Theater Acoustics Aboard Oasis of the Seas, Part 2

Designing sound systems and handling acoustics for two theaters on the world's largest cruise ship is a whole different animal than tackling that job on land. Mark Turpin and Russ Cooper of acoustics 6/14/2010 8:01 AM Eastern

Theater Acoustics Aboard Oasis of the Seas, Part 2

Jun 14, 2010 12:01 PM

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Designing sound systems and handling acoustics for two theaters on the world's largest cruise ship is a whole different animal than tackling that job on land. Mark Turpin and Russ Cooper of acoustics and audio design firm Jaffe Holden are here to tell us how they designed sound and acoustics on the Oasis of the Seas.

Mark and Russ, the last time in part one, we were talking about the Aqua Theater. I guess that's the more architecturally interesting one on the ship, but they've got another theater onboard the Oasis of the Seas; I think it's called the Opal Theater and it's in a more conventional setting. Russ, what's the seating capacity in the Opal Theater?
Russ Cooper:
I believe it's 1,350 seats.

OK, that's quite a bit bigger house than the Aqua Theater. Now, is this all indoors?
That's correct. It's all in the middle of the ship down away from most of the staterooms, if we can, and it's a two-level theater, so it has a balcony and a main floor. [Timestamp: 1:28]

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Theater Acoustics Aboard Oasis of the Seas, Part 1
Mix high-diving acts, underwater performers, and music with ocean, wind, and waves on the world’s biggest cruise ship, and you’ve got a formidable challenge for sound. Mark Turpin and Russ Cooper from acoustics and audio design firm Jaffe Holden are here to tell us how they helped harness this beast...

What are doing in the Opal Theater? What kind of shows are they doing in there?
Well, that would be everything. If you've ever been on a Royal Caribbean cruise, or anybody's cruise frankly, for that matter, it's anything from bingo to general announcements, orientation, to the evening show—usually after dinner—which could be a popular entertainer brought in, a review. Sometimes it's a play or a musical that they've written especially for Royal Caribbean, so it's a commissioned piece. They're very creative and have quite a lot of, I would say, Las Vegas-style acrobats. There's a orchestra pit, so they can do more conventional—put a band down there with live music, or they can use piped-in music. It's very flexible. It has a stage house—not as large as you would think about a theater on land in the States. It has quite a large fly tower, but they're able to do a limited amount of moving of sets and curtains and roll drops. [Timestamp: 2:35]

And Mark, where do they have the control racks and everything; the support equipment?
Mark Turpin:
Basically two locations. The mix position is at the back of the orchestra in front of the parterre. The design of these is somewhat oval-shaped, sort of horseshoe-shaped. They have a wraparound balcony; below that there is parterre seating, there is a parterre wall, and then orchestra seating in front of that so the mix position is in front of the parterre right at the back of the orchestra. And then the front-of-house racks are actually tucked in under the seating at the front of the parterre, so they're right behind the mix position. So most of the processing, local inputs are there. Then there's, I think, four racks in a rack room backstage right, down one level and past the loudspeaker amplifiers that are required are there along with a lot of the processing interface for the stage. And then of course we have connectivity all around the stage house. [Timestamp: 3:35]

And I guess since that's indoors and it's more controlled acoustically, they've got maybe a good bit more live music and live mics and everything?
Yes, absolutely. And as Russ was saying, they do just a little bit of everything. They are doing actually a production of Hairspray in there now. The thing that's interesting, of course, is it has to be a highly reputable, if you will, theater because you have a captive audience for a week; you can't put the same show on every night. You need to make a show available to a good number of the patrons for certain times, but in order to make the maximum use of the facility, you're going to do two, three, four different shows in there—full-production shows—in the course of a week, over and above the other uses like orientations and bingo and whatever else they may use it for. So one thing I think we talked about last time was digital preset capabilities. The main theater used, the Opal Theater, uses a DiGiCo D5. Again, [it's] a big advantage having the digital interface in FOH to the stage into the rack room from an isolation point of view. One thing that's a little different about those theaters is that whereas in a land-based theater you might have connection points for a lot of different positions for surround speakers, but you only go and actually put a loudspeaker there when you need it. These guys are reping shows daily and they need to be able to call up any kind of an environment very quickly with a very small crew. So they have all installed surround speakers; I think there's probably 30 or 40 surrounds in the Opal Theater that are fixed, that are part of the architecture separate from the main system. Just like in the Aqua Theater, there are fixed surrounds outside. [Timestamp: 5:23]

What kind of wireless mic situation have they got in there?
Well, we're using Shure UA's in there, the basic system; they also use Aviom systems for band monitoring; again, you can go directly out of the D5 into an Aviom system. [Timestamp: 5:36]

And I guess that takes a lot of the load off of the mixing people.
Right, because you have to run these shows with half or less of the crew that you might use in a comparable land-based show. Every person onboard is not just a salary on a cruise ship; it's also a berth and food and weight, and the cost to a ship for initial crew members is pretty substantial. [Timestamp: 6:03]

So they're aggressive adopters of technology in order to maximize the impact of the show but be able to run it with a pretty streamline crew. [Timestamp: 6:12]

Russ, have they got any big acoustical challenges in the Opal Theater? I mean like ship noise, vibration, anything like that?
Absolutely. I was just going to finish up on the acoustic side. One of the things is that every show is totally amplified, and therefore we don't have to worry about the natural acoustic of this theater, so there's no need for adjustable acoustics or for concert hall-type sound, which really gives the architect a great deal of flexibility in determining the look of the theater and the finishes. All we have to worry about really is echo control and proper reflections from the loudspeakers and then containing the sound and not letting it get out into the rest of the ship and causing problems. So when you think about the noise transmission or sound transmission, if you will, one of the early things that we had to worry about back from when we were doing ship number one was the location of the staterooms in relationship to the theater. And there were many complaints about that in the early days; they even put the captains quarters over the stage house, so they don't do that any more. So they make sure that they've got the right kind of buffers between the theater and the customers, and sometimes that will be the crew. So you'll put crew rooms surrounding the theater because everything on a ship has to be lightweight; nothing can weigh a lot. So there's no concrete like you might have to contain sound; it's all in metal panels and fiberglass and use of dampening compounds or sandwich panels. It's a whole industry at sea that companies, manufacturers, design these panels that are waterproof and lightweight and still attenuate sound to a certain degree. [Timestamp: 8:08]

Theater Acoustics Aboard Oasis of the Seas, Part 2

Jun 14, 2010 12:01 PM

Now, is all this stuff on a network that runs all over the ship? I've read somewhere where they—all of this stuff is accessible from anywhere. Maybe they've got a broadcast outfit too?
They do, actually. They have a broadcast capability. Boyce Nemec does all the video, so when you look at some of the specs for the ship, you see there's a pretty healthy video component. They have the ability to do broadcasts or recording within the ship. All of the venues are interconnected over a fiber network, and they interconnect with other services. In other words, that broadcast network then is talking to the hotel system. From a cruise ship operations point of view, there is basically a hoteling function that is all cabins. There's a food service function, there's a hotel function, there's a cruise ship operations, there's a—yadda, yadda, yadda. So just like you would in any large hotel, you've got flatscreen displays, and they have ship board information. You also have a lot of displays through out the ship that are digital signage for wayfinding, and you've got information. All of that is basically running on a single fiber network so it's all interconnected. The theater shows are connected to that so that they can use the theater for stuff that they need to broadcast through this ship. But generally speaking, it's more of a command and control situation than it is actually using the theater as a source for material for that. [Timestamp: 9:39]

Is the sound for the broadcast a separate mix, or do they just take the house mix on a ship-wide network?
I know that they can deliver it over the network; I know they can deliver the show over the network, but I am not sure that I can answer that accurately. Because once we get outside the theater, Boyce Nemec takes over the AV for the smaller spaces and also handles the broadcast stuff so I am not sure exactly how Andy set that up. [Timestamp: 10:01]

Where do they have the broadcast room? Somewhere far removed from the theaters?
It's not adjacent to the theaters; it's in the middle of the ship, and I don't remember exactly. I know one thing that is interesting about Oasis is I believe—isn't the health club above the theater in Oasis?

Cooper: Yes.

Turpin: Yeah, because that's another thing—well, what can we put over a theater? Where the thing you're putting over it doesn't generate a lot of noise; it produces problems for the theater. But where also the sound from the theater isn't creating problems in that other space. So actually the health club is ... [Timestamp: 10:32]

Cooper: Right, in the path.

Turpin: Yeah.

Cooper: Certain nightclubs that will not be in major operation until the show is over because in order to carve out that area for the ship—it's a large volume, four decks, two floors. You've created a whole belly of a ship that you've now got to fill in with big spaces, so the health club, a casino, a nightclub, ballroom—those are typical types of rooms that are above the theater. [Timestamp: 10:59]

Yeah, I would think on a cruise ship, they've got to have something going somewhere all the time so there is no lull in the activity but…so it's not just a question of where everything's located but when things are going on at the same time.

Turpin: Yes.

Same reason, I guess, they—as far as the location, why they put factories and stuff out at the end of airport runways and things like that.
Turpin: Yeah.

So what was the time frame on all this thing?
It takes about a year to build a ship, a year and a half.

Cooper: And then we're at about a year in our design, and then prior to that, there's the ship design itself. So I would say it's about a three-year process. [Timestamp: 11:36]

So I guess they have—after everything's in there and ready to go—they have a certain amount of shakedown time where they rehearse the acts and get all the presets done and all that?
Yeah, they actually do that on the—a lot of that actually happens on the initial voyage coming back to the States. Oasis was built at ...

Cooper: Finland.

Turpin: ... Aker Yards—no, it's not Aker anymore, it's [STX]—but it was built in Finland. So a lot of the finish work, the very final finish work, and the initial shakedown happens as she comes back to Lauderdale. [Timestamp: 12:09]

Were there anything unexpected or any changes that had to be made along the way, or anything that was out of the ordinary? It sounds like you guys are pretty good at this already.
There was a lot of discussion about the main arrays for the Aqua Theater because we were dealing with a new environment, a different kind of problem. If it would have been strictly a playback issue, we probably would have made some different orientation choices. Aqua is a little interesting in that in any theater, you're going to have certain constraints about where you can put loudspeakers, but that's nothing compared to what you're dealing with in the Aqua Theater. There is no position for a center array; there is physically no place to put one. You only can put the side arrays in the dive towers. Well, the dive towers are 20ft. upstage of where a performer would be standing to sing a solo if the lifts were all the way up and you were using the entire pool space and barrel roll space as a single deck. That's a recipe for a problem, but there's no other place to put them. And you need something that creates a high-dynamic-playback show for the acrobatic shows, the dive shows, and also has the gain before feedback that you need to do a live show. So a lot of the positioning of those arrays was carefully calculated and modeled to try to maximize the impact without generating a lot of noise into the rest of the ship and without creating feedback problems on the deck. [Timestamp: 13.32]

Well, this would obviously have been a challenge, doing all of this on land. But on a cruise ship, designing this and setting it all up and making work reliably was a huge feat. But Mark Turpin and Russ Cooper of AV design firm Jaffe Holden, thanks for being here to tell us how you pulled it all off successfully on the Oasis of the Seas.
Thank you.

Cooper: You're welcome.

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