Spring, 1995

Forum Features Stewart Donnell Workshop

ASTC "Forum 94" was held in Mystc, Connecticut on 29, 30, and 31 of July this past year (1994). This Forum did not have a single overriding theme as has been the case in some past years, but instead a variety of subjects pertaining to the entertainment and construction industries were covered over the course of the conference.

Highlights included a presentation and work session led by Stewart A. Donnell, Principal with Donnell Consultants Inc., theatre and concert hall cost management consultants. Mr. Donnell astutely explained and demonstrated the process by which his company develops cost information for new construction and renovations. Also, Patricia MacKay, Publisher/Editorial Director of TCI and Lighting Dimensions, and producer of the Lighting Dimensions International Conference and Exhibition, announced the launching of ETEC in the Spring of 1995. ETEC is an online service offering a wide range of entertainment industry resources to subscribers.

ASTC members Jim Read and Jack Bogan presented some examples and followed up with a discussion on AUTO-CAD and 3D modeling in theatre design projects. Members William Conner and Armand Marion reported on recent activity related to ASTC's ongoing work in building code reform for places of public assembly. Member Robert Shook presented an update on the data distribution systems in the theatre, including DMX, ETC link, Ethernet, etc. and used Schuler & Shook Inc.'s Lyric Opera of Chicago Renovation as an example.

The weekend, organized by Jim Read and Robert Long, was blessed with beautiful weather and was a rich opportunity for the exchange of ideas and the sharing of experiences for the mutual benefit of all ASTC members. FORUM 95 will be held on 28, 29, and 30 July 1995 in San Diego.

ASTC Spearheads Code Revision

Since its inception, ASTC members have sought out common causes; members agreed early on that an area of mutual concern was the codes and standards governing assembly spaces. The focus of member concern was the inconsistency and inflexibility of the model codes; the codes simply did not respond to contemporary public assembly space design Initially, members clarified issues and invited recognized exerts to meet with them. In 1987, with a better understanding of the code process, ASTC appointed a representative to the technical committee for the Assembly and Educational Occupancies of Life Safety Code, NFPA 101. From this beginning, working through the Board for the Coordination of Model Codes (BCMC), ASTC has developed a focused effort to implement major changes in the building and fire codes and standards.

ASTC has brought the voice of assembly space design to the code development process, has enlightened code officials on current theatre production practice, and has implemented positive change in the codes and standards. As a result of the BCMC Report on Stages, Platforms and Sound Stages dated May 5, 1992, all of the model building codes - BOCAI National Building Code, ICBO Uniform building Code - have been modified. Ironically, NFPA's The Life Safety Code, the fourth constituent to the BCMC, has incorporated many of the detail items but not the more fundamental issues relating to determining the classification of stages and building separations.

New Stage Definitions

Among the most important BCMC revisions are the following:

  • A clear definition of the various types of stages with identification of the life safety hazards of each and a clear, performance based strategy for protecting against these hazards. Now definition is keyed to stage area and height. These two variables are primary in determining the amount of scenery and other ordinary combustible materials and, hence, the level of danger to an audience from a fire on stage.

Clear Standards

Simplified, stages under 50 feet in height and less than 1000 square feet present limited hazard and should be sprinklered. Larger stages less than 50 feet in height present a greater hazard and should include building systems for smoke control. Finally, stages greater than 50 feet height may contain significantly larger amounts of combustibles, resulting in a significantly greater threat to safety; these require the added building separation and proscenium opening protection (fire curtain).

  • Elimination of antiquated requirement, and development of requirements that respond more accurately to contemporary facility design, such as: construction type; enclosure; allowance for trap rooms; elevators, etc.; openings in stage walls and floors; and special structures within stages. Numerous specific details have been deleted, revised, or added to accommodate contemporary practice and construction, such as special guard (railing) configurations, unprotected (i.e., non-fireproofed) structure; and limited used of combustible materials (e.g., wood catwalk decks).

  • Development of clear, performance-based standards recognizing alternate forms of theatres and alternate strategies for life and fire safety, particularly as regards natural and mechanical ventilation and proscenium opening protection if the form of fire safety curtains or deluge water curtains.

  • Recognition that, since the Iroquois Theatre fire in 1903, there have been no significant fires in performing arts venues while occupied by an audience, but that performers and technicians are often exposed to hazards. This addressed issues of backstage fire compartments and minimum degree requirements for technical areas.

These examples of code development illustrate that ASTC has made a significant effort and has achieved major results in bringing this country's codes and standards from the 1800's into the 21st century. Still, there is much to do.

One area of focus is gaining influence in ADA legislation affecting the performing arts. Another is to affect some of the more minor issues, such as clearer standards for deluge systems and mechanical ventilation systems.

The ASTC would like to thank the following manufacturers for their faith and confidence in the ASTC as evidenced by the no-strings-attached financial contribution for the considerable expense incurred in this effort:

American Seating Corp.
Colortran, Inc.
Irwin Seating Co.
J.R. Clancy, Inc.
Strand Lighting
StageRight Co.
Texas Scenic
Wendger Performance Div.

Thousand Oaks Arts Plaza Features 2 Theatres

The city of Thousand Oaks, California, opened their new $65 million Civic Arts Plaza in November. The new complex houses two performing arts facilities, plus most of the city administrative offices and functions. The building was designed by Antione Predock FAIA, with Dworsky Associates as Executive Architects; the Seattle firm of Knudson-Benson Associates served as theatre consultant for the city of Thousand Oaks. The acoustics consultant was McKay Conant Brook.

Civic Auditorium

The Civic Auditorium is designed as a professional theatre and road hose. It seats 1,800 on three levels. An air-caster seating wagon on the orchestra pit lift can be stored under the front of the main floor, permitting the accommodation of an 80 piece orchestra. Lighting positions in the front of house include two balcony fronts, four side lighting ports, and two lighting catwalks in the ceiling. Acoustical adjustment of the house consists of two motorized counterweighted canopies over the orchestra pit area and eleven motorized drapery tracks in the high ceiling area, to permit alterations in the reverberation time of the hall.

Onstage, the rigging is straightforward single purchase counterweights, plus some motorized sets for orchestra shell ceiling. The proscenium can be varied from 40 feet to 56 feet in width. The main stage is 48 feet deep with an additional 26 feet of scene storage area upstage, which also contains some rigging. Proscenium height is 35 feet. Grid is at 86 feet.

Forum Theatre

The Forum Theatre is a dual purpose space where the City Council plays one night a week, and the theatre is available at other times for rentals and other public uses. There are approximately 250 fixed seats at the rear of the room in a steep rake; the forward part of the room will accommodate city council furniture in a flat floor configuration, or an additional 150 seats in a conventional raked theatre configuration can be raised into place. Seating and council furniture are stored in the basement, and loaded onto the lift platform as needed. The fire curtain is faced with oak veneer and functions as an architectural background when in the city council configuration.

Rigging and drapery installation has been done by J.R. Clancy. Stage lighting and control equipment by Strand Lighting. Seating by Irwin Seating Company.

ASTC President Robert Benson Dies

ASTC President died March 15 at the age of 67. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Bob devoted his professional career to theatre lighting and consulting. Bob was Technical Director and Lighting Designer for the Santa Fe Opera and held numerous sales and development positions with such prominent theatre manufacturers as Kliegl Bros., Colortran, Rosco and Skirpan, prior to joining Peter Knudson in 1983 to for Knudson-Benson Associates of Seattle. As a theatre consultant Bob participated in the design of scores of new theatres and renovations, including, at the time of his death, the expansion and renovation of Seattle's Paramount Theatre.

Aside from his very active participation and leadership in ASTC, Bob was a founding member and a fellow of the US Institute for Theatre Technology, a member and past Director of the International Association of Lighting Designers, and a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829.

All who knew Bob will remember him for his kindness, gentleness, fairness and courage. Despite recent challenges to his health, he was active and cheerful, right up until his death. He will be greatly missed.