Open Forum

Questions in Building a Theater

  • 1.  Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-24-2019 10:32
    Here's an open call for anyone who has taken part in either:
    • Building a brand new theater building
    • "Flipping" a non-theater building to become a theater building

    I have questions, including probably some questions I should have but don't know enough to ask. I ask that, if you are willing and able to provide some advice (or know of someone else who might be), to comment here or PM me. Thanks in advance!

    jkauffman@winfield.k12.al.us

    ------------------------------
    Josh Kauffman
    Teacher
    Winfield AL
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-24-2019 11:42
    Hi Josh - if you're not familiar with controlbooth.com, you will also find some great advise and some experienced designers there as well.

    ------------------------------
    Ken Buswell
    Drama Teacher
    Peachtree City, GA
    http://mcintoshtheater.org/

    Theater kills ignorance
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-24-2019 12:29

    Hi Josh. I have had the privilege of managing my current facility for 15 years now. I came on board for the last several months of the construction process,a nd have been on ever since. I have also consulted on 6 other facilities; all for seconday schools or colleges. I'd be happy to speak with you. Feel free to email me Dsimpson@ecsd.us.

    I also second Controlbooth.com. I have been a moderator there for years. It is a great resource.

    ~Dave



    ------------------------------
    David Simpson
    Performing Arts Center Manager
    East China Schools
    East China MI
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-24-2019 13:44
    Count me in. Back in my architecture days, I consulted on several, and, afterwards in my themed entertainment days, on a few more. Glad to help. Ask away.

    georgefl38@gmail.com

    ------------------------------
    George F. Ledo
    Set designer
    www.setdesignandtech.wordpress.com
    www.georgefledo.net
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-25-2019 08:06
    I'd like to follow this discussion. My school has a shovel hitting the dirt in may for a new building and I have had the opportunity to be part of the design process but will need advice on the soft goods (consoles, electrics, etc.)
    Thanks!

    kcardall@mountdesales.org

    ------------------------------
    Kelly Cardall
    Theatre Arts
    Health and PE Chair
    Mount de Sales Academy
    Baltimore, MD
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-25-2019 08:46
    I would love to be a part of this! we have a theater that's in the gym and you know how athletics can be. We are looking at building a new building in 2020!

    kbourget@andreanhs.com

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    Kelly Bourget
    Schererville IN
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  • 7.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-25-2019 10:03
    I'll definitely check out controlbooth - Looks like it will be useful for a whole lot more than just this question.

    I'll put my first question out here, for the benefit of the others who are looking at flipping spaces.

    If I had a building that isn't currently a theater but could be, with some renovation, what are the most important things to consider in the renovation?

    On my radar currently are basics, like:
    • Structural (no roof leaks, correct amount of emergency exits, etc)
    • Insulation/Atmosphere (heating/AC and so forth)
    • Lighting (structure to hang lights, dimmer control, equipment)
    • Sound (same, but with speakers)
    • Seating
    • Arranging the space (creating a workable stage space, wings, etc)
    • Lobby
    • Bathrooms/plumbing
    • Storage space
    • Shop space (scenic, costume, prop)
    • Dressing rooms

    .....good God, I keep having "oh and this" thoughts. I'm sure I'm missing something, and I'm not sure of the right order of priorities. Not to mention, who will do the work and where does the money come from.

    This is all hypothetical at the moment, but I'm looking into a future where this might be a real possibility, and I want to go into it as prepared as I can be.

    ------------------------------
    Josh Kauffman
    Teacher
    Winfield AL
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-25-2019 12:45
    I'd like to follow the discussion, as well. My current space begins renovation in June. The main part of the renovation involves getting the seating area up to code for ADA. However, there will be changes/updates to the sound system, lighting system and access to our catwalk. I've had some input, but I hope I learn things so that items don't go unmentioned. Thanks for starting the discussion.

    ------------------------------
    Kevin Welsh
    Auditorium Director
    Columbus IN
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 02-10-2019 00:24
    Hi Josh,

    I'm a theatre consultant, so my full time job is working on the design of performing arts spaces. I'm happy to be a resource for you as you start thinking about this journey.

    When you're thinking about a renovation (or new build), the very first thing you should ask yourself and your group is what it is you want to do in the space. For example: will you use the space for teaching, rehearsal, or production? How many performers? How many audience members? What type of performances will you stage? What is the audience-performer relationship (end stage or in-the-round, immersive or fourth wall)? Start with understanding what you want to do in the facility and the goals and mission of your organization. Then consider how the facility can serve those.

    After you have an idea, then you can start working through some of the more "practical" questions. You'll want to get an idea of budget and cost early and throughout. Where does the money come from is a great question - what resources do you have available to you? What are your typical funding sources? What is your fundraising capacity?

    There are certainly many things to consider, and I agree with others who have recommended getting help from experts. I'm happy to discuss further!


    ------------------------------
    Kimberly Corbett Oates, ASTC
    Schuler Shook Theatre Planners
    Dallas TX
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-25-2019 13:42
    I participated in the building of a new high school and theatre.  My technical director has also been involved in renovations and building. Glad to help.
    CAthy





  • 11.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 01-28-2019 13:53
    It's so great that your school has joined the bandwagon and is putting money into a new theatre facility!

    The most important thing is to be sure you have someone with a theatre background will review construction documents and make recommendations to improve functionality.  "Muggles" (architects and administrators) simply don't have theatrical experience – which is not surprising when you think that when they go to see a show all they see is the polished 'magic' performance from a seat in the audience.

    I can only speak to lighting, but here's an excerpt for you from my book "High School Theatre Lighting for Architects":

    "Because theatrical lighting is such a specialty architects, contractors or school districts will sometimes hire "lighting designer/consultants" to design their theatre's stage lighting system. But even this is not a panacea, because many companies that offer theatrical lighting consulting today are operated by people with no practical and functional experience designing stage lighting.  In fact, a lot are from the home theatre or places of worship industries.   Or, they worked in the theatre a long time ago, started their company, and haven't worked in the theatre since.  Many of them have no practical or current experience in stage lighting.  If you look at the websites of many theatre consultants, you will see that they are system designers and equipment installers with a wide range of experience working in churches, halls and home theatres.  This does not necessarily indicate that they also have the specialized knowledge to properly design a live theatrical lighting system appropriate to its specific functions, let alone one specialized for a high school situation. In addition, school districts and other organizations – to their long-term detriment - usually go with the lowest bidder, who tends to be the one who will bid any job, and therefore is the one with the most generalized knowledge.

    "There are bona fide lighting designer/consultants out there.  Be sure that any lighting designer/consultant you work with is a member of at least one of the following organizations:
    ASTC - American Society of Theatre Consultants
    IALD – International Association of Lighting Designers
    IES – Illuminating Engineering Society

    "Within those organizations, look for people who are theatrical lighting specialists who periodically work in the theatre setting and don't just sit at a desk all day.  Also look for lighting specialists who specialize in live performance venues."

    Your district should also be looking to the future, after the doors open, and considering the very real probability that your theatre will need to be staffed by a Theatre Manager and professional technicians (lighting, sound and rigging).  I've seen too many school districts taken by surprise once their theatre opens and they soon discover that they need to staff the facility. Even if there are no outside rentals and it's "only" the school's performing arts department and other school groups who are going to be the users of your theatre, your theatre will be operating like a "roadhouse" and staffing is essential for monitoring and supervision for safety, building preservation, operational functionality and educational training.

    Too many districts assume that the Drama teacher can take care of managing a theatre (in their spare time?) and that the students can staff the events – including outside events (there's a reason they're called students). Once a new theatre is built or one is remodeled, following is a list of duties that a Drama teacher can suddenly be saddled with: scheduling, production meetings, safety, employee (technicians) or student crew management, training students, administration and record keeping, polices and procedures, budgeting and finances, technical support, equipment and supply ordering and maintenance, marketing and outreach, innovation and future planning. This is a full time job – you need a Theatre Manager.

    In addition to a Theatre Manager your district should prepare to hire technicians as well. I realize that this is a "gold standard", but when you consider the staffing model of an entire sports program in a high school you find that it's not unreasonable.  As well as running shows, professional technicians also make great mentors for your students.  They have the education and real world knowledge of the subject.  They are also your "life guards" who watch over the students, yell at them to 'stop running', and are ready to dive in if there's trouble. On the PRESETT website there are some examples of "gold standard" high school theatres – you can check them out at  http://www.presett.org/gold-standard-schools.html.

    It's great that you are looking for advice for building your facility, but I also can't recommend strongly enough that your district be prepared ahead of time to hire a Theatre Manager and professional technicians once the theatre is built (before the doors open if possible).

    ------------------------------
    Beth Rand, EBMS
    Educational Lighting Designer
    School Theatre Operations Coach

    www.PRESETT.org
    - LIGHTING INSTITUTE FOR THEATRE TEACHERS - ONLINE MINI COURSES (ask for complimentary syllabus)
    - HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE OPERATIONS ONLINE COURSE FOR TEACHERS (ask for complimentary syllabus)
    - HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE OPERATIONS BOOKS and COMPLIMENTARY ARTICLE DOWNLOADS
    - THE ECLECTECH SHOPPE

    beth@PRESETT.org
    Westminster, CO
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 02-11-2019 04:19

    There are many experienced Theatre Consultants that follow this web site, myself included, and we would all love to get involved with your projects, however, before that can happen you need to develop trust and understanding with your administration so they will listen to you when you ask them to involve a Theatre Consultant and Acoustician.  These skill sets are hard to come by and require lots of experience not just in theatre, but in understanding the construction process and how all the other building systems evolve in a design.

    Good consultants can guide your design team so they create a space that is sensitive to the arts and not "just another school building".  Theatres and their surrounding support spaces have very unique requirements to make them functional for the users while still satisfying the necessary building codes.  Most architects and engineers just don't 'get' theatre and as result they sometimes listen to product manufacturers for (biased) advice rather than having systems designed for the unique needs of your facility.  An independent consultant can bring the needs you have together with knowledge of a vast array of technologies to get you a well defined construction package that your school district can get competitively bid.  They also provide oversight of the shop drawings and installation work to see that the owner is actually getting what they paid for.

    You are correct, the list you started is just an inkling if what is to come.  Although the broad definitions of what you need are important, and are a great first step, the reality is that "the devil is in the details".  Lots of details.  Understanding how to define the infrastructure needed to support good theatre and good theatre systems is a key part of what we bring to the table.

    One of the most overlooked aspects of planning is sometimes the site selection for a venue.  This is determining where the building sits relative to the surrounding buildings and how both the audience and the staff / crew / roadshow truck(s) will access it.  A land-locked stage is a miserable place to try to load a show into.  And a theatre lobby buried in the mass of a larger building can be difficult to find and uninviting to the visiting audience.

    Please feel free to reach out to the professionals in the community as we are all interested in your project and your business.  The fear of hiring someone from out of town should be cast aside, as we are all experienced travelers and can keep expenses to a minimum.  Most of use work on more projects far outside of our hometown than we do nearby --- and this is a good thing, as it give us a broader perspective as to how the theatre world is evolving so we can bring that knowledge back to your project(s).



    ------------------------------
    Erich Friend
    Theatre Consultant
    Teqniqal Systems
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 02-11-2019 09:13
    Erich is absolutely correct in that very often architects and engineers don't really have a good understanding of how the buildings are used and that they do tend to get influenced by product manufacturers. I can tell you that from personal experience during fifteen years in the architecture field -- including a few theater projects. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part it's a function of how they are trained: volume, mass, form, what the building looks like and how it fits into the surrounding area. Many buildings are designed "from the outside in" instead of "from the inside out."

    So yes, a qualified theater consultant can be invaluable.

    ------------------------------
    George F. Ledo
    Set designer
    www.setdesignandtech.wordpress.com
    www.georgefledo.net
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: Questions in Building a Theater

    Posted 02-11-2019 14:19
    George and Erich bring up really valid points about architects (and administrators too)!  In fact, that's two-thirds the premise of my book, which is the text book for the High School Theatre Management course, titled: High School Theatre Operations; for architects, administrators and academics.

    But the question is:  WhyWhy don't architects know how to build theatres (especially educational theatres)?  Why do we need a separate theatre consultant?

    Here's a couple of excerpts for you that emphasize the importance of making sure you hire the right team:

    RE ARCHITECTS

    "To Architects

    "Because it is becoming more and more popular these days for new or renovated high schools to be equipped with a state-of-the art Performing Arts Center (theatre), more and more architects and educational facility planners (EFPs), are being thrown into designing theatres.

    "In your personal life you go to restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, doctor's offices, perhaps even hospitals. You've cooked in your own kitchen and possibly run your own office. In your younger years you may have had a job in one of these facilities, and you've certainly set foot in schools.  For the most part, you know how these types of facilities function, as enough of the "behind the scenes" operations are apparent and common knowledge.  However, when you go to see a play, ballet, concert, opera or other performance, what has been going on and what is going on behind the scenes is not apparent at all.  All you see is the magic of the performance. If you don't have a practical working knowledge of theatres, when you've never worked behind the scenes, or haven't worked behind the scenes since you were in high school yourself perhaps, it's nearly impossible to anticipate what today's end user may need in terms of functionality.

    "This book primarily addresses the operations of the high school theatre once the keys have been handed over and the doors are about to be opened.   It is not the intention of this book to address designing and building theatres.  However, if you are an Architect or other professional working in Educational Facility Planning, then reading this book and learning about the functions of a high school theatre, will help determine the design decisions you make.

    "As an example, how do you know if you want to spec an analog sound board or a digital sound board?  There are pros and cons to both, and the choice depends on the primary functional use of the theatre.  Will the theatre be primarily used by students who come and go each year? Will there be formal vocational training for students using the equipment?  How many students a year will want to learn to be sound technicians?  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?  Or will outside users be expected to be able to run the sound board themselves?  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 if you want to spec an analog sound board or a digital sound board.  These same questions can be applied to a lot of situations in your theatre in order to help you make your design decisions so that the managers (the school administration) of your theatres have the tools appropriate for the intended use.

    "The design has to be appropriate in the first place before the keys are handed over, because the type of equipment installed directly affects building functionality, student learning and faculty retention. I've seen too many theatre designs go to complete waste and not used to their full potential because the design was not suitable to the users abilities or budget. For instance, one school I worked at had a (mega overkill, ultra expensive) state-of-the-art light board installed with a complete system of programmable LED lights in their 100-seat theatre. I suspect the architect was concerned about energy and environmental design, and rightly so, but the system was so complicated that no one had used the theatre's lighting system for the first year and a half of the school's operation. For a start no one knew how to turn off the stage lights (all of the lights had been left programmed to come on when the board was turned on and they didn't know how to create a blackout) let alone operate the lights individually. So my techs and I re-hung and focused the lights and programmed the whole system for them in a simpler format. That system will never be used to its full potential in such a preliminary learning environment and cost the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars.  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 when it comes to building performance affecting academic performance, as well as staff ability and retention of knowledge."

    RE THEATRE CONSULTANTS

    "For this reason most EFPs hire "theatre consultants", when it comes to designing a high school's performing arts center. But even this is not a panacea, because many companies that offer theatre consulting today are staffed by people with no practical and functional experience working in an actual live theatre. In fact, a lot are from the home theatre or places of worship industry.   Or, they worked in the theatre a long time ago, started their company, and haven't worked in the theatre since.  Many of them have no practical or current experience in the theatre industry.  If you look at the websites of many theatre consultants, you will see that they are system designers and equipment installers with a wide range of experience working in churches, halls and home theatres.  This does not necessarily indicate that they also have the specialized knowledge to properly outfit a high school theatre appropriate to its specific functions. In addition, school districts – to their long-term detriment - usually go with the lowest bidder, who tends to be the one who will bid any job, and therefore is the one with the most generalized knowledge.  I once spoke with someone who had designed a system in a theatre I was working in, and he commented that 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."

    ------------------------------
    Beth Rand, EBMS
    Educational Lighting Designer
    School Theatre Operations Coach

    www.PRESETT.org
    - LIGHTING INSTITUTE FOR THEATRE TEACHERS - ONLINE MINI COURSES (ask for complimentary syllabus)
    - HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE OPERATIONS ONLINE COURSE FOR TEACHERS (ask for complimentary syllabus) - NEXT COHORT STARTS FEBRUARY 18!
    - HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE OPERATIONS BOOKS and COMPLIMENTARY ARTICLE DOWNLOADS
    - THE ECLECTECH SHOPPE

    beth@PRESETT.org
    Westminster, CO
    ------------------------------