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Century Theater AV Flexibility

To say that Minneapolis and Saint Paul are live theater stage towns is a vast understatement, akin to saying Iowa has corn. However, theater in the Twin Cities is far from corn, even though it is technically in the Corn Belt. Although the Twin Cities are 1200 miles from Broadway, Minneapolis ranks second only to New York City for live theater per capital population and is estimated to be the third largest theater market in the US.

To say that Minneapolis and Saint Paul are live theater stage towns is a vast understatement, akin to saying Iowa has corn. However, theater in the Twin Cities is far from corn, even though it is technically in the Corn Belt. Although the Twin Cities are 1200 miles from Broadway, Minneapolis ranks second only to New York City for live theater per capital population and is estimated to be the third largest theater market in the US.

The core of the downtown Minneapolis theater district was, and still is, on Hennepin Avenue. Today, those theaters include the historic Orpheum, State, Pantages and the newly opened New Century. They’re owned by the non-profit Hennepin Theatre Trust (HHT, www.hennepintheatretrust.org). (See “Historic Theaters, HHT Overview” for details.)

Additional Venues

In addition to the four Trust theaters, there are three other theatrical venues on the avenue. Founded in 1974, Illusion Theatre, located in the Hennepin Center for the Arts, uses the power of theater to catalyze personal and social change. There are twoother recently opened sites: the Brave New Workshop (BNW) and the Cowles Center. Founded by Dudley Riggs in 1958, BNW is the longest-running satirical theater in the country specializing in political and social satire. The Cowles Center concentrates on Dance and the Performing Arts.

We hasten to add that theater is by no means limited to the aforementioned re-emerging “Great White Way” on Hennepin Avenue. Thus, if one had to name the driving force that put Minneapolis on the map, theatrically, worldwide, it would be the Guthrie Theater, which opened in May 1963. It was a calculated “to be or not to be” risk of founder Sir Tyrone Guthrie, who opened the famed theater with Hamlet.

According to the Guthrie website, Guthrie and two colleagues wanted to create a theater with a resident acting company that would perform the classics in rotating repertory. The Guthrie became a prototype for an important new kind of theater in contrast to the commercial environment of Broadway. The Guthrie is also located in downtown Minneapolis on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Space limits us here in describing the plethora of theaters in the Twin Cities, from garages to sophisticated digs. Just to name a few before we move on with our story, there are the Ordway Center and the History Theatre in Saint Paul. Other well-established Twin Cities stages include The Children’s Theatre Company, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, Jungle Theater and Theatre in the Round Players.

Credits

Jason Capra, who is New Century Theatre Manager and in charge of its AV technology, guided us through the AV and other attributes of the venue. Capra has an extensive background of nearly 20 years in event production as part of the Minneapolis, national and international entertainment scene. A partial list of his AV-related work includes Event Technology Supervisor at Marriott International and Technical Director for ThemeStar touring productions in Sydney, Australia. Carl Lee is Director of Marketing and has also taken over management of the New Century, and talked to us about the other theaters in the Hennepin Theatre Trust. He was previously Director of Marketing for The Minnesota Opera for five years before coming to the Trust.

Thanks to Karen Nelson, HHT Public Relations Director for arranging the interviews, background information and photos in a thorough and professional manner. In addition, she noted that Kirsten Johnson, Trust Controller, “basically negotiated all the theater contracts/construction/install.”

Transformation

First off, let’s explore the transformation of an empty expanse in City Center in the heart of downtown Minneapolis to a thriving theater space. And we’ll look at the challenges involved. Your author recalls the ground floor space in City Center as a convenient hallway shortcut between Hennepin Avenue and the Nicollet Mall during downtown business and shopping trips.

Although there were eateries and retailers en route, they were scattered and mainly clustered at both the Nicollet Avenue Mall and Hennepin Avenue entrances. In contrast, the 12,000-square-foot space that was to become the New Century Theatre was a dark, desolate, abandoned retail niche to one side in the middle of the streetlevel hallway. Thus, it was fortuitous that the barren recess was considerably brightened up via show biz.

Accordingly, the challenge/solution for the New Century was to take a space that had been vacant for quite awhile and transform it into a flexibleand pleasing multifunctional main floor theater with a proper acoustic drop ceiling, great sightlines, a stage and AV/lighting to serve around 250 seated patrons. And it so happens that New Century is located with the same area as the original 1908 Century Theatre.

“From deck to floor, it was 17 feet and absolutely empty,” said Capra. “There were just some older HVAC systems hanging in the concrete space. And it had been sitting empty for 12 years. The construction project with our general contractor (Greiner Construction, Minneapolis) lasted about a month and a half, with the preparation work about four months. It took a lot of planning.” Regarding design challenges, he noted that there were a lot of things to keep in mind, including fire codes and safety measures.

Wanted Flexibility

“We wanted to achieve flexibility,” asserted Capra. “That was one of the biggest purposes in the design of the space and how it’s laid out. We wanted the systems in place to also be as flexible as the space itself, so that determined the direction we went with in designing the lighting and audio system.”

Acoustics and sightlines were fundamental concerns to having a great theater experience. Capra emphasized that there was the commitment to make sure that everyone who buys a ticket to see a show gets the same experience or as great an experience that New Century could possibly give them for their dollars.

“That’s a really important thing in theater,” he said. “People don’t spend money or continue to support things that are not enjoyable. That being said, we really wanted to make sure that every seat had the same quality of sound and that every seat was free and void of sightline issues.”

Delving into acoustics, the room itself is wider than it is deep, which is favorable. The decision was made to install a drop ceiling instead of a spray ceiling. “The drop ceiling gave us some better acoustic control,” said Capra. “It certainly helped us in STC [Sound Transmission Code] ratings between spaces. The materials used on the walls are treated. Although they look like a regular dry wall, there is treatment behind them. It can be a live room. All the surfaces are relatively smooth. That is actually helping us. You don’t want a completely dead room. Nor do you want one that is so acoustically reverberant that you can’t function or do anything in the space. We have just the right mix of both. It works well, especially when you take into consideration that the more bodies you put in here, it even gets better. We really like it.”

Versatile Space

Capra explained that the result was that New Century can do pretty much everything in this space, from theater to corporate presentations, meetings, education and receptions. Specifically, the entire rigged seating area can be removed so the area can be used as an entirely flat room. The stage itself is very flexible and modular so it can be moved around for an event. For any event, full AV/ lighting services are available. Thus, there are two seating configurations: the typical theater-style, seating 250, and a cabaret style with six seats per table for a total of 175 seats.

“It’s safe to say we can really take care of most any event that requires a space of this size,” said Lee. He cited the example of the preshow, VIP reception for the Ivey Awards held in New Century. They’re the Twin Cities theater scene achievement awards. “It’s really a multipurpose use space, depending on the needs.” He further cited A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol, a Minnesota version of the famous Dickens work, which featured a large cast, large-set musical comedy with 17 original songs. New Century has done one-person shows, as well. At press time, the one-woman comedy improvisation, Mary à la carte, set in a home cooking diner, including audience participation, was showing (see “Girls Only” sidebar).

From Speakers To Mics

There are five RCF Vision Series PA281 house speakers positioned to evenly envelop theatergoers with sound. In addition, Electro-Voice subwoofers are placed at the far right and left of the stage in line with the house speakers to give a nice bottom end. “We chose the RCFs basically because of dispersion patterns and coverage capabilities, plus they’re compact and lightweight,” said Capra. “They can hide. You really don’t see them hanging from the pipe grid. And they’re really easy to move around, so we can cover different angles. There again, that leads to flexibility of the space.”

The RCF is comprised of a one-inch driver with a 90x80 dispersion pattern and two carbon fiber eight-inch combs or woofers in each cabinet. “The dispersion pattern and tonality of the box really lends itself to be a good quality piece to put in this space,” he added.

In contrast, he noted that most of the boxes that come out now are designed to go as elements, like a line array. “That’s not something that we could really do because it’s not set up like a typical left/right audio system. It’s more of a zone coverage-type system that we can tailor for each event.” Moving on to stage speakers, there are two RCF F-8 self-powered monitors that were chosen because “they work perfectly and match up, componentwise, with the main sound system,” pointed out Capra. “You don’t have a stage monitor putting out frequencies not being produced by the main sound system, and vice versa. And we wanted to go with a monitor that would be very versatile. You can put it anywhere and use it in many different applications.”

Monitors Augmenting the stage monitor sources are two DB K-81 powered micro monitors for cue source applications. “They are lightweight and very easy to hide. In theater, you have sound coming from a certain place, like a knock on a door,” Capra explained. “So you need a monitor like this that works well for that application.” The house speakers are driven by four Crest CA-6 amplifiers. Electro- Voice processing provides management of each speaker. “I can tailor the speakers themselves to make adjustments, depending on the show,” said Capra. “So a speaker can be muted, enhanced, EQd and delayed in any configuration in this room.” There is a bevy of microphones to suit most any event or staging situation. Regarding what mics to stock, Capra said that a lot of groups tend to specify what they want, so the theater keeps certain widely used mics on hand. “We try to stay with Shure or Sennheiser because they tend to be the industry standard,” he said. “And we want to have available what people are going to use. That works very well for us.”

Specifically, he noted New Century keeps two Sennheiser Evolution series wireless available. “Typically, for larger productions that have multiple cast members, these mics are tailored for what they’re looking for.” They also have two Countryman E6 headworn mics, which are practically invisible and can fit other wireless systems. Their Shure mics include two lavaliers and six Beta 57As.

“The Production Intercom [PS-200] system is fantastic,” declared Capra. “When outside producers or presenters come in and rent our space, they may have some of their own Clear-Com pieces. And our intercom will interface with theirs. That works very well for us to set up. It gives us a lot of flexibility.”

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