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Stage Electrics helps RE:NEW Chester’s Storyhouse Theatre and Cinema

Stage Electrics helps RE:NEW Chester’s Storyhouse Theatre and Cinema
Stage Electrics helps RE:NEW Chester’s Storyhouse Theatre and Cinema

UK – Built in 1936 and a Grade II Listed building, the Storyhouse theatre was originally Chester’s Odeon cinema. It had been empty and deteriorating since 2007, but the £37 million RE:NEW project, initiated by Cheshire West and Chester Council, set about converting and extending the original building. Stage Electrics was tasked with installing and supplying sound, production lighting, AV equipment, paging and technical infrastructure for the entire project.

From the outside, the building’s front elevation has changed little, with the Odeon’s original façade remaining intact. However, the new theatre forms an extension, with glazed cladding contrasting with the original brick of the Odeon. On the inside, the transformation is astonishing.

Building works were completed at the beginning of 2017 and the venue, which opened in May, is now run and programmed by Storyhouse, after which the venue is now named. Previously known as Chester Performs, Storyhouse is a combined arts producer that produces both its own work and receives touring work from the best national and international artists coming to the region.

Storyhouse now provides two flexible theatre spaces, a cinema, library and two bars. The main 800-seat proscenium theatre hosts touring productions and has an auditorium that spans three tiers. This same space can be converted into a 500-seat thrust stage, spreading across two tiers, where Storyhouse hosts its own productions for three to four months of the year.

The 150-seat studio theatre, meanwhile, sits atop the building and is a flexible, fully-equipped performance, rehearsal and workshop space and is adjacent to a glass-fronted bar which has panoramic views across the city and the Welsh countryside. Both theatres were equipped with Stage Electrics stage management desks, a large bespoke system was designed and integrated into the main house and a standard portable system supplied for the studio theatre. The 100-seat boutique cinema, furnished with plush red velvet and soft, sunken seating, sits within a sound-proofed pavilion on a mezzanine floor in the space that was once the colossal Odeon auditorium.

Stage Electrics was engaged by Kier Construction to deliver the stage lighting and audio visual aspect of theatre consultant Charcoalblue’s design. As the specialist integrator, Stage Electrics was responsible for delivering the production lighting and AV systems across all three performance spaces. This included the production lighting equipment, AV infrastructure and front of house audio systems, including a d&b audiotechnik sound reinforcement system in the main theatre and a distributed audio system for the entire building. In addition to the fully automated, DCI compliant cinema system, Stage Electrics also installed a versatile HD video distribution network throughout the venue, including multiple sources and projection facilities to be used in the main theatre and the open library foyer space. Architectural feature lighting and touchscreen control was specified and installed to the exterior of the striking ‘glass box’ cinema to illuminate the structure.

“At Stage Electrics, we have a great deal of experience of installations like this, so the supply of products like ETC Sensors for dimming infrastructure and our own bespoke manufactured facility panels, racks and Internally wired bars comes as second nature,” explains Ian Dunne, Stage Electrics project manager for the project. “What was special and challenging with this project was maintaining the flexibility in the technical systems to allow Storyhouse to use each performance space in the variety of formats they intend. In the main theatre, for instance, the fact that the format can change between a proscenium and thrust stage had huge implications for the sound reinforcement and assisted listening system designs.”

In addition to the flexibility of the main theatre, the Stage Electrics installation allows for both audio and video to be distributed virtually anywhere in the 7,000 square metre venue. “We were asked to develop the back of house paging and show relay system design to extend across the entirety of the venue, with the additional functionality of local background music inputs,” Ian recalls.

To this end, Stage Electrics designed and installed a Dante networked Symetrix paging, show relay and distributed audio system that reaches virtually all rooms and powers over 200 loudspeakers. The video distribution follows a similar vein and content from multiple sources including a satellite and receiver, Blu-ray, or one of two Mac Pros for home produced content can be distributed into the cinema or to either of the two, Christie 12,500 lumen projectors that can be used in the main theatre or on the raise and lower screen in the open library foyer. The sources can also be distributed over fibre and HDBaseT to virtually anywhere in the venue.

“It’s been a great project to be involved in,” Ian adds. “The fact that half of the project was a new build theatre and the other half was a refurbishment of a Grade II listed building has been really interesting. The attention to detail maintained by everyone involved in the project and the blend of old and new has created a breath-taking venue.”

The blend of old and new is probably most evident in what used to be the Odeon auditorium. The new boutique cinema sits on the mezzanine floor and is clad in modern glass panelling, but surrounded by the existing 1930s Art-Deco architecture. Taking things one step further, Stage Electrics has installed LED colour changing fixtures that illuminate the glass panelling with a custom programmed touchscreen control.

“The whole cinema is an eight metre high glass box,” says Ian. “The glass panels are made in 400mm sections and we can control the colour of each section, which gives a stunning effect and an amazing contrast. Because the walls are white, the cinema itself can flood the whole of the huge open space in colour.”

“We set out to create an exemplar project, and I am immensely proud of what we have all achieved,” says Graham Lister, Project Director for Storyhouse. “Stage Electrics has played a crucial role in developing a highly sophisticated technical infrastructure that more than meets the client’s challenging brief. Ian Dunne as project manager and the whole team at Stage Electrics have not only delivered this complex installation on time and on budget, but also with great professionalism and to an extremely high standard. They were able to draw on their experience and expertise to resolve technical issues that arose during the build programme, including designing new technical solutions when faced with unexpected changes to the original design. I am delighted with the result and I look forward to working with the team in the future.”

The success of the project has recently been underlined by its nomination for Preservation and Rejuvenation Award in North West Regional Construction Awards.

27th June 2017

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