Published in June 2007

Taking Center Stage
By Shonan Noronha

Historic Gerding Theater was created by an "army" of AV pros.

The sound and light control room has a view of the main stage in the Gerding Theater. It features extensive audio components and a full-time sound team and a light board and racks. The computer monitor is for SFX, the show sound program.

    Converting the 19th century Portland Armory into a modern, multifaceted performance facility required strong community support, and the dedicated efforts of a virtual army of audio, video, acoustical, architectural and theater arts professionals. The “Center Stage In The Pearl Campaign” raised more than $24.5 million to revive and transform the Armory into the Gerding Theater at the Armory, featuring a 559-seat Main Stage, a 200-seat Studio and a well-equipped rehearsal hall.

13-Month Renovation
    After a 13-month renovation, the Pearl District landmark, with its interior completely transformed to serve as the new home for the city’s largest theater company and its 1891 façade completely intact, received national recognition as the first building on the national register of historic places and performing arts center ever certified Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design). Portland Center Stage (PCS) opened its 19th season last Fall with a critically acclaimed inaugural performance and an extended run of the classic American musical West Side Story.
    Renovating a historic property within “green” building parameters, while creating a versatile venue for entertainment and other events, is a major undertaking under the best of conditions. With a fixed opening date looming, a strictly limited budget and the need for “Broadway Quality” sound, the PCS project became an epic of systems integration and design. It took the dedicated expertise of GBD Architects, theater consultants Landry & Bogan, Listen Acoustics, Cascade Sound and others, working closely with the artistic and production staff of PCS, to bring this ambitious project to fruition.

Acoustic Excellence
    The acoustical challenges were on a level with the aesthetic, environmental and funding issues. Specifically, the two theaters and rehearsal room, stacked on top of one another in a small building shell, created major challenges relating to acoustic isolation.
    The Studio is located 30 feet below street level. Tobin Cooley, founder of Listen Acoustics, the AV design consultant on this project, said that the cost of digging dig deep enough into the earth to give a larger vertical separation between the main theater and the studio theater was way beyond the budget. “The only practical choice was to create effective acoustic separation in the small space allotted, with the creative application of specific acoustic elements,” explained Cooley. “For example, the space between the Studio and the Main Stage employs concrete above for the floor of the Main Stage, with floating, multi-layer sheet-rock providing the ceiling for the studio theater below. Likewise, the floor of the rehearsal room is a floating concrete slab over the Main Stage’s concrete ceiling.”
    Simultaneous performances and rehearsals with little or no sound transfer was an acoustical goal. Chris Coleman, PCS artistic director, reported that, when he previewed I am My Own Wife in the Studio, he heard absolutely nothing from the West Side Story performance running concurrently on the Main Stage. “The acoustics of the Studio itself are also excellent,” Coleman noted. “A great mix of clear sound with just enough resonance.”
    The Gerding Theater is designed to emphasize voices and music in theatrical performances. Surfaces were curved, faceted and oriented to transmit sound from the stage to the audience. The acoustic environment is designed to render sound that is engaging, natural, full and balanced at all seats. “The Main Stage is actually more intimate than our former home,” explained Coleman. “Acoustically, it was designed to naturally amplify the human voice, and it really works well in performance.”

Audio Versatility
    The AV systems were created to provide maximum flexibility and accommodate a wide variety of uses. “We designed a cable infrastructure and connection panel scheme that allowed for connecting various types of inputs for mics, line, speakers, video, etc., at several locations on stage and at innumerable other locations throughout the venue,” reported John Hardwick of Listen Acoustics. “We standardized the stage control panels so each one was basically the same, making it easier for end users.”
    The accompanying equipment list clearly shows the care with which an eclectic mix of AV devices was selected to suit the wide-ranging performance and event requirements. For example, Shure, Sennheiser, AKG, Audio-Technica and Crown microphones were used to fill specific niches in the complex ecology of sound.
    The audio systems in the Gerding Theater feature a reconfigurable JBL loudspeaker system in the Main Stage, allowing the speakers to be recessed into an alcove area if additional seating is required. “The JBLs were great right out-of-box,” said Jeff Carroll, co-owner of Cascade Sound, which was awarded the AV build and integration contract for this project. “All we had to do was install them. They sound great.”
    The subwoofers are hung in clusters 25 feet high, instead of the typical “under the stage” placement. The Sound-craft K3-48 console, coupled with the SFX computer and a versatile configuration of processors, amps and speakers, provides considerable sonic scope and creative freedom to enhance the impact of productions.
    Casi Pacilio, sound supervisor and resident sound designer for PCS, related her use of the surround sound capability for the production of The Pillowman. “It’s sort of a dark, dark drama—a black comedy,” she noted. “I was able to do some really amazing soundscapes with lots of layering of sound, which called for intricate placements of speakers. I was able to use the system very well.” The SFX Workstation computer from Stage Research is one of Pacilio’s favorite creative tools. “I use SFX in both theaters, I really like it a lot,” she enthused.

The new Gerding Theater seats 599 and is one of three performance venues located within the Portland Armory.

Looking Good
    A Sanyo PLC-XP51L video projector and 21-foot-wide Da-Lite screen in the main theater serve as a supplemental video component to live productions, and as a display option for film screenings. “Because we also do presentations and movie showings, a major focus of the acoustic design was playback,” said Pacilio. “We showed An Inconvenient Truth on Earth Day. The projection system worked great and the sound quality was excellent.”
    Extron switching and distribution equipment is used to feed audio and video to the lobbies for those arriving late for shows. Certain productions do not allow attendees to enter the theater after the play begins, so a real-time “telecast” of the production is displayed on ViewSonic N2751W LCD flat panels in a “latecomers” viewing area.
    The lobby features interactive AV technology, including a pair of touchscreens designed and programmed by Second Story Interactive Studios. These serve as “playboards,” displaying headshots, bios and video interviews of cast members (instead of the typical static ones you often see when entering a theater). There is also a Raree-style (aka “Peepshow”) cabinet with interactive video that provides a fascinating history of the Portland Armory.
    Another interactive touchscreen display guides the viewer through a tour of the “green” aspects of the restoration, and the challenge of preserving the historical integrity of the building while incorporating a dynamic design for future use. Lastly, a cascading, bi-directional, frosted-glass projection display reveals the names of donors in floating text moving in several directions.

Musical Interludes
    Although considerable flexibility was built into the original AV designs, several changes had to be made to adapt to the specific needs of the first musical production planned for the venue. Because the season opened with West Side Story, the pressure to make the audio system in the Gerding Theater work seamlessly reached its peak as the deadline approached.
    The inaugural date was set, so the construction and AV install finish date was concrete. Carroll noted that everything with regard to AV got “scrunched” up toward the end. “Because most of our work happens after principal construction is completed,” he said, “it really impacted us.”
    Adapting the AV systems for musical theater was a little easier because connectivity and cabling infrastructure were ubiquitous. “We ended up pulling 21 miles of cable into that building,” explained Carroll. “It was a fairly analog type of system and the theater required a lot of interconnect. So, there are many patch panels with a lot of connections on them—for microphone, network, speaker, intercom—and it’s everywhere in the building.”
    Flexibility was provided at every possible point, but the AV finish date was too close to the inaugural show. In addition, the very first show was a musical, and sound supervisor Pacilio had joined the company recently, which added to the complexity of mounting West Side Story.

Mixer Positions
    As is typical in theater, two mixer positions were available in the Main Stage: front-of-house, and in the sound booth. It is not uncommon for a block of seats to be removed for the staging of huge musicals to accommodate the mixer console in the orchestra area. But the seats were already sold for the inaugural show. “Because I wasn’t able to put my mixer at orchestra level for West Side Story and wanted sight of the production, I moved it upstairs to the balcony. Jeff [Carroll] made the interconnects extra long so the console could be brought just outside of the booth into the balcony,” reported Pacilio.
    For West Side Story, PCS utilized 24 wireless head-worn microphones and 22 band microphones. “Obviously, this many open head-worn microphones would cause feedback problems,” said Carroll. “I attended rehearsals to help tune the system. I also attended the first three performances to help with fine adjustments.”
    Artistic director Coleman noted that they also added many new, higher quality mics for the major musicals they would be producing. “We decided to reach for a higher level of sound on that front, because our audience responds so positively to the genre,” he said. “Adjusting our speaker design with the layout of the space and placement of the orchestra was tough as hell for West Side Story. My hope is that we learned enough from that initial outing to really make strides with Cabaret, scheduled for this Fall.”

Sound supervisor Casi Pacilio running through sound cues for a show on the Gerding Theater Main Stage.

Talking Theater Tech
    Many of the AV changes necessary for the musical had to do with signal flow and interconnect issues; basically, how the production staff wanted to use the system.
    Pacilio worked on many details with consultant Cooley and integrator Carroll to adapt the system for West Side Story. “For a musical of this kind, you don’t want speaker arrays in the proscenium header,” she explained. “You need a lot of speakers on the deck to bring the sound down. So, our biggest challenge was trying to bring the sound down from the proscenium.” Because the architectural design and aesthetic considerations precluded speakers from being mounted on the lower proscenium sidewalls, PCS rented JBL Concert Series speakers and positioned them on the stage.
    In another instance, the BSS paging system allowed for changes at short notice. “In live theater, the stage manager must be able to page backstage and downstairs,” noted Pacilio. “We needed the ability to switch between ‘tech mode’ and ‘show mode’.” Pacilio commended Carroll for figuring out a way to adapt the Soundweb system to provide a page mic with selectable zones and switchers.
    Talking about flexibility in the Studio, Pacilio reported that, for the one-woman comedy show Bad Dates, she used the SFX computer and KVM Ethernet so she could be out in the house teching and have her board in the booth.
    Tech rehearsals are extremely important to the success of a play, and that’s when fine-tuning of a new AV system takes place. One thing that makes for a successful theater install is the AV design and integration teams’ knowledge and experience with all forms of live performances. “That’s how we were able to pull off West Side Story, which garnered rave reviews,” Pacilio said.
    As for her advice to the industry at large: “It would serve architects, consultants and integrators well to gain more experience with the differences in sound treatment for musicals and other theater forms.” She noted that, for multipurpose venues, the focus often is more on playback sound than on sound reinforcement. “The requirements for theater are very different from that of other types of events,” she said.
    Pacilio, whose career spans Broadway to La Jolla Playhouse, is excited about working on Cabaret, next season’s musical at the Gerding Theater.

There’s A Place For Us
    With a home of its own, Portland Center Stage focuses on creating memorable experiences at the theater. “The idea was to ‘right-size’ the performance spaces for our community and for contemporary work,” said artistic director Chris Coleman. “Our notion was to create excellent sightlines and outstanding acoustics in both performance spaces, in order to achieve the intimacy and communication between actor and audience that is at the very heart of theater. For us, it wasn’t about being able to do more, but rather to produce work that had a higher audience impact on a more consistent basis.”
    Creating this versatile, state-of-the-art performance facility in a historic location required a wide range of architectural, acoustic and AV system design skills, the willingness to adapt as objectives came more clearly into focus, and a commitment to effective communication between the design team and the entertainment professionals at the venue.

 

Cascade Sound Inc.
    Founded in 1969 by its current owners, Linda and Lawrence [Larry] Carroll, Cascade Sound Inc., in Salem OR, is a family-operated company focused on event productions, equipment rentals and repairs, and system design and installation.
    Prior to founding Cascade Sound Inc., Larry was an active musician in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to working with all of his band’s electronic gear, he also found time to complete an engineering degree at Oregon State University. Cascade Sound has brought Larry’s expertise and experience in professional sound, staging and lighting for musical acts to a full slate of award-winning performers, including Wynona, Bonnie Raitt, Julio Iglesias and Sheryl Crow.
    Jim and Jeff Carroll are sons of the founders and co-owners. Jim Carroll heads up the Installations group and Jeff Carroll serves as vice president of Engineering. “We have 16 people in the company, with about half engineering and technical and the rest are production, sales and installation personnel,” reported Jeff Carroll.
    “We do a wide variety of professionally installed sound reinforcement and entertainment lighting systems for businesses, churches, schools, government offices and other institutions,” he explained.
    For more information, go to www.cascadesound.com.

 

EQUIPMENT

Main Theater
    4 ADC BJF203-4MKIV audio patchbays
    1 Ashly Protea 4.24d main speaker equalizer
    1 Ashly Protea 4.24rd equalizer remote
    2 Ashly Protea 4.24g monitor speaker equalizers
    1 Audio-Technica AE-2500 instrument mic
    3 Audio-Technica AE-3300 instrument mics
    2 Audio-Technica AE-5100 instrument mics
    2 Audio-Technica AE-5400 instrument mics
    4 Audio-Technica AE-6100instrument mics
    4 Audio-Technica AT853a instrument mics
       Belden wire
    15 Clear-Com CC95 headsets
    7 Clear-Com KB-211 wall stations
    1 Clear-Com MS440 master station
    1 Clear-Com RM440 stage manager station
    15 Clear-Com RS-501 belt-packs
    20 Clear-Com WP-2 wall plate stations
    3 Crown CTS-1200 delay speaker amps
    5 Crown CTS-2000 main speaker full range subwoofer amps
    1 Crown CTS-4200 under balcony amp
    3 Crown MT-1200 effects speaker amps
    3 Crown MT-1200 monitor speaker amps
    2 Crown PCC-160 floor mics
    1 Crown PZM-30D house mic
    2 dbx Pro 1046 4 channel compressors
    2 Event Electronics Studio Precision 6 booth monitor speakers
    4 Galaxy Hot Spot VC compact vocal monitors
    4 Galaxy PA5X140 powered speakers
    1 Gemini CDX-02G dual-well CD player
       Hoffman 12x12x6 NEMA wall box enclosures
    1 JBL AL6125 center cluster subwoofer
    1 JBL AL6125 left cluster subwoofer
    1 JBL AL6125 right cluster subwoofer
    2 JBL AM6215/95 center cluster speakers
    1 JBL AM6215/95 left cluster speaker
    1 JBL AM6215/95 right cluster
    6 JBL Control 29AV large practical speakers
    3 JBL MS-26 under balcony speakers
    6 JBL SRX712M stage monitor speakers
    1 Listen Tech LA-106 antenna
    1 Listen Tech LA-304 ADA signage kit
    20 Listen Tech LR-300-072 digital receivers
    1 Listen Tech LT-800-072 assistive listening transmitter
    1 Lowell L258-24P desk rack w/accessories
    3 Lowell L-267-70 equipment racks w/accessories
    1 ProCo Custom aux mix location plate
    7 Sennheiser MKE-2 (Beige) wireless micr lav elements
    2 Sennheiser MKE-2 (Black) wireless mic lav elements
    2 Sony CUF-780 wireless handheld mic elements
    1 Sony MB-806A wireless mic mainframes
    6 Sony URX-M1/6264 wireless mic receiver modules
    4 Sony WRT-822B wireless mic lav transmitter
    2 Sony WRT-847B wireless mic transmitters
    1 Soundcraft K3-48 main mixing console
       West Penn speaker wire
    2 Yamaha Rev 100 digital reverbs

Video
    2 ADC PPI224RS-75N video patchbays
       Belden S-video wire
    1 Da-Lite 87289 matte white 12'3"x21' Fastfold Truss
    1 Extron SW8SVA S-video switcher
    1 JVC HRXVS44 DVD/VHS VCR combo player
    1 Sanyo PLC-XP51L video projector

Studio Theater Sound Reinforcement
    7 ADC BJF203-4MKIV audio patchbays
    1 Ashly Protea 4.24d ceiling speaker equalizer
    2 Ashly Protea 4.24g monitor speaker equalizers
    1 Ashly Protea 4.24rd equalizer remote control
    2 Audio-Technica AE-4100 instrument mics
    4 Audio-Technica AE-6100 instrument mics
       Belden mic, line audio wire
    1 Clear-Com MS-232 master station
    1 Clear-Com RM-220 stage manager station w/10 headsets, belt packs
    15 Clear-Com WP-2 wall plates
    2 Crown CTS-1200 monitor speaker amps
    3 Crown CTS-4200 ceiling speaker amps
    1 Crown PCC-160 floor mic
    1 Crown PZM-30D house mic
    1 dbx Pro 1046 4-channel compressor
    1 Dell Power edge custom audio computer with software
    2 Event Electronics Studio Precision booth monitors
    1 Gemini CDX-02G dual CD player
    6 JBL MP415 monitor speakers
    10 JBL Control 29AV ceiling speakers
    10 Lowell DX-1815 ceiling speaker back boxes
    1 Lowell L258-24P desk rack w/accessories
    2 Lowell L267-70 equipment rack w/accessories
    3 Sennheiser MKE-2 wireless mic lav elements
    2 Sony AN-820 powered antennas
    2 Sony CUF-780 wireless handheld mic elements
    1 Sony MB-806A wireless mic mainframe
    6 Sony URX-M1/6264 wireless mic receiver modules
    4 Sony WRT-822B wireless mic lav transmitters
    2 Sony WRT-847B wireless mic transmitters
    1 Soundcraft Series 2-24 main mixing console
       West Penn speaker wire 8 ohm, 70V
    1 Yamaha Rev 100 digital reverb

Back of House/Page, Source Selection
    1 3Com baseline switch 2808 8-port Ethernet switch
    2 3Com Superstack 12-port Ethernet switch 3 Switch 3812
    1 APC SUA2200RM2U power distribution
    1 Crestron AV2 automation, control system
    1 Crestron CNX-8 WiFi touchpanel controller
    1 Dell GX280 SFF local computer
    2 Leprecon LDMX-8D MX optocouplers
    2 Leviton-NSI I/F 501 RS232 to DMX-512 interfaces
    1 Linksys WAP54G WiFi Wireless Access Point
    1 Middle Atlantic RM-KB-LCD15 rackmount 15" LCD monitor, keyboard
    3 NordX/Belden GigaFlex PS6+ (AX101611) Ethernet patch bays

Rehearsal Hall Audio
    1 Gemini CDX-02g dual-well CD player
    1 Lowell L253-42 wall-mount equipment rack
    9 JBL Control 29AV ceiling speakers
    1 QSC CX108V ceiling speaker power amp
    1 Soundcraft FX-8 rack mount mixer
       West Penn speaker wire 70V

Portable PA
    4 Audio-Technica AE-6100 performance mics
    1 Gemini CDX-602 dual-well CD player
    2 JBL EON G2-15 powered speakers
    1 Mackie 1402VLZpro 8-channel mixer
       Rapco mic audio cables

List is edited from information supplied by Listen Acoustics.


Shonan Noronha, EdD, an independent writer/producer and training consultant, is the author of three books and numerous articles about television, AV, multimedia and music. Send comments to her at shonan@optonline.net.

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