a room to lock up the dangerous materials. We also have storage shelves for wood, flats, and large(ish) set pieces. 

Shira Schwartz
Chandler Unified School District
Chandler AZ

7.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-09-2014 07:12
A theatre consultant sounds like a good idea. Besides not having an orchestra pit and a backstage sink, there is nothing like renting out the auditorium for a dance recital for 60 little tutus with the only bathroom on the other side of the auditorium. In today's world you don't let tiny little tutus go to the bathroom alone so you have chaperones and little tutus traipsing back and forth down the hallway past the entering audience. ------------------------------------------- Vicki Bartholomew Playwright Sherwood OR -------------------------------------------

8.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-08-2014 19:02
Thanks for the great input so far! There are things I hadn't thought of! I've been working with nothing, literally, for eight years. Everything is brought in - sound, lighting, staging, curtains, etc. A new theatre will be so wonderful. I do know I will miss the creativity it takes to turn nothing into something. As we all know, people walk in and oohh and aahh over sets and costumes, however the problem is they think it just "happens" - especially administration - they do not understand the process - they think we can create miracles! ------------------------------------------- Connie Sandoz Theatre Director Henderson NV -------------------------------------------

9.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-09-2014 22:04
I've found that many companies that offer theatre consulting are staffed by people with no practical and functional experience working in an actual theatre, or they haven't worked in the theatre on an actual show for a long time. Many "Theatre Consultant" websites show that they are system designers and equipment installers with a wide range of experience from churches to halls to home theatres. This does not necessarily indicate that they also have the specialized knowledge to properly outfit a theatre appropriate to its specific functions. Some websites list the consultant's actual theatre experience working on shows, but none of it has been recent. In addition, school districts - to their detriment - usually go with the lowest bidder, who tends to be the companies who will bid any job, and therefore are the ones with the most generalized knowledge. I once spoke to a sound engineer who had designed a system in a theatre I was working in, and he commented how he thought it would be fun to work in a theatre. He had never worked in a theatre, yet he was spec'ing out equipment and systems! There are a lot of things your theatre consultant should be considering if s/he knows anything about theatre. For instance, the most common issue I've come across is whether to spec an analog sound board or a digital sound board. There are pros and cons to both, and the choice depends on the main functional use of the theatre. Will the theatre be primarily used by students who come and go each year (and therefore new trainings are constantly required)? Will there be vocational training for tech students or is your tech done by actors who didn't get a part but just want to be involved? How many students a year will want to learn to be light and sound technicians (some years you have none, some years you have several)? Will the theatre be staffed by professional technicians? Will the technicians run the theatre and/or work with the students? Will the theatre be rented to outside users? Who will staff outside events, professional staff or students? Will outside users expected to be able to run their own lights and sound? Will outside users be permitted to use the theatre's equipment unsupervised? Who will restore the equipment each time in preparation for the next user (school or outside)? The answers to all of these questions will determine whether your Theatre Consultant should spec an analog sound board or a digital sound board. There's a lot of new technology out there, but is state-of-the-art the best thing for your high school. At one high school theatre I worked on they had a (mega overkill, ultra expensive) state-of-the-art light board installed with a complete system of programmable LED lights. It was so complicated that the teachers didn't even know how to do a blackout (all of the lights were programmed to come on when the board was turned on and they didn't know how to turn them off or operate them individually). They hadn't used the theatre's lighting system for the first year and a half of the school's operation, and even though it was eventually simplified, that system will never be used to its full potential in such a preliminary learning environment. This is a classic example of where simpler technology (a "two scene preset" manual board with standard manually focused instruments) trumps state-of-the-art technology in an instructional environment. The design has to be appropriate in the first place before the keys are handed over - the type of equipment installed directly affects the impact of building performance, student learning and faculty retention. As the person who uses your theatre the most, you're the best person to be determining all these details, and hopefully your district is including you in their consulting process. For instance, in the plans of one theatre there were many such issues, such as inappropriate equipment for the functional needs of the theatre being spec'd, doors not being installed in the right place or not at all, the sound board being installed in the booth instead of the house (how can a sound technician hear what the audience is hearing if she's locked in a closet), not enough storage for costumes and props, basic wiring issues such as no headset jacks in the plans for the followspot positions in the catwalks, and many more oversights, including a discovery that there was an $11,000.00 error in the annual lamp budget. If you are lucky enough to be in on the ground floor of the planning and construction of your theatre (if your district will let you!), you can prevent many problems and issues, and correct many of the decisions that are made in the blueprints before they are finalized in concrete and steel, simply because you have a hands-on working knowledge, rather than a theoretical knowledge, of how a high school performing arts center needs to function. PS - about the orchestra pit, push for a hydraulic pit. I've worked with hydraulics and scaffolding and the scaffolding takes four people at least two and a half hours to remove and the same again to restore. It's a pain!!! ------------------------------------------- Elizabeth Rand High School Theatre Consultant Rand Consulting and Design Woodinville WA -------------------------------------------

10.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-10-2014 17:09
The utility of an Orchestra Lift can be very high, particularly if you have an understage storage area. However, I caution against 'Hydraulic' mechanization as they can be prone to long-term maintenance issues. There are other more modern lift mechanisms that do not employ hydraulics that are quiet, stable, reliable, and do not settle or drift due to fluid leakage. Also, be aware that Orchestra Lifts, Orchestra Pits, Orchestra Pit Covers, and orchestra Pit Safety Nets can all present significant personnel hazards and their operation must be very tightly supervised to protect performers, staff, and guests. ------------------------------------------- Erich Friend Theatre Consultant Teqniqal Systems

11.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-09-2014 22:04
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As mentioned by others, politely demanding that the project Architect involve a Theatre Consultant is highly recommended. One thing to check is that the entities retained for consulting are *independent* consultants and do not have any ties to manufacturers, sales, or installation companies. There is a significant difference, and unfortunately, many Architects don't have the ethical compass to know the difference. Don't be afraid to ask for specific information about the Architect's design team. When the vendors design the systems they are rarely properly coordinated with each-other, and there is no one to oversee the fair bidding or proper installation on behalf of the owner (end user). Depending upon the type of consulting firm that is retained, the project may require that more than one consulting firm be involved: Acousticians shape the room so it sounds good. They may work with the stage rigging consultant to mechanize the storage of the ovehead orchestra shell canopy sections. Noise Control engineers work to quiet HVAC and Electrical systems and to isolate noises from traveling from room to room. Sound / Video System designers develop the audio and visual technology tools (PA System, Intercom System, Projection System, Recording Systems, etc.) Stage Rigging Consultants develop the stage machinery (speaker and stage rigging, orchestra pit lifts, movable acoustic panels and/or drapes in conjunction with the acoustician, electric battens in conjunction with the stage lighting). Lighting Consultant develops a system of production lighting, work lighting, house lighting for the performance spaces and technical support spaces that have critical lighting requirements (Dressing / Make-up rooms, Scene Shops, Costume Shops,etc.). Theatre Constultant coordinates the efforts of all the design team to see that their solutions are congruent to the needs of the theatre function. This involves space planning, sightlines, seating layout, colors, and a million little details that would otherwise be left to be designed by people with no clue about how it affects the operation of a theatre plant. The more of these special design disciplines that can be provided under one roof, the better it is for the project, as inter-consultant coordination takes time, and time = money. ------------------------------------------- Erich Friend Theatre Consultant Teqniqal Systems -------------------------------------------

12.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-10-2014 11:15

As stated before a theater consultant is a must - if they are worth their salt they will know about all of the "associated" problems (noise, automation, etc.).  One more point you must consider - get your districts insurance carrier involved ASAP!!!! 

We upgraded rigging at our middle school and wanted to go with a counter weight system and the insurance folks nixed that and emphatically insisted on an electric winch system due to their track record of rigging in schools.  Whatever you build will need to be insured by the district and if you do not consult them you may end up with a space that they will not insure unluess they are consulted and preferences adhered to.  Even if the district changes insurers - any company bidding on insurance will look at the track record to set their bid.

Also you have some excellent theater consultants right in your home state of Nevada - take a field trip to see some of their work as they have done some rather incredible things with spaces that get multiple uses like yours will - and they are currently doing a lot of work world wide!

Hope this helps

Robert Holter
Helena MT

13.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-11-2014 12:08
Hey Connie,

AMEN to the theater consultant, and to the Insurance warning.  Here in California we have a governmental group called the "Division of the State Architect" that protects public schools from lawsuits IF you adhere to their guidelines and rules.

Secondly, Efficiency is the enemy of stagecraft!

All of the weird little corners and spaces that don't make sense on a drawing can be perfect little cubbies and hide holes in the future.  I love the odd shaped rooms in my theater so much!


James Auld
Technical Director
Las Virgenes Unified School District
Agoura Hills CA

14.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-11-2014 11:18
Hi, Connie

I recommend you check out the article "A New Space" by Tarin Chaplin in the Spring 2004 issue of Teaching Theatre at It does a good job of walking you through the whole process, complete with tips on choosing and working with a theater consultant, architect, contractors, etc.

On a personal note, the advice from other posts has been sound. A few things I would recommend from personal experience and my discussions with teachers at various stages of the process:

1. As a rough rule of thumb: try for a back stage area at least 3 times the size of your performance space, Wing and adjacent space will be the single biggest factor in determining the number, size, and functionality of movable set pieces. That could include a shop area if it is easily accessible to the performance area with doors large enough to provide access for set pieces the size you plan to move on and off stage.
2. Opt for the largest shop area you can get. You'll be happiest if it is at least the same size as your performance space, 
3. Max out on storage space. Emphasize that the more space you have, the more platforms, flats, costumes, etc., you can save and recycle or re-purpose. That will save money in lumber and materials (or off-site storage space and transportation fees) as the program grows. If you have enough space, you may also be able to rent pieces to other groups, providing an additional revenue stream.
4. Provide backstage accessible restrooms in the theater area as well as sinks in the dressing rooms. 
5. A janitor's closet is not sufficient for the clean-up needs of a painting crew.  It's best to equip this area as you would for a large art classroom with several sinks, spray nozzles, and special "clay" filters for the drains, drying and storage areas for brushes and rollers, etc.
6. Administrators tend to love beautiful hardwood floors, because they look nice at school presentations and remind them of basketball ;-). Insist on practical flooring that is a) conducive to dancing (not concrete), b), paint-able according to the needs/design of each production, c. has enough space below it to provide access to the performance space from below (trap doors, etc.), and in-floor effects like special lighting and dry-ice fog.
7. Design the house/seating with both acoustics AND sight lines in mind.  Good acoustics will save time, money, and sanity for your sound designers and crew.
8. Pay attention to the HVAC design in your theater. Experienced theater architects and designers should be able to keep the performers comfortable under the stage lights without freezing those in the house and dressing rooms, and you should be able to accomplish reasonable theatrical silence even if the HVAC system is working full force. 
9. Be sure you have easy access to the outside for loading in and out and to sufficient dumpster/recycling space.
9. Don't skimp on ventilation in the dressing rooms. They have unique challenges in terms of managing heat and....freshness.

Hope this helps!

Brian Benz
Membership Manager
Educational Theatre Association
Covington KY

15.  RE: New Theatre Input

Posted 08-14-2014 10:36

We are in our 6th year in our new space. These are the things I have learned that I wish I knew 8 years ago!

BEG for a self-healing floor. I mean beg HARD. To save money, and because "someone" thought it was pretty, we have a floor that is literally a gym floor. It's blonde oak, it's shiny and the only show it works for is Spelling Bee!
Make sure that you have a green room that is accessible to your backstage area without going through the lobby. 
Make sure that there is a way to exit the lightinthg/sound booth without going through the audience.
Do NOT let them close in your tech booth. You need to have your sound equipment out so that your sound kids can hear what is going on. They can create some kind of locked roll top for it. If they INSIST that it has to be a room, insist that they put no window in it. Many of the schools here have a "chain" curtain that keeps everything safe.
Do not let them cut the size of your shop! 
Carve out a place for costume storage AWAY from the sawdust.
Make sure they put makeup lights in the dressing rooms. (seriously, they had to add ours later!)
Ideally, it's great to have, all in a row...a boys bathroom attached to the boys dressing room, a room in the middle for makeup application (this can be your green room), a girls dressing room and then a bathroom attached to the girl's dressing room. The big makeup/greenroom in the middle is accessible from the girl's and the boy's, but it's a place where both sexes can get makeup together. This way, all your makeup is stored in this center area and there will be no reason for the boys to be in the girls dressing room and vice versa!
Have the sound system wired into your dressing rooms, ticket booth and concession stand.
If you have two sections of seating, one "orchestra" and one "balcony," have sound, lighting, video and electrical outlets placed behind the last row of your orchestra. That way, for videoing, special effects, what have you, they have direct access.  No running cables!
Really monitor the fly system installation. We only have 6 motorized battens and three of those are electrics. The one that is most downstage is almost to the mid-draw b/c of where they put the movie screen. So, if we want to scrim something, it's awkward. 
Don't let them put a nice floor between the shop and the stage. Someone will always be complaining about messing it up!
Make sure they give you tall rolling doors into the shop and out of the shop and onto the stage. 
Stagger the seats in the house. Seems simple, but you never know...
If they haven't already designed the stage, make sure you're actors will have easy access if you want to make entrances through the audience or downstage right and left, off the apron.
Make sure that you will be able to LOCK your shop. Things around here have a way of being borrowed, but never making it back to the shop.
Are they giving you storage for set pieces that you keep, like stairs and platforms? If not, you will really need it and if you're now building for a bigger area, you'll need all the space you can get in your shop and you won't want to be storing stuff in there, as well.
If they are going to outfit your shop with equipment and work benches, I have a lot of info and pictures to share on some awesome designs my kids did this year. (When we moved in, they gave us nothing but sinks!) Email me and I'll send you pictures. I'm going to put the whole thing in the library, but that's going to take me a while and they kids are not quite done yet.
Oh, you MUST have at least two sinks in the shop. Three would be better if you teach stagecraft at your school. They don't have to be expensive, they just need to be deep! 
I hope all this helps! Feel free to email me and good luck with it all!

Connie Voight
Randolph School
Huntsville AL