The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. As one of the nation's preeminent urban performing arts centers on a major university campus, the center has a storied history in the performing arts, presenting world-renowned and emerging artists and companies in its four-decade history. Leading up to the anniversary, the goal was to bring one of its main venues, the Zellerbach—a 900-seat proscenium theatre that accommodates a wide array of events, including dance, theatre, music, comedy, lectures, meetings and teleconferences—up to date and revamp its nearly 20-year-old audio system in its entirety. This complete renovation encompassed the upgrade of the FOH console to a DiGiCo SD9, and replacing the archaic PA with a Clair Brothers R2T PA system in a LCR configuration, comprising Clair CS18-II subs, QSC PL series amps and BSS London processing. â€¨â€¨
"The Zellerbach Theatre has a rich history in the Philadelphia area and the hopes for the upgrade were to have all the elements in place for the anniversary—as a sort of unveiling," explained Annenberg sound engineer, Daniel Araco, who ran point on the project and worked with both Clair and the Annenberg's finance department to secure funding and approve work schedules. "The project was sparked by Madison Cario, Director of Operations and Special Artistic Initiatives at the Center. Replacing the system would have been the most desirable outcome, however that was not in the budget, so renovation was the best option. Since Roy Clair installed the original system, we scheduled Clair Bros. to tackle the project. Clair's Project Manager/System Designer Timothy Owen Mazur put together a scope of work to replace the speaker and horn components, repower the system and upgrade the amplifiers/DSP, and to purchase a new console. The goal of trying to achieve a lot with a limited budget was the challenge."
For consideration as a console option, Mazur pointed Araco in the direction of a DiGiCo SD9 as a viable solution and with the capability to handle both FOH and monitor functionalities from its location on the theatre's right side under the balcony. Taking several consoles for trial runs, Araco knew immediately that the SD9 would fill the bill and more.
"The SD9 had many of the desirable features we were looking for and the price point was right in line with what was budgeted for our space," Araco added. "However, one function was most important to us when we considered the best choice console for the theatre: for a multi-disciplinary venue like the Annenberg Center—where everyday we serve the needs of theatre, dance, university events, student productions, many different music genres and even televised events—flexibility was a key factor. Being able to quickly and easily serve all of those artists is not just cost-effective it's what we've built our reputation upon. The large full-color 15" LCD touch screen and scribble strips ensured that all functions of the system were available immediately without having to scroll through multiple menus or having to use a mouse. The automation and â€˜snapshot' capabilities made it easy to store cues for multiple theatrical situations with ease, and the sonic performance/transparency that the SD9 provided to my ear is what sold me on the worksurface immediately. To my ear, the DiGiCo sold itself. Probably the most challenging hurdle in spec'ing the SD9 was the digital divide. I've spent my entire career on an analog desk, so for me it was like going from a typewriter to computer. The DiGiCo was the best possible solution to drag me into 21st century and the transition was very smooth with Clair Audio Systems and DiGiCo. We have gone through the DiGiCo training and they have always been available for questions should we need it, and this has really solidified our relationship."
In addition, and with monies saved, Araco was able to put together an on-stage monitor system with the house analog console and the purchase of a split to add-on to their existing floor monitors a few additional db Technologies speakers.
Now that the theatre's new system is up and running and the 2011/2012 Season is well underway, everyone involved is thrilled with the outcome. "Everyone is pleased with the sonic performance of the new systems, and other engineers are excited to see the new workspace and eager to check out the interface—even first-time engineers are able to understand the basics of the console with a few short lessons. The venue staff are happy to see the replacement of several large snakes near the aisle with a nearly invisible CAT-5 cable. But perhaps the biggest endorsement is from the stage crews, who no longer have to lug massive, heavy analog rentals up and down two flights of stairs to reach the mix position!"
"The project, which started with discussion and budgets during the summer of 2010," Araco recalled, "was completed in several stages over the course of the spring and summer of 2011. We are now poised to show off the completed renovation for our 40th anniversary season… just as we had hoped."