More with Less

Sept. 8, 2006
Technology conquers space at Maxine Theater

By Nick Russell

Located northeast of Escondido within the upper reaches of San Diego County, Valley Center, CA, is a placid town of 7,500. Enjoying a mild climate year-round with abundant sunshine and daily high temperatures commonly above 70 degrees, it offers laid-back California living and elbow room often lacking in the region’s larger metro areas.

As one of the community’s newest architectural additions, the Maxine Theater has risen as a prominent landmark, sharing space with the other buildings found on the Valley Center High School campus. With seating for 575, the performance venue is somewhat of an anomaly not so much in form as it is in function, given its joint-use plan, which finds both the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District and San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department using its space.

Brought to life as a design/build project by San Diego-based Davy Architecture and Lusardi Construction of San Marcos, CA, the theater lies directly off a main street on a site offering easy access for community functions without disrupting the rest of the campus, while still remaining close-at-hand for students.

“I certainly don’t want to draw attention away from the inherent beauty of the theater’s design, but some of the most architecturally interesting things about the structure aren’t necessarily the most glamorous,” notes Davy Architecture’s Jennifer Robinson, who worked hand-in-hand with principal architect Ric Davy to help turn the firm’s vision into reality. “Faced with a strict budget, as well as limited space available within an existing campus, we were forced to take a minimalist approach to the building, while still providing room for an audience of 575 people as well as nonpublic areas such as fly lofts and scene shops. The results are very intimate: The design literally wraps around just what is absolutely essential, and that’s ideal for a theater experience,” Robinson says.

To effectively compress the essentials into their design, Davy professionals relied heavily upon highly efficient rigging and audio technologies. By choosing early on to go with an automated Vortek rigging system manufactured by Hoffend Inc. USA, the firm dramatically lowered the height of the theater’s fly loft, reduced the structure needed to support it, and built a much safer stage area.

“The rigging system we chose required significantly less space than a traditional system using counterweights while still providing the same capabilities,” Robinson says. “This factor alone allowed us to meet our compact design goals and offered substantial safeguarding advantages for student use. ... [H]eavy counterweights can’t be accidentally dropped from above.”

Bulletproof Sound Systems
Subscribing to the notion that collaboration ultimately makes for a more successful project at every level, Davy professionals worked closely with Quiet Voice Audio of Fallbrook, CA, to create a sound system for the theater that met its versatile needs and spatial requirements. Area resident and Quiet Voice founder Jon Bart originally thought the theater would require a simple system for community and educational use. He soon discovered, however, that beyond intelligible spoken-word coverage, the sonic design would have to support full-range musical performances for everything up to touring concert acts.

With Quiet Voice engineers David Henk and Barry DeHart adding their skills to the audio effort, Bart also found that a big part of the challenge was building a sound system that was both tough enough to withstand the serious professional use of those fully comfortable around an Allen & Heath ML5000 Series mixing console and easy enough to use for entry-level operators like classroom teachers.

Helping to solve this dilemma was a Shure SLX UHF wireless microphone system. Quick to set up and offering reliability, SLX wireless provides the Maxine Theater with automatic setup features in a package offering clarity and an ability to support 20 compatible systems.

Quiet Voice’s integration of the audio system began with a comprehensive analysis of the site followed by computer modeling directed at defining optimal loudspeaker locations. While working within the confines of California’s strict seismic code, which governs the location of hanging objects in public and commercial spaces, Bart found that the best spots for its loudspeakers couldn’t be used.

“Being forced into a number of less-than-desirable loudspeaker locations was a critical issue,” Bart confides. “To compound matters, we were still faced with demands for high performance plus building an unobtrusive system that conserved space and was pretty much bulletproof in order to withstand being overdriven by amateur operators. All of these factors led us to the EAW AX Series.”

Manufactured in Whitinsville, MA, by Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW), AX Series loudspeakers are designed to meet specific configuration and sonic parameters presented by “purpose-installed” systems developed for performing arts and theatrical venues. On this project, Bart’s required parameters were attained with twin loudspeaker arrays, each outfitted with a pair of AX364 full-range loudspeakers that are flown approximately 30 feet above the floor at stage left and right. EAW SB250zP subwoofers, added to supplement low-frequency output, were suspended closely behind the arrays. To compensate for events requiring even more sonic horsepower, a pair of EAW SBX220 subwoofers can be rolled onstage directly beneath each array.

Power for the system comes from 10 Lab Gruppen amplifiers, while the processing and routing of all audio signals takes place entirely within the digital realm with the aid of an EAW MX8750 processing unit.

“We weren’t worried about hiding the loudspeakers,” Robinson says. “We feel that good design in this case shouldn’t make an overt statement with the display of technology, but people do find it interesting to see what it takes behind-the-scenes to make a show work.”

To be better prepared for projects like the Maxine Theater, Robinson emphasizes that architects should be educated about technology. “This project underscores that technology can allow us to do more with less. There is no way we could have accomplished what we did in the Maxine Theater without fully understanding the space-saving rigging and sound systems that were chosen. The more we know about these systems, the more functional our designs become for our clients,” she says.

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