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Theatre refit!


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There is a possibility that my place of work MAY get a bit of a major overhaul in the not too distant future. It will include quite a lot ie rewiring of entire rig, new LX desk and dimmers, new sound system, refit of the control room, new lights etc......basically looking for some decent reasonable companies to come and have a look and give advice / quotes etc. Doesn't have to be top of the range equipment as it is a universtiy theatre which doesn't run technical courses as a major aspect but students do need to learn on the equipment and be able to understand what they are doing and be able to op shows etc.

Am going to get the obvious to give quotes (Stage Electrics, White light, Gradav ) but does anyone know of people that are specifically educational establishment friendly and know of all the probs that this will bring and not try to convince me that I need to spend millions on the top spec equipment.......

Thanks for your help!!

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We recently had a large refit done by Northern light ( inc sound/communications/ lighting and engineering) The job was very well done with lots of free training. I have had some trouble with Stage electrics after sales support on projects.

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I think you might approach the task from a different view. As the client, who will be spending the money and more importantly living in the theatre for years to come, I'd say you need to make more of the decisions yourself, rather than putting them out to tender to whichever lighting/sound/install company.


How will whichever lighting/sound/install company know what you want installing/ buying during your refit? No disrespect to any company mentioned, I know lots of very knowledgable people working for each, but do they know your venue like you do? You know how you use the space now (or want to use it in the future), and therefore how many lighting bars, dimmer outlets or sound tielines you want/need in various places, etc. etc. They can tell you what they'd like to sell to you or reccomend you to buy, but at the end of the day, go and play with different lighting desks, see what's on the market in terms of lanterns and sound kit, and decide what you want. If you're not sure about what kind of rigging or staging facilities you want, go and visit some theatres and see what's available, talk to the users and have a think about the options.


We've all been to theatres (especially in this Lottery-funded era) that have wonderful, state-of the art installations, but are inappropriate to what the client needs and wants. On the flip-side, you could spend some money and get some advice from a theatre consultant or other specialist who can give you some independent advice.


On a more practical note, get different contractors to do different bits of the job, rather than going for it all from one company. e.g. pay your local sparkies to pull in all the cables; get the theatrical contractors to terminate the ends; and buy the equipment to go on the ends from a cheap/reliable supplier (which may not necessarily be the company doing the install).

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Stage Electrics will do a fine job, as will Northern Light. (I also have one particular suggestion that I'll PM to you, as it may well be considered libellous if I was to make it in the open forum!!)


As Rob says, though, whoever you end up using make sure you tell them EXACTLY what you want - in as much detail as possible. You're the one who's going to have to use the space in years to come, you know what you need, so tell them. And don't let them steer you away from your chosen spec, either (unless you're trying to do something which is obviously crazy!) - if there's something that you want to incorporate, do it! You're the customer, therefore you are always right. ;)


Draw up a fairly detailed spec before you put it out to tender, setting down precisely what you want to achieve with the refit.

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One thing that needs to be pointed out is that many sales/installation companies have their own favourite bits of kit. Sometimes this arises because they have distribution agreements with particular equipment manufacturers and it is in their interests to sell as many of those products as possible. For example I can think of one company that is the UK agent for a foreign brand of lighting desk and will always try to flog you one. This approach is also common with lanterns.


Particularly in an educational setting, I think there is great value in using "industry standard" equipment, so that your students will not have to partly re-learn their skills once they start work. Likewise, if outsiders ever use your facilities, it makes sense to have similar stuff to everyone else. An analogous situation is the teaching of IT in schools, which for many years was hampered by a make of computer (Acorn) that is just not found in the real world.


The other issue, which has been touched on, is that if you get a company to come in, make recommendations and do an overall design, they retain the copyright to their work and you cannot go and take it to another firm and ask them to quote on it. So if one company comes up with the best ideas, you are often stuck with them, even if they are charging a high price.


Contrast this with the general approach in the construction industry. The client employs an architect to design a building (and whether or not the architect comes up with a sensible design is a moot point), and that design is then put out to tender amongst a number of builders. Bids come in, and they are evaluated on various grounds, of which cost is obviously the main one, but quality and reliability are also considered. This separation of the design from the construction ensures that the client gets value for money.


I think this is a good model for the design/installation of sound and lighting systems. If you, as the client, are not sufficiently clued-up to be able to write a detailed spec yourselves, then employ a consultant to help you. This design is then your property and you can do with it what you want, including sending it to several different installers and get them to quote. You will get far better prices if they know that other companies are also bidding for the same work. You could also ask for two quotes, one including the supply of the equipment and the other for just the installation work. That way you can also shop around for the best deal on the equipment.


If you do adopt a piecemeal approach for the work, this will involve more time and effort on your part. Also please be aware of the H&S implications of this (more relevant to lighting than sound). The electrical design work must be done by an appropriately qualified person. Also, many general contractors will not necessarily be familiar with theatre practices and care must be taken here.


Finally, as has already been said, think very carefully about what you want. Don't make it more complicated than is necessary, and consider ways of making it simpler. Bear in mind that labour costs for installations are significant, but are frequently given far less attention than equipment costs. It may not, for example, make a huge difference to the overall cost of a project to have one dimmer per socket, instead of using a mains patch. However, don't be afraid to include all the functionality you will need for both now and the forseeable future. The chances of getting funding again is probably rather remote, so you want to do it right this time.


Let us know how your project progresses...

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Very brief.....now there's a first! Having been responsible for the technical refit here at The Arena, Wolves in 99/2k, I wholeheartedly endorse all that's been said about doing it to your satifaction; you're the one that knows how the venue works now, how it should work in the future and what's required to achieve that. My additional note is to think well ahead of the finished project, be creative and, if push comes to shove, install infrastructure and operating systems instead of "shiny bits". I know there are "essentials", but the price of extra kit and it's capability is ever changing and ever cheapening. It's far better to have all the necessary signal and power cables in place for the space of your dreams 'at the death' rather than try to revive the corpse after it's been buried; honest, it'll save your employers thousands in the long run (use that regularly). Not a shopping list, you understand but, for instance, get all the video cabling in place, even if a video/data projector is three/four years down the line; or if you've got a high, fixed grid, then a motorised access platform for rigging will make the job of rigging so much easier (for you) and the whole venue work so much more efficiently, thereby saving money (for your employer's......there it is again!).


Set yourself, your friends/partners and your life up to allow you to work like stink for the lead up, duration and first trouble-shooting year of the project. If the homework's done and you're sure, stick out for what you want, if something isn't being done right get it altered (I'll tell you one day about our get-in doors, but not now) be prepared for some real pressure (bordering on corporate bullying at times...... more stories for later) and don't think you'll come out at the other end with many new friends.... remember you're not there to gain their friendship, they work for you.....you're their boss; a fair, polite and considerate one, but their boss all the same! Your return will only match your investment, but, if you've done your homework, you'll have the gig you want and be mighty proud to be able to look at it and say "'S'mine".




"So, that was brief was it? Jeeezzeee!......"

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There have been some very good points raised in the above postings.

But the most important question must be :

Can you get a new sparkly mirror ball?

I feel they add a touch of class to every production.

You may be able to teach the students on the new BTEC module DRM 406 - Mirror ball and slash curtian design and operation.


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Okay...my 2p worth.


We're in the process of building a new venue entirely, so I've been studying this closely.


I can't say enough - you are the person who is going to use this place - you know what you need and want. The fine nitty-gritty of systems design should of course be left to a qualified person, but you are interested in and need a say in the final outcome. I've seen too many new builds/refits that have badly-thought-out parts that the staff curse every day for the rest of the buildings operational life.


And remember: Try as they might, architects and electricians (the normal kind) don't know what you need. (I had to explain the rather important need for larger-than standard get-in doors to our architect...actually, we didn't have any on the first plan...get-in was via the loading bay, kitchen, bar, foyer, auditorium and then onto stage...) So tell 'em. Otherwise you'll end up with 63a single phase for dimming or something equally pathetic (true story - you should have seen their faces when I asked for 200a 3-phase...and a clean 63 for sound...and 16 13a sockets in the control room)



On a brighter note, the fact that they've involved you at all at any stage of the planning indicates that you work for a forward-thinking and unusual organisation...

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Not sure I would go as far as to say it is a forward thinking....unusual yes!!! But I won't bore you with the politics of my place of employment. To cut a long story short...I'm the person that has initiated the refit, so will make sure that it fits my spec as I end up covering all the production aspects with students.....as for saying they are not forward thinking.......this has basically come about because I have continually pointed out that the TV studio does not need any more new equipment, but the theatre hasn't been touched for 25 years....you can imagine the state of it.......lovely TV studio tho' with everything in it you could wish for.....not part of my area tho' we just share budgets.....nuff said, guess the TV studio people shout louder than I do. Thanks for the info anyway....I'll keep you informed!
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In response to the above posts, and having gone through a comparitively minor equipment upgrade, I would give you 3 rules...


1) Assume nothing when it comes to suppliers.


Don't think that if you order X, then of course Y and Z will be supplied too; or that if you've specc'd a multicore from stage end to amp end, that of course they'll realise you want the mixer at the amp end too...


2) Don't be afraid to look like an idiot.


See 1. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and query everything.


3)The supplier's job is to sell you their product.


They are there to make money.


Apart from that, it's a real opportunity, and should be great fun. As long as you know that when it's all over, there will always be someone who will complain that it's not right!



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Yes agreed vendors are out for your cash.

Work with them close and as long as you are clear in what you want everybody should come out happy.

Things start to get messy if too many people start with arguments like "these spekers are better than those speakers" or "those lights have a better optic system than those."


1) Work out what YOU want to achieve and put it on paper.

2) Go and look at the kit in the manafacturers demo rooms and dont get flustered by rep banter.

3) Set budget demarkations for the various aspects of the instalation.

4) Do a mock quote for yourself work out what you think it will cost then ask for vendors quotes, and compare.

5)Rush nothing

6)Talk to others who are going through this sort of thing. My old place of work are doing that very thing at the moment (the junction in cambridge) Give them a call and they will probably give you some usefull advice.

and as said before. ENJOY IT! Buying new toys is always fun I alway like the look on my clients faces whan they get thier new toys.

I work for an A/V sales,hire,instalation,production company feel free to contact me and ask questions we have a policy of giving free advice. ;)

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Following on from the previous messages, I would agree mainly. However, one thing to consider is getting spec. right in the first place. For example, if you know you like a certain type of profile lantern, ask for them, if you know how many socket outlets you need around the venue, put this on the spec. Some companies will try and up-sell, so the more "fixed" the tech spec. is, there is less room for up-selling on the part of the sales company. This is also a good excercise for you. As the planning and design side of a upgrade or new installation is, in my opinion, the fun part!?


If you say you need 60 outlets, and the sales company guy says , "Well, you really need 144" you know different from the start as you have spent more time on the project than the person just visiting and about to quote!!


This is not to say your mind isn't set in stone before the quotes have been submitted, some ideas put forward by the various companies will be valid, sensible and could make your life easier, while adding flexibilty to the venue, and even make the upgrade "future proof".


Good luck

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Hi all


I am looking at this from the other side to seemingly most of you. I run a business doing live shows/festivals and installs. I do nightclubs, bars, theatres etc. I'm not going to say the venues nor my company name as that would be touting for work and that is not what this forum is for. Let us asume that I am far too far away from anyone to quote for anything!!!


I have to agree with most of what has been said.


As an installer the worst thing I find is that the client seems reluctant really say what they actually want the system to do. I hate spending several days designing and pricing a system to deliver one sort of sound only to discover that the venue is not being used for that or that the plans are to change the expected clients, or to find that the closely gaurded budget has been blown out just by my choice of fancy crossover!

I am sure it is not "your" fault but one writer said that you have to give clear instructions on use and that is absolutely true. It is very easy to give quotes for a similar but qualitatively different system which will differ by £100,000 (just done a test spec and exceeded that in 2 minutes of calculating) If you are after a moderate system please do not make out that you either want to hear the best system ever and have unlimited budget or that you want to pay with a bag of groates and the hand of your friends daughter in marriage, when you really do expect to hear the bestest ever system. Be realistic, and how can you be that, by working out what you think you might need, ask advice, I get hasled all the time by local venues, please tell them that advice is what you are after and do not tell them the work is coming their way if you know it is not, as after your install "by the lowest bidder" advice will be understandably expensive!!!


It is true also that we tend to have favourite systems, there must 300-400 speaker manufacturers in the world, probably more! all of whom think their product is the bestest sounding system ever heard!!! Heard that before?? It is very hard to find the best and then to sell it at a sensible price (I of course sell the very best you will ever hear, suprisingly at very affordable prices! yayaya!) profit margins are a good selling incentive for us, so it can be hard for us to make totally unbiased decisions and some manufacturers sadly have very big blindspots to their product failings! At the end of the day we should want to sell you something that we believe in and in 2 years time when you say there is a problem or better still want more and we walk back in we do not wince and look embarressed at selling to you the boxes. This of course goes for lighting, staging, sound etc.


As an engineer and hire company what I really hate doing is walking into a venue and saying "Who the bloody hell put that there, what kind of drugs were they on???!!! And then charge them a hire fee for putting in the same sort of gear but used properly, I can think of 3 venues I service regularly where I run in my own multicore just because the expensive Van Damme core has been installed wrong for a live venue (sadly the installers have probably still made the bigger profit!!)


The thing about consultants is that they normally work for install companies or have ties with them and can gear a suggestion to very limited alternatives, again give them a clear idea of budget and requirements.


Lastly, I agree with "thirdtap" chap, include a new shiny mirror ball, the best lighting effect ever! (I'm a sound guy so what do you expect!) One went down with the Titanic!!!! Mirror Ball not sound man!! (it's in the movie, so its gotta be true!)


Oh yeah. "You can't dance to lights!!!"


Sorry I have ranted, there are too many articles read and not enough replies


Regards to all



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