|19201 Cook Street
CA 92610-3501, USA
ON THE STAGE AND BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Englert Theater's legacy continues with new sound
A CULTURAL LANDMARK
Theatre has a legacy of community entertainment for city
residents as well as students at the University of Iowa, which
is a short distance away. Furthermore, the venue has been
listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has
been included as an official project of "Save America's
Treasures", a program of the National Trust for Historic
As an aside and related, this writer recalls the historic
renovation of the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis. Thus it's
heartening to see preservation of the artistic and entertainment
past when movie multiplexes have all but supplanted the neighborhood
theater. Moreover, the renovated turn-of-the-century theatrical
venues host a wide range of acts from a singer in the center
stage spotlight to a full-blown production. As a colorally,
the Englert, like the Pantages and other similar theatres,
represents a useful multi-use and historic property that is
fading away from towns and cities throughout the country.
The original Englert was built in 1912 to replace a late 19th
century opera house. The thriving live-performance circuit
of the times, which graced the theatre's stage, included such
famous actors as Harry Lauder, Ethel Barrymore, Paul Robeson,
Fanny Brice and Sara Bernhardt. Local high schools held their
official functions there, as well.
Sadly, in 1926, a raging fire destroyed the building. However,
the fortress-like brick exterior remained standing and the
interior was rebuilt. Motion-picture projectors were installed,
although live performances continued until the Great Depression
in the 1930s. And the Englert remained a movie house until
1999. Today, The Englert Civic Theatre Inc. is a nonprofit
community organization that aims to create a multi-use live-performance
house in Iowa City. Stage use extends from solo performances
to plays, musicals and dance. An agreement between the University
of Iowa and the Englert brings performances by UI's Performing
Arts Division. Some of those events included Menotti's Amhal
and the Night Visitors, by UI's Opera Theater, last December,
and chamber music concerts. At press time, a glance at the
Englert's spring roster shows songwriter/performer Greg Brown,
the hillbilly-humored New Horizons Band and three children's
plays: Tom Sawyer, Beauty and the Beast,
and The Elves and the Shoemaker.
The venue's 30'x24' proscenium compares favorably to some
Broadway stages. The stage has full, three-story fly loft
above and dressing room space unserneath. There's a three-inch
steel-reinforced concrete floor under the wooden stage floor,
which is supported by cast-iron trusses every eight inches.
Clearly, the building was built to last for generations.
Sound sytem design was by consultant Gary Sanborn
with additional help from his partner Rick Loula
at PAT Design, Iowa City. Sanborn
is the design spokesperson here. Install was by Lifeline
Amplification Systems, Platteville, WI. President
Scott Wright and head installer Bernie
Millage discuss their work. Because of the tight
timeline for the installation, Douglass Communications
was contracted to help pull all cable and do the DSP programming.
SECOND ACT COMPLICATIONS
Comparing this install to a play, the heart of the drama would
be in the second act. "What we have here is a failure
to communicate," the famous Strother Martin line from
the movie Cool Hand Luke, and the age of the building
were underlying factors for the project's install challenges.
Although the goal was to have all systems up and running for
A Christmas Carol starting on December 2nd last year,
"they were still hanging the fire wall and had
not yet received an occupying permit," according
to Scott Wright. "We deal with a lot of historic
structures in renovation projects. And you're going to run
into issues. In fact, there were people working through the
night of December 1st just getting some things finished."
Wright noted that his install company was
given a full month, which was "a reasonable timeline
for our portion, as long as all the electrical in the facility
was ready for us. The place was a renovation of things other
than the sound system...which also included electrical, painting,
plastering, seats, curtains, lighting, structural and some
modifications to the building. And they were nowhere close
to being ready for us. We couldn't do things until other people
finished doing their things."
When it was obvious that a completely installed sound system
wasn't going to happen by curtain time on December 2nd, the
immediate solution was to rent portable gear so the show could
go on. "There was no real, true'go-to' individual
on the job," declared Wright. "So
Bernie (Millage) and his crew put togheter a list and presented
it to the electrical contractor." Rather than
worry about installing paging and the dressing rooms sound
system, house speakers were put up, a mixing console was put
in place and portable snakes were put into temporary operation.
"Our biggest hassle was the electrical,"
explained Millage. "The building was so old that
access to conduit was hard to get to". Runs that would
be 30 feet if the path were straight ended up being 150 to
200 feet in some instances. "The conduit run had to be
The left/center/right flown house system in comprised of Renkus-Heinz
speakers driven by QSC power amplifiers.
"Renkus-Heinz makes a well-engineered array",
declared consultant Gary Sanborn on cluster
speaker choice. "And I like them sonically, as
well." House sound system DSP is provided by
a Biamp AudiaFLEX.
The center cluster, which carries speach and paging, consistes
of an S9/4-2(T)
Reference Point Array and two downfills mounted on the
sides of the RPA. Then the house left and right clusters hndle
stereo music playback for imaging," explained
Sanborn. Each of those clusters has a CT5212/94
with an STX2M/94
downfill. The subwoofer is a Renkus-Heinz
To ensure even house coverage, other Renkus-Heinz
speakers include a pair of STX2M/64
side fills, left/center/right TRX81/12
for upper balcony and eight Fraizer C399s
for the underbalcony. "The Fraizers sound awesome,"
said head installer Bernie Millage.
Various Crest and Crown
amplifiers drive other speaker systems. Additional speaker
support includes a half-dozen EAW LA212s
stage-monitor wedges. The makeup and dressing rooms, as well
as the loby, are served, variously, by Atlas,
Peavey and QSC speakers.
While we're on the topic of speakers, house speaker rigging
was a challenge. Fortunately, there was a large catwalk for
sound above the proscenium arch. "The catwalk
could have held a Mack truck," Millage
said. "Otherwise, there is nothing but a suspended
plaster grid ceiling. Although we were able to rig of the
catwalk, our left and right speaker pairs were about two feet
ahead of the catwalk. We were able to get a steel guy up there,
who helped make a couple of large braces that would hold the
speakers' weight. Our outside left and right pair were about
426 pounds each!" Speaker angles were rotated
by means of an Allen Products FlyRing of
two fly points, instead of three. "I did all
my down angle and side-to-sound angle right of this bracket."
subwoofer is flown center stage and delayed from the main
system. Millage noted that the sub was winched
through a front stage hole provided for stage lighting, which
just happened to be the same size as the sub. "we
wound up building a small bracket to raise the sub as straight
as we possibly could," he related. Although
the winch was anchored in the attic, "the ceiling
wasn't completely finished. If you bumped any ceiling plaster,
a big chunk could come off the old building. So it was a slow
process that took us a good portion of the day."
The install crew had to tread carefully, loading the compact
10' x 10' sound room's amplifier and DSP rack, its equipment
and cabling, which is located on a catwalk some 30 feet in
the air and accessible by ladder. "It's a catwalk
built on the way up to the lighting catwalk,"
explained Wright. "We had to take the Middle
Atlantic rack apart on the ground, then haul up the rack and
equipment, and put it all together on the catwalk."
CONSOLES, OUTBOARD PROCESSING
Consultant Gary Sanborn specified Crest
house and monitor consoles. "I like the idea
that they mmatch. The X-Eight FOH console
does "left/center/right" panning properly. It's
important in theatrical to get your panning right. If you
want to use that feature of the console, Crest offers a lot
for the money." Regarding the HP-Eight,
he said, "It was very fortunate I could put a
monitor console in there. The budget has been all over the
place the last couple of years. I saw the HP-Eight at NSCA
last year and it was within the budget." There's
a Radial 40-channel mic splitter in the monitor
chain, as well. House console processing includes an Ashly
Protea DSP, dbx compressor/limiters
and a Lexicon reverb. Playback sources include
Marantz CD and Tascam mini-disc
players. The monitor console has dbx processing.
The FOH console resides in the balcony at audience left. "It's
a nice monitoring position. It's not way to the back and it
doesn't block people behind us." However, he
noted that the problem with the balcony location is stage
access. "You need to go down to the stage during
rehearsal to adjust something or see if they need another
mic." Therefore, Sanborn's PAT Design
partner Rick Loula designed a ramp that connects
the console area to the sound room. From there, the stage
can be accessed by a ladder. The monitor console found a niche
on the counterweight landing come eight feet above the stage.
"There's just enough room for the monitor console,
as well," said Sanborn. "It's of
the stage and there's still a good view of the performers."
PATCHING, PAGING, INTERCOM
ProCo XLR microphone patch panels and dry
lines, along with Countryman direct boxes,
are used throughout the facility, providing great flexibility.
For instance, patches can be made at the lighting booth, FOH
console, stage console and back of stage locations for sending
signals back and forth. "The nice thing aboul
XLRs is that touring companies can come in and set up their
Paging can be done back and forth from the stage to the box
office, the first and second floor lobbies, dressing rooms
and the lighting booth. Emergency paging allows paging everywhere
in the building. And the audience can be paged over the mono
central cluster via the AudiaFLEX. Non-audience
70-volt areas are paged via Biamp Nexia.
An extensive Clear-Com intercom system envelops
the building, as well.
The Englert's microphone inventory includes such items as
Crown PCC-160s, ElectroVoice RE20s, Sennheiser MD421s,
as well as Shure hardwired and wireless.
Additional microphones are either rented by the theater or
supplied by touring companies.
There's a "show sound" Audio-Technica AT815B
balcony railmounted mic used for several applications. "It's
an ambient microphone used when the sound system isn't being
used," explained Millage. "It runs
through a little Shure FP16A mixer taht's housed in the rack
where it's patchable into the Williams hearing-assistance
system. The show sound mic/mixer can also be patched onto
a dry line for recording or broadcasting. So it's basically
used for performances that don't use the sound system."
Wright noted that the renovated Englert Theatre
"has been very successful. Almost every show
has been sold out." And as Gary Sanborn
observed, "In the long run, an audience can forgive
a few lighting instruments or loudspeakers showing. But they
can't forgive a bad show."