by Jez Bond

Day 2 of the ITEAC proved to spark even more debate. In ‘Getting sound into auditoria’ answers to the various questions of sound design, however, were far more unanimous than the previous day’s session on acoustics. The sound position within the auditorium (and ‘within’ being the key) was deemed of critical importance and one sound designer also highlighted the need for correctly positioned speakers: “it is better to have low quality speakers in good positions than high quality speakers in bad positions” Interestingly this echoed something that was said on day 1 in relation to stage equipment versus crew. Obviously we all strive (I like to think) for perfection but it was somewhat refreshing – in a world of increasingly technological stages – to hear that, if one of the two had to be compromised, company managers would rather a good crew over technological marvels. A debate on analogue versus digital ensued and it was agreed that, like vinyl (and, I suppose, film photography) analogue has at least a certain percieved advantage – particularly in it’s ‘feel’ (think fingers on sliders) -and that, therefore, its days were not yet over.

In ‘Stage management and backstage systems’ it was refreshing to hear from an end user – or ‘real person’ as seemed to be the conference term for a real live theatre practitioner! Advances in cueing and paging were discussed and, whilst the design of the stage management desks/consoles are getting more user friendly the increased functionality means that the newer modules can be daunting to a usually technophobic stage mangement team. Whilst maintenance of this equipment could be put within the remit of the general building management, a question wisely raised by one member of the audience was that what happens when something goes wrong during a show if (unlike the sound and lighting operators who understand the technical side of ther boards) the stage manager is unable to deal with the problem. One of the manufacturers, on the panel, then explained that – given the component parts of these systems – nothing would go wrong. I shall leave the reader to imagine the response from the self-proclaimed techies in the audience.

After lunch an informative session on the future of stage lighting and lighting installations proved to demonstrate that LED technology can only currently go so far and that tungstens will, most likely, (like the analogue sound desks) be around for a good many years to come. Aside from the issues of limited colour and diminished brightness in certain ranges, currently only a fraction of the types of luminaire are available in LED.

The final session on ‘How succesful are new venues’ focussed on the succes of the buildings and their integrated architecture. The idea that the succes of a new premises could not be accurately measured until years 5 and 6 was an interesting notion: in years 1 and 2 everything will work beautifully (following, one imagines, the initial snagging) and in years 3 and 4 everything will go wrong (the roof starts to leak, the general manager leaves). One multi-million pound ‘starchitect’ designed venue took a bashing from more than one source whilst the general manager of another new build talked of the problems they had only discovered once actively using the venue.

Worth mentioning, too, that our architect (and he’s a ‘starchitect’ in my mind) attended a number of sessions in different rooms, perhaps most importantly for The Park Theatre ‘The Front Door’, which considered how best to design the front of house space, and ‘Sightlines’ (I think the latter needs no further explanation!)

As for my question yesterday, I feel a little closer to answering. Were those eclectic folk around me (and I ommitted Australia, South Africa and Greece, to name a few, from my list yesterday) artists or scientists? The answer is both. There is science applied, there is however also a great deal of gut feeling, instict, sometimes guesswork and usually experience. It is the required combination of these which make the theatre consultants, architects and acousticians (to name a few) a rare and intelligent breed. It is clear to see why these often loved but rarely understood creatures emerged together in numbers of around 200 at ABTT’s first conference 50 years ago and why there are nearer 500 gathered in London today.
The RSC spoke about a new name needed to define their new lpoint hoist rig for moving lights – perhaps it’s time to come up with a name for these artist scientist problem solvers.

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