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New drama studio/performance space


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Looking for some advice!


Scenario - Local authority in conjunction with the school have identified a need for a new 'space' primarily to serve as a drama studio and small performance space. It will have seating for at least 100 and provide a secondary venue for assemblies. We only have 1 space in school that accommodate more than 32 people in one go. They have identified a bit of land and want a cuboid with performance space at ground level with 2/3 classrooms above (no more details at the moment)


I have been asked to suggest some basic needs/requirements/wish list for the technical/production side of things. Without a budget this is a bit difficult but I am also conscious that the more I ask for now after budget trimming the more I will be left with!


Thoughts so far


Height - how high should a 100 seat performance 'box' be?


Access - given students are not allowed to use the MEWP in the hall I want lighting they can access - should I suggest catwalks or a wire-tension grid? Are there any issues I need to know about?


Sound - I don't want specific systems/amplifiers but again, issues I should start thinking about - I'm conscious that being a box it could be used in any which way so I need flexibility but after that not sure


Lighting - any guesses on a sensible ball-park for dimmer channels? Lanterns can come later and won't involve movers ;-)


Seating - In these sort of boxes is retractable seating the way to go or is decking and chairs more useful?


Cloth and tracking -Track with blacks that can go round the walls + various tracks across the space


Any other key issues that need considering? Anyone specified one of these for a school recently?


Anyone want to take a guess at a cost for technical outfitting? 60-100K?


Advice appreciated!

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STORAGE!! Make sure they provide a decent storage space, you will need it for Set, props, chairs, ladders, etc, and it needs to be off the main space at floor level.


Coming from someone who has a new Studio Space I'd give the following advice:


Height: Ours is 5M Floor to ceiling, which is about minimum I'd say to light well. and to fit retractable seating underneath comfortably. A wire tension grid would add 2M to height and be very expensive, I'd say it would be a waste of money in a venue this size.


Access: I don't see any problem with access to a space this height, we use Zarges no problem, you could have a small scaff tower if you have storage for it. The outermost positions on our rig can easily be reached from the retractable seating.


Sound: Because ours is only 88 seat, and can be used in different configurations, I have 4 x JBL Control 1's on hanging brackets that I can rig anywhere, with 6 x patchable speaker outlets in the room. So far these have proved more than adequate for the space, with the added bonus they can fit inside/behind bits of set etc.


Lighting: We have 18 Channels to 3 x Betapacks wall mounted in control room with a cord patch. They are fed by 3 x 63 Amp supplies each a single phase. More than adequate for a room this size. They go to 20 outlets on IWB's in room and 4 floor level sockets. We also put Cat5 outlets in the room going back to points in control room, this enables us to send Video, VGA or DMX to and from the room for Projectors, LED's & Movers. Make sure you have the right kit to convert DMX, Video & VGA to Cat 5 bought at the time though, it's not cheap to get stuff that actually sends decent signal without drop-off. We also went for classroom recessed flourescents in ceiling and rigging houselights on grid as needed. Works OK, but be careful where the switches to the classroom lighting go, don't put any outside the room except in control room, but a secondary set at access is preferable to stumbling around in the dark.


Seating: Retractable is good, that's what we went for, but it might restrict the configuration a bit - though they do mobile units too which need storage for the large pallet trucks that move them. As the Technician restricting configurations is a good thing though, because it reduces workload, and retractable is way easier and nicer looking than Blocks & chairs. The manual ones we have from Audience Systems are very easy to operate.


Cloth and tracking: Always useful, though our Drama lot don't like black boxes, so we didn't do it. We do have blackout blinds though, which are very nice. I'd push for exposed grid of RSJ/Girders below ceiling level if I were you, so that it's nice and easy to rig and add stuff to rig. We have a suspended ceiling, which is horrible, though it does hide cables quite well if you're careful

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Like most schools, it sounds like a bad compromise, but the trick is to make it the best it can be. You'll suffer if the school's management want an assembly hall first-and-foremost, but not so bad if they put the production needs first instead.


Initially, I'm a bit confused by the size... We're just about to have a new theatre/assembly hall built, which is 600 seats assembly, becoming 300 seat theatre by means of retractable seating and balconies, etc. We're having a second studio space, for 100 audience, but that's just an 11m x 11m black box. No where near big enough for an assembly. Is yours a very small school?


In the same regard, our 100-seat studio is going to be 4m high, but that's no where near high enough for catwalks or a Tension Wire Grid. The main hall is getting a TWG (or a trampoline as our architect calls it), but that's 6.5m to the grid, then another massive void above that for access and natural ventilation, so about 12m high in total.


TWG's need structural strength, so one will need to be designed into the building from the start, for best value.


Seating - retractable is lovely for speed, but not very flexible (although you can get flexible solutions, at a price). We're having retractable in the main hall, but sticking with decking in the studio so we can create different seating layouts (end-on, in-the-round, thrust, traverse, etc), as well as using the decking for performing. However, don't forget storage space for the stack of decking and the chairs. Try to get a decent store room off the studio.


Cloth and tracking - A perimeter track for black tabs is essential, particularly when the architect insists on white walls "otherwise the space will be too dark"... Get the tabs in 2m sections so that they can be positioned in many ways, with entrances/exits for actors. Bring it off the wall by about 1m to create backstage access or storage space (if you don't have a 'proper' backstage).


Sound/lighting - Infrastructure is the main thing - toys can be bought later and hired in the meantime! Make sure you get a decent lighting grid. At least 2m x 2m grid; even less for best flexibility. Sockets everywhere - not just lighting circuits, but also XLR tie-lines, Speakons, DMX, and most importantly for future-proofing, plenty of network outlets - including around the grid! Bring everything back to a patch rack in an adjacent (locked) room. Don't forget some panels at floor level as well. For comparision, our main hall is having 192 dimmers, the studio is having 48. Try to go for a 1-to-1 hard-wired system, without any patching, as it's often no more expensive than having a patch bay, plus makes it much easier for inexperienced users.


Sound-wise, just put patch points all over the room, so that you can rig loudspeakers as required without long cable runs. If you're regularly hosting assemblies, then I suspect you'll want a semi-permanent system for that, with a basic front-end for teachers to be able to put on a mic, etc. Backstage you can have more connection points for 'drama mode'.


Will you get a separate control room, or will it just be a rack on wheels at the side? There's lots of other threads here which tell stories along the lines of "if it isn't tied down or locked then it goes walkies / gets broken"...

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For comparision, our main hall is having 192 dimmers, the studio is having 48. Try to go for a 1-to-1 hard-wired system, without any patching, as it's often no more expensive than having a patch bay, plus makes it much easier for inexperienced users.


Not sure this makes sense, 24 Way cord patch & Wall box say £500, extra 12 Channels of dimming say £1250. Our main hall is 24M x 12M with max audience 250 and we've just upgraded from 36 channels of Betapack to 48 channels of Chilli, and I struggled to use all of them lighting a show with a cast of over 100 in Traverse! ( I used about 30 plus 6 smartmacs in the end) No idea what you do will do with 192! We certainly don't own 192 fixtures... but then if it's one-to-one, it's probably just to get flexibility of positions. Of our 48 Channels only 30 are to IWB's the rest come out to socket boxes which we can patch into either with soca or 15A TRS to give flexibility. With dimming circuits costing at least 3 times a patched circuit, having 192 dimmers just seems like a large waste of money to me. With the difference you could buy a stack of Profiles or half a dozen Smartmacs!

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My 2ps worth , I would just say ,


Regarding the seating - for a studio space that size , go for deck and seats. Its so much more flexible. Yes ok , its a bit more manpower to set it up or re-configure it (but thats what students are for!!) but long-term it will create so many more options on staging shows.


Lights / Sound - as above - get the infrastructure in first. Get it right and you will save a huge hasstle in the future. Things like choosing lights and speakers etc is the last thing to worry about.


Dimmers? Id suggest 48 on a softpatch system OR 96 on a hardpatch.


Also, try to get in another 2 32A single phase sockets to allow for easy 'adding on' of dimmers


Putting a track around the edge of the room with blacks is a nice idea. Helps with soundproofing, gives a nice black-box finish or then allows the walls to be exposed for painting onto for different set design ideas.

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I'd agree with the decking and chairs idea - I used to work in a venue which had a studio space similar to what you're proposing and we had decking and nice padded benches (2 and 3-seaters). We also had wheels on the decking legs which made it much, much easier to rearrange! Even if we needed it at different heights, it was easy to get it out far enough to put different legs in it without getting tangled up with all the other decking.


Lighting-wise we had 48 channels of fully patchable dimmers and lots of sockets in the roof - something like 120 IIRC, but you probably won't need that many. We had regular lighting bars running one way across the room, and then IWBs perpendicular to that - grid squares were about 1.5mx1.5m. Floor sockets are also a good idea and something that is often overlooked. Something worth considering is putting hard-power sockets (which are switched from the control room) adjacent to the dimmers - that way it's dead easy to control mirrorballs or any other toys which don't like dimmers, as you can just plug them into a wayline and then patch into the hard power. I think our grid was at about 3.5m - easy access from a ladder and the bars around the outside we could reach from the top level of the seating blocks.


Definitely get tab tracks round the outside - it'll save you a lot of grief later! In terms of tracks within the space, maybe just some sections of track in useful lengths so you can hang them wherever you want without being restricted.

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A balcony round the room with handrail and a lighting bar can provide an opportunity for students to rig and focus a lantern 'at height' with working at height.

Obviously you probably won't be able to do all your lighting from there, but it gives the students some opportunity.


With a clever director such a balcony also opens up lots of potential dramatic uses.


Storage space, get some set aside as theatrical storage from the outset, and have it labelled as such. Otherwise someone in management will see a nice big store cupboard and think they can turn it into a coursework store cupboard, or worse an office for support staff...


My other big suggestion would be leave room for expansion. Put in a nice big power outlet for that show in 5 years time where you're hiring in 10 movers and your ring main won't cope. Spread some 16A sockets around the room for hardpower. Get some DMX cabling spread around.

If you think you need 10 XLR patchlines install 20. If you think you'll need 12 dimmed lines to an IWB install 18. You'd be surprised how things grow!

Install spare XLR3 lines for comms.


Try to get the contractors to leave space in the trunking for future cabling that can't be predicted.


Lastly, wrestle the architect to the ground and threaten to do unmentionable things to him with a stage brace if he builds a soundproofed sound control room.


If you want to come have a look at a space that is similar to what I think you're trying to achieve I might be able to arrange a tour at my workplace. Feel free to get in touch for more advice if you want it.

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If you go for the black box idea, then it would be worth while getting somewhere to store the tabs if you decide not to use them, a tall thin cupboard which the tab track runs into is a nice easy idea.





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One other very good point for a studio space is make sure that the fire alrm smoke detectors can be isolated - or better still , get heat detecters installed.


Also make sure that any air-con systems 'extraction' can be shut off. One of the lovely things about studio spaces is that any old cheapo 'disco-dave' hazer and / or smoke machine can do a great job - but if you have the air extraction on . . .its gone in seconds!!


Hooks up along the sides of 2 opposite walls are handy as well for temp. cable runs like multicores etc. Saves running them along the floor and up/over entrance / fire doors etc.


Find out about the secondary maintained lighting above fire exits. Some are so bright your be surprised how much light comes out of them and getting a total blackout in a small studio space is sometimes tricky.

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Lastly, wrestle the architect to the ground and threaten to do unmentionable things to him with a stage brace if he builds a soundproofed sound control room.


...when he's agreed not to do that, you might like to give him a list of other no-nos that architects seem to insist on ruining new build performance spaces including:



* Skylights and other things that mean the only way to achieve even a poor blackout is an expensive automated blind system that breaks within the first year.


* Expensive hardwood floors in the lightest of light reflecting colours, to match similar black-box-spoiling panelling slung all around the space.


* Underfloor heating and other cunning methods (including expensive finishes) designed to make it impossible to screw anything to the deck.


In fact, with a fair experience of all kinds of new venues, perhaps this thread will need more "What to stop your clueless architect doing".

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I was in one this week where the new dance studio had sprung floor, aircon, proper mirrors, DMX controlled LED Parcans, and a curtain track surround the entire room with black drapes. Dimmable flu lighting with 3 memory states (overkill). These also have a sound activated auto blackout - which got me a few times working quietly in there. What did they do wrong? High up windows fitted with white blinds - these are above the track height meaning blackout is impossible. One of those clever whiteboards with projector on a stand out bracket from the wall - but pocking out from under the track so curtains cannot hide the screen fully. Connection to the whiteboard from the computer doesn't have the audio connection - this comes out somewhere else in the room. DMX input to the permanent lighting by wall plate - but no 13A socket? Loudspeakers fitted on brackets have ahd to be moved because they were behind the curtains and stopped the track running. They got more right than wrong, but just forgot really obvious stuff!
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As people have mentioned storage storage storage, I have about 30 lanterns and when not in use I have hardly any space to put them.


If you are going to be building in the space ( which I am sure is likley) I would suggest an easy seating system, something you can use without excessive work (decking etc I would call excessive)


Sound - I would look at getting some patch points about the space maybe split on 4 points around the stage with a tie back to foh and a tie to the box (depending how big you are looking at). The same goes for DMX I have 5 outs between 7 bars and 3 in's (us foh and box)



I want to edit but my laptop is being horrible at the moment so I will try and do some spag when it feels better.

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Thank you for all your help, it is much appreciated and to those who replied by PM


Appreciate the thoughts on storage, height, tabs + track in particular - very helpful. I will be back for more specific advice on sound kit etc if, and when the project actually gets of the ground


I have put some thoughts together for the senior management and strongly worded that

a) If meetings with architects are already happening then I need to be sitting in on them

b) Getting some professional advice in as consultancy is essential if we want to avoid some of the silly mistakes you have mentioned


To refine the context

We are a school of just over 900 but only have one hall that can seat 300 at a real push: i.e. we never have had an assembly for the whole school therefore 100 would serve to host an assembly for a year group of yr7-11

We don't have a technician and they won't be employing one with the new venue. I teach Geography full time and productions and anything else fills lots of my other waking moments (all on a "voluntary" basis) which brings with it a whole gamut of other issues!

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