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Advice on planning music Facilities

Date: Sat, 9 Nov 1996 21:57:47 +0000
From: Judith_Zuckerman(a)pegasus.putney.com
Subject: Compilation-Building a Performing Arts Center (LONG)

A thousand thank you's to everyone who responded to my plea for advice about
planning a new performing arts facility! My apologies to those I may have
neglected to thank personally. I am truly grateful for your generosity and
interest and am equally impressed by the wealth of knowledge collectively
represented by choralist and orchestralist.

I have compiled responses by the following categories; contacts/firms/great
buildings, pitfalls and anecdotes, and suggestions. (Orchestralisters, sorry,
I know you've seen some of this before).

..here goes!
CONTACTS/FIRMS/GREAT BUILDINGS

Contact Dr. George L. Mabry, Director of the Center for the Creative Arts
Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN 37044 615-648-7876. They
have a center "to die for". A year of two ago it was THE single center in
the state of Tennessee to have been selected to participate with a few others
at the Kennedy Center in DCA to show others how to do a better job.

I have made CD recording projects in their performance hall and it is just
about the best I've worked in. Acoustical engineers from New York were
brought in, as well as other award-winning professionals in the design and
construction stages.

Also, if you compile a list of responses, please share with me.

I am a corporate/foundation relations officer at a private university
in Nashville, Tennessee. The University govering board approved over the
weekend the conceptual design for the fund-raising project to construct
a new fine arts center here.

John R. Hall
HALLJR(a)DLU.EDU

There is a firm tha dealt specifically with this kind of situation and did it
extremely well at significant cost. The name of the Firm is/was Artech. They
have done major hall around the world and are thought to be the best in this
business. I am not sure of the current status of the company because of some
changes in personnel in the last few years.

Some of their most recent major projects would be the new Symphony Hall in
Dallas and a "remodeling" of the the symphony hall in Philedelphia. They have
designed a number of theater/music halls in Canada that are phenomenal. If you
ask the top conductors and performers in the world what are the best hall for
acoustics, Artech halls will be named.

We wanted to do the same thing you are trying to do at our school but found
that we could not do it all for financial reasons. If you want great acoustics
for
theater and music, the cost doubles to triples vs. a hall desinged for either
music or theater.

We ended up with an 1800 seat concert hall with outstanding acoustics for
music but no fly space, no curtain or anything for theater. Ths cost of this
building was around 11 million. They know how to build exactly want you want.
The
question is can you afford what you want.

If you would like specific material on this firm such as current addresses or
numbers, I would be able to find them for you.

If you post this to the list I would prefer it to be anomymous.


You may want to contact the Minnesota Center for Arts Education in Golden
Valley, MN. I graduated from their high school a few years ago. They
presently have a building that includes a fantastic dance workshop and theater
space, and they are currently designing a number of improvements to their
campus, including new music rehearsal and performance space. They may be able
to help you in some way. You can contact them at:

Minnesota Center for Arts Education (MCAE)
6125 Olson Mem. Hwy.
Golden Valley, MN 55427
(612)591-4700

I'm not sure exactly who you would need to contact there (and I don't know the
name of the current "head honcho", as he came in after I graduated), but
I'm sure the front office could point you in the right direction. Good luck!


Tammy Wallin
Carroll College, Waukesha, WI
twallin(a)carroll1.cc.edu

From: Michael Luxner

An extraordinary success story along exactly the lines you note
(multipurpose) is the RiverPark Center in Owensboro, Kentucky. I was
fortunate enough to be Music Director of the Orchestra there during
the planning, construction, and first five years of the hall. It
turned out to be successful for all uses, but particularly for
orchestra--an acoustical gem. The Acoustical/Theatrical Consultant
responsible was Peter George Associates, working (as he had on
several previous projects, all carefully studied by the Owensboro
selection team) with the architectural firm of Calloway, Johnson, and
Moore. Contact me off-list if you would like to know more about that
particular project, and I will try to help or steer you in the proper
directions.
Michael Luxner
mluxner(a)post.millikin.edu
(217)424-3774


Michigan Tech is currently completing fund raising for a multi-purpose
auditorium and complete music rehearsal, practice, and office space. I
don't have time today, but I am willing to share with you some info. It IS
possible to build an excellent multi-purpose hall.

Milton Olsson
Chair, Dept. of Fine Arts
President, ACDA-Michigan


I was in Columbia, South Carolina this summer for an orchestral
conducting workshop, and I was very impressed with the facility that they
have just built. It is (if I recall) a 2500 seat house designed to
accomodate concert performances, opera/musical theater, dance (sprung
stage), touring companies (Phantom, Les Mis, etc). It's at the
USC-Columbia campus: the Koger Center for the Arts. It's attached to
their school of music. The guys there took us all on a tour of the
facility, and they did a lot of money-saving and space-saving things to
build it. The acoustic is okay (not phenomenal), but it suits a broad
base of performance venues.

William Heim, MM Conducting/TA, SMU
wheim(a)post.smu.edu

and the winner is...WENGER CORP! (They were the most recommended, that is.)

Contact Wenger Corp. in Owatonna, MN. at 800-733-0393. Laura Weideman at
EXT. 261 is a very knowledgeable sales person who has been an invaluable
resource for us as we're currently designing a new music ministry building
for our church.

Mark Nabholz
Director of Music Ministries
First Presbyterian Church
Augusta, GA


At Emporia State, we're building a new multi-million dollar Music Rehearsal
Building plus renovating a beautiful old Music Building (state of Kansas
funded). We visited two campuses with new facilities (built within the
past 2-3 years). I highly recommend that you do that. It will make a huge
difference. We took a committee from the music department plus the
architect. We took pictures (lots) and talked about what we wanted in
our new buildings. It's crucial that you and your faculty sit down and talk
about what you want in your new facility. What you want will be
tempered by how much money is available. Be sure to engage a
professional acoustician to advise you. Do you want your rehearsal
room, for instance, to be a place where you can also record for
immediate playback, for making tapes to submit for conventions, etc.? Do
you want your rehearsal room to also be a "performance" venue?

Visiting other campuses gave me a clear vision of what I thought would
be best for us. Beware of the kleenex box, one-size-is-what-you-get
advice.

Be sure you have several firms bid on your project. It's terribly important
that the firm you choose be acquainted with the challenges of music
rehearsal spaces. Otherwise you may get a square box of a room with
terrible acoustical problems (too "dead" or too "live").

Wenger Corp (in Minnesota) publishes a free booklet designed just for
people/organizations who are going to build spaces for music rehearsal
and performance. You should definitely call them and get copies for
anyone you think might be involved in your new facility. Call Michael
Smedstead, Director of marketing for Wenger Corp, at 507-455-4100 (ext.
278). His fax: 507-455-4258. He came to my campus and gave a lecture
to my choral techniques class about what one should consider in order to
be happy with new music rehearsal rooms, music classrooms,
performance spaces, etc.

Good luck.

Terry Barham
Director of Choral Activites
Emporia State University
Emporia, KS 66801
BarhamTe(a)ESUMail.Emporia.Edu

We just went through the same long ordeal in Superior, WI. We were able to
get some great help from Wenger Corp. They are willing to come out and help
you as a consultant. I think that they are the experts in this area and of
course they then get their input into acoustical treatments, risers, practice
rooms etc... At any rate we found them to be very helpful. I don't have the
exact contact info as to this matter but if you need it I am sure that I
could find it for you.

Aaron R. Olson
Superior Central
Laude(a)aol

The source you want is Wenger Corporation. They have a book on
performing art center design which is free to music educators. It is
considered the best source available. Phone # 800-326-8373. There were
also some previous postings on Choralnet about auditoriums with variable
acoustic designs, which you should keep in mind. You will definitely
want to have an acoustical engineer in design committee from the getgo.
Also, expect that mid way through the construction, an engineer will do
a frequency sweep of the auditorium, and various sound
reflectors/absorbers will be installed to give it the desired
characteristics. Computer simulation are never perfect, so it is always
a design as you go process.
If you need more information, call my brother, Dr. Al Lunde at
Philadelphia Colege of the Bible. he is in the process of designing one
right now and is quite knowledgable. 215-752-5800. Say hello for me.

Sincerely,
Ken Lunde, director
Auburn Concert Choir
Auburn. CA

PITFALLS AND ANECDOTES

Sorry, I have next to nothing to contribute on this subject, but I'd love to
see a compiliation.

I've never been in on the designing of a building, however, I just got a job
in a building only 5 years old. We are very pleased with our facility with some
minor exceptions, all of which seem to have to do with sound proofing:

We have a beautiful large hall, but if we try to do a recording on a rainy
day, forget it-- we can hear the water running off the roof. It's very
frustrating.

Also watch for sound proofing between large rooms (not just practice rooms).
If there's a recording session in our recital hall we can't use the choral room
for rehearsal because of the sound bleed.

And finally, we were supposed to have some triple glazed (or quadruple glazed,
whatever) glass on the skylight over the orchestra/band room. Some
administrator thought this was an extravagence and so vetoed it during the
construction, so we lost another possible recording area-- the extra glass was
sound proofing and we now hear every bus that drives by. That was an extreme
case under unusual circumstances...the music department "watch-dog" for the
project was seriously ill and was unable to explain the special needs of a
music building to our administration... but the moral of the story is the job
isn't
over with the planning phase. Like building a house, you need to be on top of
the project every step of the way until it's finished.

So that this doesn't sound like one of those horror stories, we are thrilled
with our facility-- despite this irritating quirks things turned out very
well, thanks to the hard work and good planning of the department.

Betsy Burleigh
Coordinator, Choral & Vocal Music
Cleveland State University
Euclid Ave. at E.24th St.
Cleveland OH 44115
Phone: (216) 687-3998 FAX: (216) 687-9279

Where are you located? I know of some facilities in my area which would
be worthwhile to look at, but if you are 3000 miles from Los Angeles, it
won't help much.

Caveats:

Beware of acoustical engineers. Many understand science but not art. I
argued for days with our outside "expert," because he insisted on
installing a monaural sound system, with speakers clustered over the
stage. This gives very clean control over the sound. Oscilloscopes love
it. Unfortunately, it makes the actors look like they are dubbed,
because their voices come from the heavens, not from the stage. Every
single musical theatre company of any worth that I have visited brings
the sound down to the stage level by bracketing the stage with speakers.
The upshot: we have to jury rig our system every musical in order to
have "live" sound, and not something canned.

Other caveats: build in storage space. Ask yourself what you might
aquire in 10 years of building sets. Where will the choral risers and
shell go? Costume storage? Lighting instrument storage? What kind of
access from shop to stage? Will the doors be large enough to accomadate
full sets? Where might you paint a drop? Where do you store a concert
grand? Does your budget include enough for a stage shell? Does the size
of the room demand it?

This is such a huge topic that I don't know exactly what I can share of
value, but I would love to "chat" further.

Joel Pressman
Beverly Hills High School

A couple of years ago this university built a performing arts
building. On the ground floor are function/meeting facilities, a
music auditorium, and a drama studio. The storage space which opens
onto the drama theatre is also used for some teaching. Another part
of the ground floor, accessible by a different entrance, has small
practice rooms and ensemble rooms. The first and second floors of
the building house basically the Department of Music and the Centre for Drama
and Theatre Studies, and a couple of associated departments, plus one
teaching space.

We found the building too small when we moved in. Plan for growth.
With regard to performance spaces, we have dressing rooms above the
drama theatre, which should have been accessible from the storage
space but aren't. Also, there's really only enough space to
accomodate one performance, ie: there needs to be separate
dressing/storage (secure) space for each performing space, tailored
to the needs of that space. So a music auditorium probably needs a
bigger more open space for choirs and orchestras, etc.

Other than that, it's terrific to finally be in a building where this
activity is going on all the time. Previously the departments had a
very academic feel to them, just like any other department. Now you
walk into the building and that performance sound and vibe is there.
Good luck!!!

Mari Eleanor
Administrator
Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies
Student
Department of Music
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia
email: mari.eleanor(a)its-menz1.monash.edu.au


SUGGESTIONS

FLOORS

From: PMINOT(a)aol.com

The FLOOR of the stage! I know this sounds obvious, but make sure it is NOT
cement.It needs to be wood, for acoustics, for dancers AND nailable-into. I
speak from sad experience working in a newly built private school hall, where
the people wo had the money didn't have the knowledge. Glad this is not the
case with yours.

Get some good advice about lighting boards from real theater people. I have
seen a lot of school renovations that have had new, and totally useless
boards put in at great exprense - probably sold a bill of goods by someone
who really didn't know what was needed..


From: NealGitt(a)aol.com

PMINOT:
The FLOOR of the stage! I know this sounds obvious, but make sure it is NOT
cement.It needs to be wood, for acoustics, for dancers AND nailable-into. I
speak from sad experience working in a newly built private school hall, where
the people wo had the money didn't have the knowledge. Glad this is not the
case with yours.

I:
Well, sorta... Certainly for dancers, nailintoability, etc., but acoustics?
The idea that stage floors should only be wood is, as I understand it,
really just a psychological thing for (mostly string) players. The floor
needs to be a hard, reflective surface. As ugly as the though is, concrete
would do just fine (especially for the dancers and nail-pounders). But most
good acousticians and architects realize that this isn't a fight they can
win, and will go for the sprung hardwood floor. A beautiful, soft, vibrating
(i.e. non-reflective) wood floor would be infinitely worse than a nice
wood-grain painted (with simulated nails, of course) concrete job!


From: Xeragi

What about the concrete floor that was poured under the stage of remodeled
Carnegie Hall that no one "knew" about until the wood was pulled and this
nice hard slab of concrete was found. I know that the argument about the
"old" vs the "new" and now the "new, new" Carnegie Hall will never be
resolved by anyone. The subjective reports I have heard from people who
have played there many times indicate that since the concrete has been
pulled, the hall sounds more like the "old" Carnegie.
I'm not an engineer, just a musician, but I like the sound and feel of
playing in a hall that has lots of wood in and around the stage. I know,
its still subjective!!

Ivan Shulman

From: "David H. Bailey"

That is an interesting outlook -- Boston's Symphony Hall, one of the
world's best acoustical buildings as I understand it, has a beautiful
hardwood stage. And I am sure most of the halls with the best acoustics
have hardwood floors. It is very possible that concrete floors, walls,
and cielings can be TOO hard and TOO reflective to be acoustically
helpful. Dartmouth College spend millions of dollars to build the
Hopkins Center, including a (then) state of the art concert hall, with a
concrete stage. They then had to hire (at enormous additional expense)
an acoustical engineering firm to repair the nightmare of sound within
the hard-shell box.

David H. Bailey
dhbailey(a)ix.netcom.com

From: marmer(a)ruf.rice.edu (Marty Merritt)

There are several reasons that wood is more desirable than concrete. If
you have a beautifully finished stage floor, you probably don't want
someone driving nails into it. However, most dancers and actors will tell
you that a sprung floor is much nicer to dance or move on. From an
acoustical standpoint I'm not sure that wood is significantly less
reflective than concrete would be, but you don't necessarily want maximum
reflectivity, anyway. Many acousticians will carefully place some
absorptive (thick felt) or diffusive (thin fabric) material in the stage
area anyway to clean up annoying echoes.

>From a repair standpoint, it is much easier to replace floor boards than to
fix chipped concrete, and the big reason to go with a sprung floor is sound
isolation. Concrete transfers sound very well, and you need to be darn
careful that your stage floor, whatever its material, is isolated from the
structural steel and concrete of your building with some kind of resilient
connection, like rubber pads and expansion joints. Otherwise, any
backstage noise will be heard on stage, and, very likely, your performers
on stage will be heard clearly in adjoining areas.

You must use a professional architectural acoustician, and, in my opinion,
you must ask them to give at least as much attention to sound isolation as
to in-room acoustics. If your building and program are successful, they
will generate a LOT of activity and you will have so much going on that you
must have first-rate sound isolation to survive.

Marty Merritt
Facilities Coordinator and Orchestra Manager
The Shepherd School of Music
Rice University
Houston, Texas
marmer(a)ruf.rice.edu

From: Mark Gresham

A wooden floor is not just nicer for dancers, because a concrete floor is
DANGEROUS for dancers. There are many movements that simply cannot be
safely choreographed on a concrete floor; dancers run the risk of more
and greater injuries on concrete. (I'm even appalled by roller-skating
rinks with concrete floors!) Managers: Guess how a concrete floor will
affect liability insurance?

What you want for music is a diffuse reflection, which makes wood
significantly superior to concrete. With concrete surfaces, you run the
risk of "shopping mall ping" where there are "hot spots" which resonate
wildly with certain frequencies. Reflection from a wooden floor produces
a "warmer" sound (not just a psychological phenomenon).

Keep in mind that for *music* you want both resonace and focus. Keep in
mind also that in any "multi-use" facility that music generally suffers
the greatest loss in acoustical needs to the needs of theatrical arts.
You will *never* really obtain the best acoustics for music in any
"multi-use" hall.

Beware the term "professional acoustician" as that can mean many things,
from someone with a genuine knowledge of acoustics, materials and
construction to someone simply selling sound systems (churches especially
are victims of the latter).

Cheers,

* Mark Gresham, composer President, Norcross Music Associates, Inc. *
* mgresham(a)america.net Publisher/Editor, Chorus! magazine *

As far as the stage surface needing/not needing to be wood: it is not
really the surface so much as the resonating space underneath. This has a
tremendous effect upon the bass sound of a string section, and affects the
warmth of the sound as well. I would refer people to the recent news about
the Carnegie Hall renovation, and the finding of large amounts of concrete
dumped under the stage. This affected the airspace underneath the stage,
and thus the sound of the hall--most people seem to like the sound after the
removal of the concrete much better.

ACOUSTICS

Although I am on the other coast, our Community College has just (one year
old) completed such a facility. I think there are some wonderful parts of
the complex (we also include television and radio production) and some
weaknesses. Our main hall seats an intimate 407, which although we are in
the San Francisco area, is fine, because we can fill it fairly easily for
performances, and the acoustics have proven quite good for everything from
choirs to orchestras to dramatic performances. We have adjustable acoustical
curtains that move along tracks throughout the house. When I perform with
the choir they retract behind hard paneled surfaces, and are completely
hidden from view, and when dramatic presentations take place, they are fully
extended, occupying space in the fly-space and all around the house (of
course up quite high so as to be non-intrusive. I would recommend Boora and
Associates, as an achitectural firm. Once again I am certain you must have
excellent firms nearer to you. This is of utmost import, to your project (as
you must be aware), and an excellent acoustical firm. Do not try to do these
things yourself (as I have witnessed on this list earlier in the year). I
would be glad to help in any way possible. Good luck.


From: TKFH52E(a)prodigy.com (MRS TRACEY R RUSH)

I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no arts centers, but I would like to
mention one thing: one of our local colleges built a great little recital
hall a few years ago that is just wonderful acoustically, all the seats are
good ones and everything is top-notch.
HOWEVER, the walls of the stage are like thin wooden slats - apparently
something to enhance the acoustics. But the visual effect from the audience
is that it looks like vertical stripes and if you stare at it for more than
a few seconds everything gets blurring and it's like looking at an optical
illusion or one of those 3-D pictures. The first concert I ever attended
there was the Stradivari Quartet and it just drove me nuts! I could hardly
look at them because the background was so distracting. I had a hard time
focusing.

Just something to keep in mind for the sake of your audience.

Tracey Rush says:

>HOWEVER, the walls of the stage are like thin wooden slats - apparently
>something to enhance the acoustics. But the visual effect from the audience
>is that it looks like vertical stripes and if you stare at it for more than
>a few seconds everything gets blurring and it's like looking at an optical
>illusion or one of those 3-D pictures. The first concert I ever attended
>there was the Stradivari Quartet and it just drove me nuts! I could hardly
>look at them because the background was so distracting. I had a hard time
>focusing.

We have that too in our concert hall, but we've never had a negative
comment about it. It's dark wood and it kind of blends into the
background. Up close it looks like a nice detail. We don't usually put a
lot of light on it during a concert -- maybe some lighting change would
solve the problem described by Tracey.

Marty Merritt
Facilities Coordinator and Orchestra Manager
The Shepherd School of Music
Rice University
Houston, Texas
marmer(a)ruf.rice.edu


From: Andrew Levin

You don't necessarily need a one-size-fits-all design. Certain theatres can
be adjusted per performance to accomodate changing accoustic needs.
Specifically, the theatre here at Clemson has a series of 15 accoustical
banners (read: large heavy curtains) placed around the theatre (mostly
hidden) that can be lowered or raised to absorb sound. These have suited us
quite well.

There are other solutions as well. Just ask for them.

Andrew Levin

Read this month's edition of "Teaching Music". It is the monthly publication
of the MENC journal. The cover story is about acoustical design. It may help.

Anna


MISC.

As a conductor with an instrument repair background, may I strongly
suggest that your engineers specify the very best humidity controls
possible. This is one of the areas that get cut in final budget
negotiations. The result is an insidious, silent million-dollar
deterioration of stringed instruments, i.e. harpsichords, pianos,
fiddles, harps. Even ethno-percussion instruments are hit by dry
winters and humid summers. Your fine building may be hard to retrofit
with these devices in the future. DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME!!!!!!

Get steam generators for the heating air-handlers with representativly
placed and quality controls. Get a re-heat system for the summer, so
the airconditioning system can wring out more humidity. Controls are
vital for this side of the equation also. Temp. controls are not enough.

Also, "homes" for the concert grand pianos (in the wings) are good to
plan into the stage design.


This is my contribution for today. Paul Ludden

BUILD THE BIGGEST STAGE YOU CAN FIT ON THE PROPERTY!!!! The size of the
stage can be adjusted with acoustical backdrops and cleverly designed
moveable walls, but one thing that I have noticed in new buildings such
as you are describing is that they have scrimped on performing space so
that a medium performing organization such as an orchestra is almost too
big to fit, and is uncomfortable. Even if it means dropping 20 or 30
audience seats, keep the stage big. Too big now means just right in 5
years and crowded in 10 years.

And lights -- put in thousands of lights over the stage area with a
massive control board. I have played concerts in primarily dramatic
theaters and there is never enough light for musical purposes. With the
proper wiring, those lights can be off while the stage is used for plays
and dances, BUT will be available when needed for a 100 piece orchestra.

Good luck! What a thrill to be able to be a part of such a project!

David H. Bailey
dhbailey(a)ix.netcom.com



. . .BUILD THE BIGGEST STAGE YOU CAN FIT ON THE PROPERTY!!!! The size of the
stage can be adjusted . . .And lights -- put in thousands of lights over
the stage area with amassive control board. . .
I agree with all of the posting this came out of, AND make sure
that the lights get to the front of the stage, so soloists get lighting
esp. when the stage is crowded.
If possible some sort of orchestra pit arrangement either below or
in front of stage, and preferably movalbe and removable--versatility is the
key.
Make sure that there is ample room for storage of
equiptment:chairs, stands, percussion equiptment, risers, pianos, etc.

I'm sure there is more, but I'm sure that you'll get more
sugestions.

From: John.Howell(a)vt.edu (John Howell)

There have been some really good answers to this query. Let me point out
that there is really no such thing as an "all-purpose" or "multi-purpose"
ANYTHING. What it usually means is a space, or a microphone, or a musical
instrument that is EQUALLY unsuitable for a wide variety of uses--the
typical elementary school or church "cafegymatoranasium."

However, you can come pretty close by looking at the MINIMUM and DESIREABLE
requirements for each use by itself. (I don't think you will EVER make one
facility meet the MAXIMUM requirements of different functions. Theater &
grand opera need stage machinery & trap doors. Concerts need superb
acoustics.)

For theater and dance, plenty of wing space, plenty of depth to the stage,
convenient access to dressing rooms for quick changes, provision for
crossover (exiting one side of the stage, reentering on the other), and of
course good, professionally designed theatrical lighting and theatrical
sound. Fly space and a fly rail, with plenty of electrics. And an
orchestra pit that will actually hold a proper number of players and work
properly acoustically.

For dance, at minimum a wooden stage, and preferably one that is properly
sprung and NOT just laid over concrete.

Dancers need a floor completely smooth, NOT slippery, and free from
anything that can cause injury. Theater needs a floor that things can be
nailed and screwed into. Good luck matching THOSE requirements!

For theater, the flexibility of being able to go from proscenium to thrust
can be very important.

For musical concerts, sufficient space, proper curtains and legs, hopefully
some means of acoustical reflection and projection so the sound doesn't go
straight up and get lost in the flies, ideally adjustable acoustics in the
hall, good concert lighting that doesn't cook the instruments or the
players, intelligently planned and professionally installed sound equipment
for programs that use it.

John & Susie Howell (John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034

From: marmer(a)ruf.rice.edu (Marty Merritt)

I have a lot to say about this, having been on the design team of what I
feel is one of the most successful new music school buildings built in the
last 10 years. I also am responsible for operations and production here,
and am the manager of the School orchestras. We have the enviable (from
the orchestra's point of view) position of having the building manager be
the orchestra manager, too.

I will respond more fully in later posts dealing with musical, acoustical,
and architectural concerns, but for now I will repost a posting I made to
the Stagecraft mailing list detailing significant but often-overlooked
design issues.

TOP TEN LIST OF BORING BUT IMPORTANT THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR WHEN YOU BUILD
A NEW PERFORMING ARTS FACILITY.

Note: This list does not deal with lighting, sound reinforcement, rigging,
drapery, or any such matters. There are a great many more people more
competent than I to advise on those things. Not all of these items may
apply to your space.

--10. LOADING DOCK

What kinds of trucks do you expect? Pickups? Vans? 18-wheelers? Consider
dock height and access path and try very hard to have the dock be a
straight shot on the same level to your main stage.

--9. KITCHEN/GREEN ROOM/LOUNGE

Do you have hot water? Refrigerator connections? Make sure that the
outlets in here do not share circuits with any production areas.
Microwaves, ovens, and especially coffeepots are notorious
circuit-trippers. If you're going to have receptions or serve concessions
at intermission, make provisions for dealing with food trash or you'll be
plagued by ants, mice, and bad smells.

--8. PLUMBING

You need hot water in all sinks, especially shops, janitor closets, and
dressing rooms. This is essential, and one of the most difficult things to
retrofit, so make sure you have it everywhere you could possibly need it
from the beginning.

--7. TELEPHONES

Where are they? Do they ring? Can you turn the ringer off? Can you make
long-distance calls? You get the idea. Don't be tempted to save money by
making your phones serve as stage intercoms, too.

--6. NON-THEATRICAL LIGHTING

Fluorescent light is cheap but ugly. Identify the places you don't want
it. Ballasts on fluorescent lights can be remoted to cut down on noise.
Make sure that you can change your house light bulbs without having to go
through too many contortions.

--5. DOOR SIZE

Standard 3' doors are usually to small to roll anything useful through.
Consider 4' doors or double doors wherever possible.

--4. DOOR HARDWARE/SILLS

Some codes, depending on occupancy, require doors to *latch*. If you need
to prop such doors open, (and you probably will) try to go with hold-open
magnets connected to the fire alarm system. If you use mullions, get
removable ones, and know that your crash bars will likely be very noisy.
This *may* be a problem if you must do audience entry and performer entry
through the same doors. You can sometimes quiet noisy doors by slowing the
closers down a little. Door sills/thresholds should be flush with the
floor for equipment/piano etc. moving.

--3. DRESSING ROOMS

Try to have more than two big ones. Most groups that come to our facility
ask for at least three. Try to place them so that toilet flushes are not
audible on stage. You will also want a large communal "warmup room" if
possible, especially if you do musical things. Make sure that doors in
ancillary spaces don't *slam*.

--2. SOUND ISOLATION

Doors should be gasketed, walls should be thick enough, walls should extend
above false ceilings, etc. etc. This is vitally important if you will ever
rehearse during a performance, have a meeting while construction is going
on, etc. etc. etc. Really. A screwup here will ruin your theatre--I've
seen that in lots of music buildings. Please ensure that your architect
takes this seriously, because in most commercial buildings it is not so
important.

AND FINALLY,

--1. A/C AND HEATING

This is a big source of extraneous noise if it's not carefully planned.
Your engineering firm must be told how quiet it has to be. Air noise like
that found in office buildings is not acceptable in the theatre. Pipes and
air handlers also make a lot of noise, so place them appropriately. Also,
make sure that *you* control the system, because you need to respond to
user and audience complaints quickly.

Good luck with your new theatre! Remember, it's like having a baby: you
study, you plan, you prepare, you work hard, then you take what you get.

Marty Merritt
Facilities Coordinator and Orchestra Manager
The Shepherd School of Music
Rice University
Houston, Texas
marmer(a)ruf.rice.edu