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The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Audio Circus

Mertz Theatre, Sarasota, Fla.

The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Audio Circus

Jul 14, 2009 12:00 PM,
Staff Report

Mertz Theatre, Sarasota, Fla.

To accommodate the three-level seating chart of the historic Mertz Theatre, part of the 85,000-square-foot Florida State University Center for the Cultural Arts, Sarasota, Fla.-based Tight AV installed Nexo PS10 loud¬speakers along with PS10U-TD-V2 processors.

The Mertz Theatre is well-known in the Sarasota, Fla., area and to anyone who has witnessed a performance in the historic facility. In 1911, John Ringling and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota that was later used to house several theaters and circus museums.

The Asolo Theater was the first theater on the property and a work of art in its own right. It was originally built as a palace playhouse in Asolo, Italy, (hence the name) in 1798 to honor a 15th century exiled queen, Catherine Cornaro of Cyprus. The 500-seat theater was acquired by the Ringlings, dismantled, and moved by sea to the family’s estate in the late 1940s. It became one of the most important pieces of the Ringling Museum, noted especially for its dramatic collection of Baroque paintings, and it served as a setting for plays, concerts, lectures, and motion-picture programs.

When John Ringling died in 1936, he bequeathed his art collection, mansion, and estate to the people of the state of Florida, and the Ringling grounds became the site of the 85,000-square-foot Florida State University (FSU) Center for the Cultural Arts. A fledgling acting company known as the Asolo Repertory Theatre was founded in 1957 by faculty at FSU and began performing a summer series of plays at the Asolo Theater. In the 1980s, another turn-of-the-century elegant European 500-seat theater, originally built as the Dunfermline Opera House in Scotland in 1903, was demolished. The interior was rescued and shipped to Sarasota, where it was restored to its original façade within the FSU Center. It was renamed The Harold E. and Esther M. Mertz Theatre, after its devout patrons.

By the late 1990s, the decay from deferred maintenance in the Asolo Theater had reached a critical point and the building was condemned, so the theater company took its performances to the Mertz Theatre. (The center is also home to the 153-seat Cook Theatre, which is currently being renovated.)

In 2002, Michael Edwards started as the Asolo Rep’s artistic director, and he immediately applied for a grant to update lighting and sound systems in the Mertz Theatre. Tight AV in Sarasota was hired as the contractor. That company first arranged a loudspeaker demo that included products from five different manufacturers. Measurements were taken, and Matt Parker, the Mertz Theatre sound designer, was given a critical listening session.

“The Nexo PS10s, along with PS10U-TD-V2 processor, came out on top,” says Pascal Danon of Tight AV. “The speakers more than met the sound designer’s expectations, and he was very impressed with the dynamic range, transparency, and clarity.”

The Mertz is a little more than 40ft. deep and about as wide with three levels of seating (orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony).

“A center cluster is impractical because there is no place to secure it and the levels would block the seating below them,” Parker says. “So we chose the PS10s first and foremost for the sound quality. Their coverage was ideal for the theater’s needs, not to mention they are slightly smaller than the speakers normally used for musicals. The improvement in sound was astounding, and there is more headroom, clarity, punch, and a bigger sound at lower decibels.”

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The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Audio Circus

Jul 14, 2009 12:00 PM,
Staff Report

Mertz Theatre, Sarasota, Fla.

Audio for the theater, which recently hosted the Broadway hit Barnum, is mixed using a Yamaha M7CL-32, which was chosen for its ability to meet the theater’s space requirements as well as its specific features.

For the mains, the theater is using a Yamaha SP2060 processor to drive four Nexo PS10s, two Yamaha IF2108s, and two Yamaha CW118V 18in. subs. With the grant, mixers were replaced, sub¬woofers were added, and old amplifiers replaced with Yamaha P3500s and P7000s. Tight AV installed 14 Audio-Technica AEW-5111D wireless belt packs with Countryman B3 microphone capsules and distribution antennas.

“The wireless microphone package expands and improves our ability to produce musicals with large casts and events like the AIDS Benefit,” Parker says. “All of the upgrades made will speed up the time it takes to do initial setups and build complex live effects, allowing more involved tasks to be constantly replicated.”

Parker adds that the Yamaha M7CL-32 replaced the theater’s Yamaha PM1800, and a Yamaha 01V96 replaced a DDA mixer in the studio. Located in the mezzanine, the Yamaha M7CL-32 was chosen for its specific features, but it also met space considerations of the Mertz Theatre. Recently, the theater added an Aviom 16/o-Y1 card to its new Yamaha M7CL console, eight Aviom A-16II mixers, and an A-16D Pro for distribution when orchestras are required for plays.

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Yamaha P3500 amplifiers were installed to power the surround and monitor loudspeakers, and the PS7000 amp was added for the sub-bass. “The amps are very quiet and more efficient with AC,” Danon says.

“We are currently using a Mac Pro with two [Apple] QLab to provide video for two LCD projectors [Sanyo PLC-XF47 and PLC-9000],” Parker says. “As one of the few rotating repertory theaters in the U.S., we can have as many as four different shows performing throughout the week. Daniel Scully, lighting and projection designer on The Winter’s Tale, has done a powerful design, projecting onto curved walls that move from scene to scene. In the past, my preference has been to build the video on DVD [or DVD disc image played from a computer hard drive] as motion menus. This allowed for a very reliable playback and a universal format if the show was brought back or went on to another theater. However, it limits playback to video resolution and has to be remastered every time a change is made. QLab allows us to take full advantage of the native resolutions of the projectors and more flexible editing.”

House video also includes a Sanyo PLC-XF47 15,000-ANSI-lumen projector with two lenses: LNS-S03 and LNS-W01Z; a Sony CCD camera; four distribution amps; one black-and-white lipstick cam; four small IR cameras; three small LCD monitors; a 12in. LCD monitor; a 26in. LCD HDTV monitor; three 5in. RCA TVs; three large NEC CRT monitors; one 9in. NEC studio monitor; one 9in. JVC studio monitor; and a couple of Pioneer DVD players: DVD-V7200 and DVD-V5000.

Since upgrading the lighting was part of the grant, the Mertz Theatre staff was able to replace much of its aging stock of conventional ellipsoidals with more efficient Source Four models from ETC, along with ETC Source Four Revolution moving lights.

“Having moving lights has allowed our lighting designers infinitely more possibilities during production,” says Michael Verbil, head electrician. “Most recently, we purchased a Sanyo PLC-XF47 for The Winter’s Tale production. We needed to fill the entire proscenium opening as well as throw images at locations throughout the stage. The only location for the projector that could not be blocked by the audience was hanging off the mezzanine so, in order to create the image, we needed a very bright projector and a wide lens.”

This winter, residents and snowbirds alike were entertained in the beautiful Scottish-built Mertz Theatre when it played host to the Broadway hit Barnum. The musical celebrates the colorful, creative, and driven life of Phineas Taylor “P.T.” Barnum from his humble beginnings to The Greatest Show on Earth. (In 1907, the Ringlings purchased their largest competitor, Barnum & Bailey Circus, and The Greatest Show On Earth became the property of the Ringlings.)

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