Northern Light Breathes New Life into Perth Theatre

In 2015, Horsecross Arts, the creative organisation that runs Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre, undertook the task of rejuvenating Perth Theatre, home to Scotland’s oldest repertory theatre company. Northern Light, specialist in technical theatre fit outs, was contracted to design, provide, install and commission both the production lighting and sound and communications systems to help achieve this remarkable transformation.

Already on the approved contractor list for the theatre, and recommended by the client team and theatre and acoustic consultants, Charcoalblue, Northern Light was asked to tender for the contract by project contractors Robertson Construction in September of 2015.

“We were able to start coordinating with Robertson, the main contractor, and FES, who were responsible for the electrical and mechanical works, early in the planning stage,” explained Michael Percy, technical project manager at Northern Light. “We co-ordinated the programme and sequencing of works between us and set out our requirements and target dates, working hand-in-hand with FES and supporting the contractors that were responsible for other works to support our systems on our behalf.”

Northern Light started to develop the Charcoalblue scheme into a complete end-to-end design, working alongside Charcoalblue, Robertson’s, RMA (Richard Murphy Architects), FES and the Horsecross Team. Several challenges had to be addressed, including the design of the new main theatre audio system

“The client was concerned that, because it isn’t an easy room in terms of audio, based on their previous experience, some of the more traditional approaches would not work because the theatre is tall and very narrow, with large overhanging balconies, so we worked with the Horsecross Audio team to look at potential solutions. We also discussed the system and the space with several audio suppliers.”

The team looked at several designs, including one loudspeaker manufacturer EM Acoustics, who met the specification within the allowed budget, with EM director and designer Ed Kinsella designing custom subwoofer boxes to fit into the front of the stage. The final system for the main house comprises an EM Acoustics system, including HALO-C in a centre cluster arrangement and EM’s EMS range of loudspeakers taking care on infill, delays and surround sound.

“Then we had to consider the audio network,” said Michael. “This is the first project we have done where everything audio is within the digital domain and all the equipment is communicating via Dante, which is widely accepted to be the industry standard audio protocol.”

The solution was to route the entire system via a central Symetrix Radius DSP to allow for building-wide routing, with consoles, amplifiers, QLAB Machines, SM Desk and paging stations all available on the Dante Network.

“A lot of thought went into audio routing and IP co-ordination,” Michael continued. “In theory, it’s possible for audio from any device within, say, the theatre or studio, to go to any other Dante enabled device elsewhere in the building and vice versa, which provides massive flexibility. But, because Perth Concert hall is also linked via a building-wide IT network and run by Horsecross, it’s possible to route audio between the two buildings, which means there are even more possibilities.

“Ross co-ordinated our works schedule and ensured it would fit round the other contractors through daily and weekly site co-ordination meetings with the all other subcontractors, as well as providing valuable experience, knowledge and friendly advice gained through supervising many of Northern Lights major projects over the years,” Michael explained. “There were plenty of challenges, including site wiring, particularly into the main equipment rack room, where FES did a superb job, as it was tight to say the least.

“In the past, the wiring infrastructure for SM consoles has always been ‘bulky’ due to multiple services, multiple connection points and multiple data types or signals required for equipment. We set about trying to figure out a streamlined approach and managed to get everything down four Cat6 cables from each SM desk connection routed via a network switch setup, with VLANs to manage the various services to the console including building wide paging, cue lights, intercom.”

“The Northern Light team were great to work with,” concluded Gavin Johnson, Perth Theatres’s production manager. “It was a complex and challenging job and we are really pleased with the result.”