The Bille Brown Theatre
The Bille Brown Theatre, where “great and amazing things are found.”
The late Australian actor William Gerard ‘Bille’ Brown was a proud Queenslander, and like many from that vast Australian state, a larrikin. He once told a newspaper reporter that schoolteachers should teach their students that theatre is a bad influence. “They’d be lining up then,” he said to reporter Rosemary Sorensen of The Australian. “Theatre is a smelly, dark, dirty place in which great and amazing things are found. It is a cave, it is a quarry. And yet, at the same time, it is a place of purity and generosity.”
Bille passed away in 2013, leaving behind him a legacy that is honoured by Queensland Theatre in their newly renovated Bille Brown Theatre (formerly the Bille Brown Studio).
Unveiled in October 2018 after a 12-month closure, the former ‘black box’ space is now a corner stage theatre seating 351 people who are never more than 15 metres from the stage.
This brings the Bille Brown Theatre into a family of prestigious venues up and down the East coast of Australia that share both their layout and touring productions created by the major theatre companies of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
Accommodating yet intimate, the theatre needed a PA system that was unobtrusive, powerful and flexible enough to support multiple configurations. The Front of House loudspeakers needed to be rigged from a steel grid structure and sit below a steel tension net.
Any loudspeaker system chosen was going to be very close to both the stage and the audience. Sightlines needed to be preserved while rear rejection was paramount to ensure maximum gain before feedback.
Daniel Maddison, Queensland Theatre’s Technical Coordinator, and the technical team diligently evaluated possible solutions. One of the loudspeaker products on Daniel’s list was the Y-Series Y10P from d&b audiotechnik, a dual 8” with a 1.4” compression driver. “Y-Series is renowned for vocal clarity and rear rejection, which were two of the qualities we wanted the PA to have,” Daniel explained.
But sightlines remained an issue. Thomas Kelly, Consultant Liaison and Projects Team Sales at Australian d&b audiotechnik distributor NAS Solutions, was visiting the theatre while it was still a building site. He had met with Daniel to discuss another part of the facility entirely but was inspired to draw up a PA design after a tour of the construction works.
“I offered Daniel an LCR design with Y10Ps arrayed in pairs vertically, as is conventional, and he said no,” related Thomas. “Size, weight, and pattern control were the keys. Doug Pringle, Technical Sales, Design and Support Specialist at NAS, worked to model a compromise that would preserve sightlines, deliver pattern control and rig in the available space.”
In order to break the rules, one must first fully understand the rules. Only then can it be determined when it is appropriate and necessary to work outside of them. “Doug and I created a solution in which three pairs of Y10Ps were hung horizontally,” illustrated Thomas.
“The horns were rotated to make coverage wider and the lo-mid pattern control was then effectively working in strips across the audience plane. Exhaustive modelling was used to get the correct spacing between the Y10Ps to minimise comb filtering. Finally, we built a demonstration rig and took it to Daniel to make sure it met expectations.”
The demonstration worked. The full system proposed included the three pairs of Y10Ps as LCR, two single Y7Ps dual 8” loudspeakers as outfills, two 21S single 21” subwoofers, and six E6 coaxial loudspeakers that can be deployed as surround, effects or fill.
For maximum flexibility, every loudspeaker in the theatre has its own dedicated processing and amplification channel, courtesy of two d&b 30D and two D20 power amplifiers. “During installation, Sound Consultant Matt Erskine and I spent some time playing with the angles and splay of the Y10P arrays,” divulged Daniel.
“It was advantageous for us to be able to build the array brackets on-site in our workshop to millimetre accuracy, based on the modelling NAS Solutions provided. After install, we walked the seating and listened carefully for audible changes in the coverage as we moved between the top and bottom loudspeakers in the arrays.
“Coverage was very smooth, with no perceptible differences. Matt and I commented on the first day of the install, before tuning and commissioning, that we would already be happy to run a gig on the PA as it was.”
Since reopening, the Bille Brown Theatre has hosted three mainstage productions, a host of corporate events, and a touring production of Belvoir Theatre’s ‘Barbara and The Camp Dogs’ that featured a four-piece rock band and a cast wearing wireless lavalier microphones in their hairlines.
“The Belvoir touring party were very complimentary about the sound system,” disclosed Daniel. “The gain before feedback we achieved was excellent, and the sound design of their show allowed us to fully exploit the infrastructure of the venue and the capabilities of the PA.”
The fan-shaped auditorium of the Bille Brown Theatre, along with its relatively modest size, make it an ideal venue for sound designers to experiment with surround effects, soundscapes, and immersive techniques. Patch points have been installed throughout the theatre and grid, making placement of the compact E6 loudspeakers quick and easy.
Queensland Theatre operates a QLab rig for sound effect automation and distribution, which can be used in conjunction with their Yamaha digital mixing desks, and computers running Dante Virtual Soundcard. With
the d&b audiotechnik D20 and D30 power amplifiers receiving signal via our Yamaha Rio Racks, and each loudspeaker assigned its own channel, configuration and deployment of the system is completely in the hands of the designer.
“We’ve run shows with the E6s as surround rigged up past the tension net, deployed around the back wall, and used as fill,” outlined Daniel. “Every show we’ve done is as different as each sound designer.
“For our own Queensland Theatre production of Hydra by Sue Smith, we created a seaside soundscape, taking the audience from inside a theatre to a seaside village, which garnered us a lot of positive feedback.”
The Bille Brown Theatre now joins it siblings The Fairfax Studio in Melbourne and The Belvoir Theatre in Sydney as part of a national circuit of intimate corner theatres, equipped with the latest technology and home to the most innovative theatre companies in their city, making sharing stories and culture across the continental spaces that divide Australia’s main urban centres easier and the better for it.
“I’ve been with Queensland Theatre for 12 years and worked on a number of shows with Bille Brown,” reminisced Daniel. “It would have been lovely for him to see our finished theatre. He would have got a real kick out of it.
” He was larger than life and put everything of himself into all of the shows and films he performed in.”