The ACT Government has invested $9 million into the Canberra Theatre Centre’s technical and patron amenity over the last 5 years.

The program included a new outdoor LED screen on the front of the building, new seating for 1245 audience guests, full replacement of the theatrical lighting, dimmers, infrastructure and fixtures, building improvements and modernisation as well as a new, sorely needed PA system.

The theatre had been served well by 18, Meyer UPA 1C’s for 25 years. A testament to the quality of those boxes. However it was clear that they were at the end of their life and no longer the right type of box for the contemporary shows that are now coming through the theatre.

As well as a venue for local productions, the theatre regularly hosts national and international A and B level artists. Also, many contemporary acts now only tour front of house, microphones and foldback with the expectation that the venue will supply a high quality front of house speaker system. Consequently, Gordon Woods, head of the Audio and Video department, had been forced to hire various systems over the last 2 years to support the acts at a level they quite rightly expected.

It was clearly time to install a new house system capable of supporting all acts coming through the theatre. As part of the upgrade, Gordon also wanted to take advantage of the advances in digital technology that had been made in the last 25 years whilst ensuring that the systems would remains as flexible as possible.

As the theatre centre is an ACT Government owned facility, ACT Procurement issued a tender and managed the procurement process. The theatre engaged Peter Holmes from Parsons Brinckerhoff to assist with system specification and tender documentation as well as be an independent technical expert when assessing the tender responses. The contract was subsequently awarded in late last year to Eighth Day Sound Australia Pty Ltd. The Canberra Theatre is their first major permanent installation in this country.

Installation was carried out over February with the installation of a new D&B rig as well as an upgrade of some the existing equipment. As Eighth Day is an international company with international resources, they got their US Director of Installations, Thomas George in from Cleveland to oversee the project. The Australian installation team was Tristan Johnson, Christian Walsh and Damien Pryor was the project head.

The D&B system incorporates two main hangs containing six V subs, six V8’s and two V12’s per side. The main hangs are supplemented below with two further V subs, a B22 sub and a Y10. Across the front edge are six E8’s. The front of house is completed with a centre hang of four Y12’s.

The system is capable of delivering sound high level music acts but it has the flexibility to adapt to any show. For example, the centre hang can be moved and reconfigured for a centre dialogue channel in musical theatre.

Foldback is taken care of with sixteen M4 wedges.

The FOH line array is processed using D&B’s proprietary Array Calc simulation software which is comparatively new technology. It is optional and whilst it improves the tonal balance throughout the seating area, using Array Calc does add greatly to the cost of a system more amps are required. Twice as many in fact! Therefore the FOH drive has eight, D&B D80 4 channel amplifiers. That is 32 channels driving the front and another four D80’s for the foldback (16 channels). The signal comes into the system by way of a DS10 network bridge which means the input can be AES or Dante.

The theatre already has 3 Digico boards. A SD8, SD9 and SD11. The SD8 being their large format console was upgraded with Digico’s Stealth Core 2 technology. This software upgrade provides processing for twice as many channels as well as radically more Aux/Group Busses, Multiband compressors and Dynamic EQ’s. As well as this a Soundgrid Server One was added thereby greatly expanding the amount of plugins that can be run on the system. Three Lake LM44’s compliment the system processing as well as provide flexible options in terms of signal routing over either the Dante or AES.

Visually, the speakers are lost in the dark (IE black) decor of the theatre and the centre hang is cleverly hidden by custom screens designed by theatre tech staff. It is effective to the point that I had great difficulty taking photos for this article which was important to the theatre. They did not want offensive looking big black boxes overbearing the view to the stage and that has been achieved. You simply do not see them.

In it’s first month of operation, the rig has been used with Bernard Fanning, Casey Chambers, Suzi Quatro, the Waifs and Dami Im. All the band engineers agree that it is a long overdue and a successful upgrade. This investment strengthens the Canberra Theatre Centre’s capacity to present high quality entertainment in the ACT.

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I am a contributing writer to CX Magazine and they own this article. CX Network is the voice of technicians in entertainment and audio visual across Australasia.

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