Posted on December 18th, by Kent Conrad in General ASTC News, NATEAC, Theatre Consultants. Comments Off on ASTC at NATEAC 2016

This past summer, many ASTC members attended the 3rd Quadrennial North American Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference held at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. NATEAC is a sister to the original ITEAC event, last held in London in 2014. Once again, a distinguished group of architects, theatre consultants, manufacturers, theatrical designers, facility managers and users gathered to discuss trends and detailed topics for the design of assembly spaces. Attending this event is often a sort of “who’s who” of theatre design.

ASTC Member Robert Long participates in a NATEAC session: Modern Engineering in Old Broadway Theatres

ASTC Member Robert Long participates in a NATEAC session: "Modern Engineering in Old Broadway Theatres"

photo by Joshua Allen, ASTC

While many ASTC members attended sessions, some ASTC member’s firms sponsored the conference or specific events to show their support. Many members contributed by chairing or sitting on session panels. The ASTC members presenting at NATEAC included:

Joshua Dachs
Todd Hensley
Peter Scheu
Jim Niesel
Jack Hagler
David H. Rosenburg
Millie Dixon
Jules Lauve
Robert Long

The conference began as has become tradition, with an evening cruise around Manhattan. The weather was perfect, making for a wonderful evening catching up with old friends and making a few new ones. Conference organizer Bill Sapsis took credit for the fireworks displays seen in the distance, though Bill has been known to tell a few tall tales.

NATEAC 2016 began in earnest on Sunday morning with a keynote by Reynold Levy, the president of the Robin Hood Foundation. He discussed his experiences in the entertainment industry, including his involvement in the multi-year renovation of Lincoln Center. After his keynote address, the attendees split into breakout sessions, with each time slot offering the choice of three topics.

One of the most talked about sessions was entitled What the Production Team Wants from a Theatre. This session included Bruce Odland (Sound Design Artist), Bartlett Sher (Director), Jennifer Tipton (Lighting Designer), and Michael Yeargan (Set Designer). It was wonderful to hear each of these practitioners discuss how architecture in a theatre can influence and affect their work, for the better and otherwise. The highlight was Odland’s active demonstration where he invited attendees to close their eyes and think with their ears.

Another much discussed session was Gender Accommodation in Performing Arts Facility Planning. This subject wasn’t much discussed a few years ago, but has since become a hot button issue. ASTC member Peter Scheu moderated a session that included ASTC member Todd Hensley and Sociology doctoral student Lain Mathers, who focuses on gender neutral (Zir) research and has a background in the performing arts. This was reported by many attendees as an excellent primer on the issues and potential solutions to these issues that are being considered more and more.

Joshua Dachs moderated a lively discussion with Oskar Eustis, of the Public Theatre, Mimi Lien, set designer, and Anne Hamburger, of En Garde Arts, about Core Values: What makes a great theatre? Intriguing questions such as “do you build the space first or build the operating company first?” led to discussion of other topics including “the space in which the play is happening cannot be ignored” and developing plays for site specific locations.

ASTC Members David Rosenburg and Jack Hagler participated in a panel which opted to shake up the often staid, talking-head PowerPoint presentations so common at conferences. Their session, entitled Who’s Scope is it Anyway (The designer/contractor dating game) was a lighthearted look at the often serious issues around scope gap, contracts, and documentation that can occur in complicated theatre projects. The format was a 70’s game show. David Rosenburg played the smiling quiz show host and asked the “distinguished” panel (all in 70’s garb) for quick responses to unrehearsed questions. It may not be the first time that costumes were used in a NATEAC session but we sure hope it’s not the last.

The conference featured a dinner at Sardi’s, which was a benefit for the Behind the Scenes Foundation. Michael Magg, resident lighting and projection designer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was the guest speaker and provided a moving personal account of how the Foundation supports those in our industry in a time of need.

There were many other wide-ranging topics discussed, including acoustics, contracting, insurance, safety, and space design. It is always a dynamic and interesting mix of people that appear at the conference. Mark your calendars for 2020 when the highlight should be NATEAC (and NOT the Olympics or the next presidential election!)

By Kent Conrad, ASTC and Paul G. Sanow, ASTC

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