A virtual press conference from Sound & Video Contractor

GRACIE THEATER A $6.5 MILLION CATALYST FOR HUSSON UNIVERSITY’S EXPANDED CURRICULUM AND… A COMMUNITY BRIDGE

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BANGOR, MAINE: Since 1898 when it was founded, the Husson University curriculum has evolved to encompass Business, Education, Health, Pharmacy, Science and the Humanities. Throughout its history this bucolic campus has provided students with virtually every requirement for a well-rounded educational experience. Every requirement, but one.

“There has always been a desire for an on-campus theater? says Husson director of public affairs, Julie Green. “But, because we had no formal theater department, funding has always been devoted to more pressing needs. In 2007 a generous contribution finally made it possible for us to make the theater a reality. We began our design program with two specific goals. One, to expand our student services and two, to share this important new asset with our neighboring community.?

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William Beardsley, now retired President of Husson University, explains that the eight year journey from initial concept through completion of the $15 million Beardsley Meeting House building shifted to high gear in January, 2007 with meetings with Richard Graves and Kris Kowle of WBRC, a local architectural and engineering firm. “WBRC has developed a number of Husson campus buildings since the 1970’s,? Beardsley said. “But, because we knew the theater environment would present a number of unique architectural and acoustical design challenges, David MacLaughlin, our Executive Director of Audio Engineering, recommended that we reach out to the Walters Storyk Design Group, specialists in live performance environments, to collaborate on the acoustic and theatrical design portions of the Gracie Theater project.?

“While sight lines, lighting and support spaces are critical elements of every successful performance space, acoustics are the lynch-pin. Having known WSDG principal John Storyk for many years through the Audio Engineering Society, I was confident that they could provide us with optimum sound and speech intelligibility,? MacLaughlin says. “Right from the get-go with our West Side Story premiere in October, the Gracie combined the ‘wow’ factor of an extremely handsome physical environment with absolutely spot on acoustics. You can literally hear a whisper on stage anywhere in the house. We’re wired with a 3-way mic split and able to feed live performances to our 34’ mobile truck for live broadcast to local radio, TV, online and audio recording purposes. This theater works,? he concludes, “It’s got a phenomenal system capable of handling anything from a full on musical to a corporate meeting.?

An Instructor for 22 years at the New England School of Communications, MacLaughlin initiated the schools audio program in 1995 with six students. It has now grown to 160 earning Bachelor degrees in Communication Science.

WSDG co-project manager Romina Larrengina reports that initial on-site meetings with John Storyk and systems integrator Judy Elliot-Brown began early in 2007. “The CAD drawings and electrical scheme that resulted from those discussions were highly detailed and extremely comprehensive,? Larrengina says. “Concurrent with those design aspects, we focused on determining the most advantageous and flexible ceiling and wall treatments. These included Hemholtz acoustic resonators, Flutter Free diffusers and acoustic fabric panels, which provided the joint benefits of high efficiency and economical unit costs. Theaters are never simple design projects, and the Gracie went through a series of permutations to enable us to make optimum use of the 15,000 square feet carved out for it from the overall 55,000 square foot Beardsley Meeting House complex,? she points out.

In addition to performance and rehearsal space, dressing rooms, wardrobe, scene shop, storage space for the Steinway piano, an orchestra pit for 23 musicians (which can be converted to a “thrust? stage,) and seating for 500 people – 360 in the orchestra, 140 in the balcony – plans called for a number of unique attributes which further enhance the Gracie’s educational and production capabilities. These include a professional recording studio, a lighting booth and a TV master control room, all of which have been provided with sufficient square footage to enable them to function as teaching labs as well as active production hubs. “And, despite the demand for all these technical prerequisites, The Gracie is a surprisingly intimate theater,? Larrengina emphasizes.

David Kotch, technology consultant for WSDG and for technology provider/integrator Masque Sound was intimately involved with the extensive technological package. “David MacLaughlin is a major Meyer Sound fan, which was a happy coincidence as Masque Sound and WSDG are equally strong Meyer proponents, particularly for live performance venues,? Kotch says. “We selected the Meyer Sound Galileo 616 system Processor, a total of 21 M’elodie speakers augmented by Meyer 500HP, M1D and UPJ-1P units. The house console is a Digidesign D Show with FOH and stage rack, while the recording studio features a Digidesign ICON E console and Pro Tools system.?

Because the Gracie is designed as a multi-use venue with live theatrical and musical performances as well as video projection, TV, online and broadcast applications, Masque Sound developed a comprehensive Crestron-based controlling system. “We installed an MPS300 Main Systems Interface capable of coordinating projector, audio/video and a variety of wireless microphones with a TPS-6X wireless touch panel,? Kotch adds.

“WSDG systems integrator Judy Elliot Brown was an invaluable asset in plotting out this complex installation. Masque Sound also developed a custom speaker splitter/patch system for the main array. There’s a tremendous amount of advanced technology at play in this theater. It provides the ability to mount highly sophisticated productions. It also presents students with invaluable state-of-the-art hands-on learning tools, ? he concludes. “It’s a terrific educational tool.?

Noted theatrical lighting designer Josephine Marquez of JMarquez Consultants was engaged to design and commission a comprehensive and flexible production lighting system comprised of an ETC ION 1000 control console with 2 X10 fader wing; 196 – 2.4KW ETC Sensor performance dimmers; 24 – 2.4KW ETC Sensor house light dimmers; 60 – ETC SmartSwitch Relays; Control Room, and Stage Left Equipment Racks housing house, work and running lights controls, as well as non dim controls and network devices; Work lights and houselights control stations located around the theatre; designer control plug-in station at the orchestra level and Tap stations located around the theater to plug in network nodes to control external devices.

“We have a particular affinity for educational and performance venues,? says WSDG co-principal John Storyk. “As a lecturer on acoustics for many universities around the country I’m keenly aware of the ‘working classroom’ needs for facilities of this level. Our experience with ‘real world’ projects ranging from New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center complex to the hot new Le Poisson Rouge club in Greenwich Village is very helpful in enabling us to design theatrical environments that assure the audience of the best possible theatrical experience both from the visual and the audio perspectives. “We developed over 50 feet of fly space over the stage to accelerate backdrop and set changes. We also installed 40 easily removable seats to accommodate handicapped seating. We are particularly proud of this project,? Storyk adds. “Initial feedback from everyone at Husson has been very gratifying.?

“Our premiere performance of West Side Story in October, 2009 was a success from every perspective,? Julie Green reports. “Our students worked on sets, performed sound and lighting checks and a variety of related assignments. The performances were wonderful, with members of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra delivering stellar performances of Leonard Bernstein’s classic score. In fact, we are in discussions with the BSO about the possibility of the Gracie playing host to some of their smaller concerts and possibly developing other types of performances and events.?

Green envisions the Gracie Theater evolving into a hub for a wide range of non-campus events, not only for the local Bangor community, but for neighboring towns, civic organizations and corporations as well. “We are absolutely thrilled with the Gracie Theater,? she concludes. “It has exceeded all of our expectations in terms of hosting professional performances, and providing audiences with a comfortable, elegant and eminently accessible entertainment venue. We anticipate the time when this exciting new addition to our campus will fulfill its potential as a seat of learning, a community asset and profit center capable of contributing funding to future campus projects.?

Photo 1. “West Side Story? rehearsal on stage at the Husson University Gracie Theatre from orchestra pit POV

Photo 2. Husson University Gracie Theatre stage from balcony POV note acoustic ceiling treatments designed by WSDG to enhance speech intelligibility throughout the 500 seat venue.

Please credit all photos by Bernard C. Meyers

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The Walters-Storyk Design Group www.wsdg.com has designed over 3000 media production facilities in the U.S., Europe, the Far East and Latin America. WSDG credits range from the original Jimi Hendrix Electric Lady Studio in Greenwich Village to NYC’s Jazz At Lincoln Center performance complex, broadcast facilities for The Food Network, Interlochen Public Radio, CBS and WNET, and corporate clients such as Hoffman La Roche. Recent credits include private studios for Green Day, Jay-Z, Timbaland’s Tim Mosley, Aerosmith; Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys and film composer Carter Burwell, WSDG principals John Storyk, Beth Walters, and Dirk Noy lecture frequently at universities and industry events, and contribute regularly to industry publications. WSDG is a six-time winner of the prestigious TEC Award for outstanding achievement in Acoustics/Facility Design. The firm maintains offices in NY, SF, Argentina, Brazil, Beijing, Mexico City and Switzerland.

Founded in 1936 by a trio of Broadway stagehands, Masque Sound evolved into one of NYC’s most successful theatrical sound reinforcement, installation and design companies specializing in live concert, TV Broadcast, corporate, industrial, theatrical, house of worship and sports events. Credits range from major Broadway shows including Billy Elliott, Les Miz and Lion King to yearly Super Bowl broadcasts and concerts for such artists as Hilary Duff, Jesse McCartney and Celtic Woman. The firm’s 3rd generation owners Geoff and James Shearing also operate Florida-based Professional Wireless Systems, a leader in the development and implementation of wireless technology. The company’s 70,000 sq. ft. corporate headquarters and main assembly facility is located at 21 East Union Ave., East Rutherford, NJ, twenty minutes from mid-town Manhattan. (201) 939 8666, www.MasqueSound.com

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