The Art House Wyong is a new, much needed fly-tower equipped performing arts venue in the heart of NSW’s Central Coast. Having just opened in May 2016, the centre is already a success, boasting a 500 seat proscenium arch Theatre, and a flexible 130 seat ‘Studio’ space that is suitable for emerging artists, or can be digitally linked to the Theatre and function as an orchestra room. Jason Allen went Coastal to find out more…
The Art House Wyong has been just over 10 years in the making, and Julie Vaughan, its Project Manager, was there at the very beginning. “There were a number of studies undertaken at a local and state level that identified the future needs for Central Coast,” she said. “We had a 65 year-old centre with a leaking roof and poor wiring that didn’t service the needs of the growing population. In the first few years of the project, there were three design iterations for a replacement. The first was a much bigger facility, similar to The Glasshouse in Port Macquarie, which would have been a $42m facility. We scaled that back to a $24m facility. The council committed $8m, and sought matching funding from both the state and federal governments. After four year’s lobbying, when that didn’t come to fruition, we modified it to a $12.7m facility to be completely funded by Council. We believed strongly in what we were building, we were committed, and invested in capital infrastructure and 10 years’ operational budget to fill the gap in our region.”
IF YOU BUILD IT
The lack of a fly-tower theatre on the Central Coast became an important factor influencing the design and construction of what would become the Art House. “Council had a number of discussions with theatre facilities and arts organisations, looking at the types of touring groups that were attracted to other venues,” explained Mike Horan, Project Manager at Council.
“It goes to the business case as to which acts you can attract and the fees you can charge. It’s about providing a mixture of facilities to both professional and amateur groups while also producing an income. The combination of a fly-tower with a seating capacity of 500 was a must.” Julie Vaughan agreed; “Including the fly-tower represented a significant amount of our already reduced budget, but it was vital to the integrity of the theatre, and to ensure we had a point of difference for touring product and a level of competitive edge.”
Sydney architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer provided all three of the Art Houses’ designs, with partner Tim Greer helming the construction of the final version. Theatrical equipment manufacturers and distributors Jands won the contract to supply and fit out specialised flying and draping for the venue, with Sydney’s The P.A. People providing all the other theatre technology including lighting and sound equipment. The original theatrical consulting task on The Art House was courtesy of the legendary Tony Youlden. Simon Austin of Schuler Shook subsequently engaged with the project and took it through the process to delivery.
Project manager for The P.A. People was Brett Steele, who worked with Council and Schuler Shook to ensure that the technical fit-out was industry standard and the best they could afford. Chris Dodds (MD, The P.A. People) led design and to this end, several changes to the specified design were made as the project evolved: “One of the biggest changes was the LED lighting rig,” said Brett. “Originally they had specified various GPOs around the lighting bridges and galleries to power up the LEDs, but to turn them off they would have had to do a site walk and switch them off manually. We convinced them of the virtue of putting in dimmer racks that, with patches to the lighting bars, would give them the option of using traditional incandescent fixtures if they wanted, but also use them as power distribution through relay switching, and turn the rig off from the control room or dimmer room. In the end, both the Theatre and the Studio have a dimming system. The Theatre is an LED rig and the Studio is traditional rig of 40 Profiles and 40 Fresnels.”
Another significant change to the technical specification was the decision to make the audio control and distribution digital instead of the original analogue design. Brett and The P.A. People recommended a Yamaha mixing and signal distribution solution, moving to a Yamaha QL5 digital mixer and various Dante enabled I/O devices installed or floating around the venue. “Changing to digital saved infrastructure costs,” Brett agreed, “and they got a great desk in the Yamaha QL5. It’s very well understood and recognised in the industry. With operators coming and going with touring shows, the Art House needed equipment that techs feel comfortable to come and use.”
The Theatre’s PA is a JBL VRX 900 Series system, with four elements each of VRX932LA-1 at left, centre and right. Two VRX918S subwoofers are flown above centre. Front fill is provided by five JBL AC18/26s, with a further 2 AC18/26s used for ‘under balcony’ fill. The rig is powered and processed by a combination of Crown DCi 4 and DCi 8 amplifiers. Further processing for the Back-of-House system is courtesy of a BSS BLU-100, also connected to the Dante network. The Studio’s PA is a flexible system of JBL EON615s and 610s that can be flown or tripod mounted as required. The house mic kit is a mixture of wired and wireless models from Shure.
Mixing desks are Yamaha digital on a Dante backbone, with a QL5 for large shows in the theatre, and a smaller TF1for the Studio, or smaller, single operator shows. A Yamaha Rio3224-D sits at the Theatre’s prompt side, a Rio1608-D at opposite prompt. A second Rio1608-D is sleeved and can be deployed anywhere on the Dante network as needed. An eight in Ri8-D and an 8 out Ro8-D are mounted in the bio box for local I/O. Dante sits on a separate switch from the building’s IT network, with the Primary and Redundant connections run on separate V-LANs. There are 24 dedicated Dante patch points throughout the building.
LIGHTS AND MANAGEMENT
The stage management console is a custom build by The P.A .People, and houses a Jands EZICOM 401 master station, a Leon Audio QLM16 MK4 cue light master station, Shure mic and a dual 8” LCD video monitor. Comms headsets are from beyerdynamic, and Back-of- House area paging is through a combination of JBL and TOA ceiling and surface-mount loudspeakers.
Theatre lighting control is from an industry standard ETC Gio, while the Studio is run from a smaller ETC Element 40. The system is built around 20 Jands HPC12 digital dimmers, which control a predominantly LED rig built around ETC Source 4 LED models and Selecon Rama LED Fresnels, flown from Jands JLX-Pro lighting bars. Cyclorama wash is provided from seven Chroma-Q Color Force CF72 LED battens.
The P.A. People also installed Jands curtain track in the Studio, JLX Lite lighting bars, and designed and installed the lighting grid in the Studio. They installed 11 LED video displays, three cameras for digital signage and performance relay throughout the building and the video infrastructure to support it, including HD-SDI links between the Studio and the Theatre to enable the Studio to be used as an orchestra room.
THEY WILL COME!
With the Art House already a success, the venue is taking bookings solidly into the future. Well received by locals and visitors alike, both Council and the team who worked on the building are proud of its success, which comes down to all parties working together to deliver the best possible bang-for-buck. “Theatres are a beast by themselves,” said Council’s Mike Horan. “The Art House project was exciting, difficult and challenging. What worked really well was the proactive approach of all the parties involved. We chose a local builder, which paid dividends. Most of the money went internally. That’s what the theatre is all about – if it doesn’t work you have a dud.”
“It’s great to see local councils building theatres,” said Tim Greer of TZG Architects. “They’re very difficult buildings to deliver, with their multiple stakeholders. Wyong, with their limited resources, now have a great asset. Not everyone in the community agrees that there should be a substantial amount of money committed to the performing arts, but Council has a responsibility to build projects in all areas, whether its sport, arts or public spaces. They have to manage constrained budgets. It’s terrific they’ve delivered this. There’s a strong culture of theatre and performance groups within the local government area of Wyong who have agitated for this venue for a very long time, and it’s good they’ve got such a great facility.”