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PODCAST 189-1: Masque Sound Upgrades Baltimore Center Stage Head Theater

Baltimore Center Stage had a huge renovation this year and a good part of that included fixes for their Pearlstone Theater Pt 1


SVC Podcast – Show Notes –

In this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Matt Peskie of Masque Sound about the large renovation project completed this year for Baltimore Center Stage including work on their Pearlstone Theater and a complete overhaul of the Head Theater. Matt details the scope of the award-winning work and provides a look at the AV routing system that now encompasses most of the building.

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This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Matt Peskie of Masque Sound. Show notes and product links for this one and other podcasts are at

Baltimore Center Stage had a huge renovation this year and a good part of that included fixes for their Pearlstone Theater and a complete re-do of their Head Theater. They called in Masque Sound for the job and Matt Peskie is here today to tell us what they did and how they got it all done. That’s coming up on the SVC Podcast.

Matt, it’s great to have you with us once again on the SVC Podcast. It’s been a good while since we talked way back about the 54 Below project and now you just finished earlier this year a huge sound system renovation for Baltimore Center Stage, particularly their Head Theater. But before you give us the details on that, if there’s anybody on the AV side of the planet who doesn’t know about Masque Sound, give us a little update.

Well, Masque has been around for, I guess it’s 81 years now. So third generation owned, the Shearing family, doing primarily Broadway stuff for years and years. And we’ve got an install department and we do some performing arts centers, theaters, houses of worship, things of that nature. So I’m in the install department and that’s kind of the rundown, I guess. [Timestamp: 1:29]

And when they have a new project what do you do on it? Do they send you in first to kind of look it over?

It just kind of depends. I mean, we mostly are doing spec work so we’re on the approved bid list for quite a few consultants in the area. So kind of the work comes to us, at least in regards to bidding on the install side – very different from the Broadway side where they’re working with designers and they work with our couple of sales guys and put together an equipment list and bid the project that way. [Timestamp: 1:57]

Baltimore Center Stage had a big renovation that I think involved two theaters and much of the rest of the building. One of those was the Pearlstone and the other was the Head Theater with a complete re-do on that one. I think there were a few complications from the Pearlstone demo but you can tell us about that. What was the larger project that included theater sound system renovations? Was that part of one for the whole place?

It was the whole building that did a renovation with basically everything with the exception of the Pearlstone. The Pearlstone they did some minor work. It wasn’t anything major – major as in the rest of the building. But the rest of the building the Head Theater was a complete gut reno where they took the, it’s about two-and-a-half floors of space and just completely gutted it down to the steel and then redid all the structural steel inside for the catwalk support and everything. So the Head got a total redo and then the building itself, because of the historical landmark, a lot of the office floors, they did as much renovation as they could and really updated them in regards to electrical and data infrastructure and whatnot. So really it’s like walking into a brand new building. I mean the lobby is brand new. Everything really, except for the Pearlstone, which it got some sheetrock work done. It got some new AV stuff done. A little bit here and there, but it didn’t get a full reno like the Head did. [Timestamp: 3:24]

And did they do something in there where they actually ended up taking more of the old AV system out than they had planned?

Yeah. There was some demo that was done. There was kind of a cable pass-through outside in the lobby of the Pearlstone. When they were doing the demo a bunch of stuff got cut and it actually ended up being to the benefit of Amy down there who is the audio head. It actually kind of forced their hand to redo a lot of stuff that they hadn’t planned on redoing. So when a bunch of wires got cut they came to us, the general contractor, Whiting-Turner, and said can you guys address this issue? We said yeah, we’re more than happy to, but there’s a million wires here that it’s going to take us three weeks to just go through and do investigative work. And that kind of got the folks down at Center Stage involved and they went through and pulled out a bunch of old abandoned wires and kind of figured out what they really needed to have put in place of the stuff that got cut. So it actually ultimately was to their benefit that this happened, actually. [Timestamp: 4:20]

Well, at least it’s a good thing that they had to come up with something newer in there, too. So how big is the Head Theater? It’s not a huge place but what’s the seating capacity?

Yeah, I think it’s around – like between 325 and 375, depending on the show. I think they move some seats around and kind of redo some things depending on the show size and kind of how the show lays out. [Timestamp: 4:41]

And then there’s an outfit called Charcoalblue and what role did they play in all of this?

Yeah, they were the consultants. So they’re the ones that work directly with Amy and the folks down at Center Stage to make sure that the system that was being specified met all their needs and requirements. [Timestamp: 4:57]

And what did you do on this? Did you run into anything especially difficult after you started really getting in and behind things?

Yeah. I mean, just the cable runs – there was a lot of long cable runs. I mean, I think it was in the article; it was like 25 miles or something of wires. [Timestamp: 5:11]

Yeah, huge cable runs.

Yeah, some huge cable runs. It really was just ultimately a lot of managing how conduit comes into a room and how that conduit lands onto a wire tray and how it gets to your racks. You know, it’s one thing to deal with maybe 10, 20, 30 conduits coming in, but once you start getting into the 100-plus range it takes a lot of forethought when you’re laying out a room and kind of how stuff is going to sit in the room in order to have it be accessible from ladder tray and from conduit. So that’s probably one of the biggest challenges, and just dealing with, obviously, the building wasn’t completely redone. A lot of the walls and pathways and whatnot were already there, so we’re kind of dealing with some stuff where we can run new runs and some places where we couldn’t – where we had to deal with what was put in place. [Timestamp: 5:57]

One of the main features that you added there were a lot of new control points to allow them to do their things however they want to do them.

Yeah. They have ultimate flexibility, I believe, just in the catwalk in the Head Theater. There, I think, are 11 panels and each panel has 8-12 analog audio tie lines plus 8 data lines, 4 speaker lines, fiber, I think 4-6 coax lines. So really, everything whether you want to hang a speaker in Point A or Point B, there’s at least going to be three panels within 10-15 feet of where you’re going to hang the speaker or put said device. Which is really, that’s what a house like this needs when they have visiting shows coming in and different designers coming in. They have the ability to put devices anywhere within the space and have it easily be accessible. Patch into a patch point, go back to the rack room, patch it down to the console or an amplifier. Very easy. Simple. [Timestamp: 6:57]

And what types of panels did you use? Were they all the same make and model or did you do different ones in various places to give them different capabilities?

Yeah, it’s kind of different in different spots. Everything was custom made per Charcoalblue’s specs. So obviously there’s some projector panels where there’s a couple data lines and a couple fiber lines and maybe a coax line versus a panel that’s on stage that’s going to have probably more analog audio inputs, but it’s still going to have some fiber, still going to have some coax, still going to have some data. So they have all the points there. There is a big Dante system that’s put in place, so there’s different ports throughout the facility that land directly on to the Dante switches. So Amy down there has the ability to wheel in a console and get right onto the Dante network, which is very convenient. [Timestamp: 7:49]

And just gave them, I think one of the articles mentioned, a new canvas for them to use to exercise their own creativity.

I think that’s a good description of it because really, we’re not dictating what you plug into these panels. We’re just providing you the infrastructure and giving you the chance to bring whatever in you’d want to bring in, ultimately. [Timestamp: 8:08]

And who knows how long it may be before the next big renovation there so you had to do some things to future-proof the system and I believe that included some fiber runs.

Yeah, there’s a ton of fiber and it’s all OM4 so it’s all 10 gig a second, which is pretty much the standard for everything that’s going in now. So yeah, I can’t envision them needing any additional infrastructure for quite a while to come. And, of course, they still have plenty of just straight copper infrastructure, be it coax or data lines, and specifically audio, of course. [Timestamp: 8:38]

You may run into a lot of different seating arrangements and this theater looks like a fairly versatile one. Not a huge place as you said, but it looks like it has a wrap-around seating layout so were there any special sound considerations for dealing with that?

Not so much on our end in regards to the infrastructure that we put in. I mean, I think that probably reflects more on specific sound designers that are coming in, but they ultimately have in that balcony and under the balcony they’ve got the ability to do both under-balcony fills as well as surround speakers. So I believe, I want to say under that balcony I think there’s about 30 or so panels that are ultimately flexible, they’re just patch points. So whether they hang a speaker as a surround speaker or as a fill speaker, there’s the patch point there on a simple one-gang panel and power is right next to it. Which is really nice, especially if you’re in this day and age where a lot of manufacturers are making self-powered speakers, but you still have some passive speakers. So you’ve got a speaker line there and you have an audio signal line there along with power so you can put any speaker up that a designer really would like to use.

[Timestamp: 9:47]

And where do they control all of the sound from in this theater?

They’ve got a little mix booth at the back of the house that’s got a load of tie lines that go up to the main rack room. So they’ve got the ability to mix from there and then ultimately if they needed to move the desk they can move it to another spot and just repatch the lines for the DiGiCo system. [Timestamp: 10:08]

And the DiGiCo, I believe that’s an SD10 model.

Yeah. I believe it’s got the theater software, so yeah. And they’ve got one SD rack, a mini rack, and they’ve got a couple of the orange boxes that convert MADI to Dante in order to put everything on the Dante network. [Timestamp: 10:25]

That would save a lot of time I would think because they can set up for different seating arrangements, save it and with a push button have it ready for any show.

Yeah, absolutely. Storing presets is huge and even if it just means if another show comes in and it’s very similar, you can go in advance of that coming in and just go in and make a few little changes and do a “save as” and there you are. [Timestamp: 10:46]

And I believe some congratulations are in order because you won the 2017 Craftsmanship Award from Metropolitan Baltimore’s Building and Congress Exchange so what exactly were they judging on this award?

Oh, thank you. I believe it really was just the ultimate craftsmanship, I guess, and kind of the way we went about our business on the project. I know the general contractor, Whiting-Turner was very pleased with kind of how we went along and did our business from start to finish. And you know, we really take pride in the work we do. And like I’ve said times before in some other past interviews, that I really feel like the end of the project is really where we show our muster and that’s when things get hard at the end. Because usually the easy stuff you get done first, and it’s the hard things that kind of linger around. So it’s executing those things at the end of the project and finishing strong, I think, is really what separates us from other vendors. [Timestamp: 11:42]

Well, it’s certainly nice to get recognition for all of the hard work and I’m sure it was well deserved. In Part 2 we’ll get into more detail on the things you included in the project and exactly how they work. Thanks for getting with us and giving us the story on the Baltimore Center Stage Renovation with the Pearlstone Theater, the Head Theater and exactly how you did everything in there. Matt Peskie from Masque Sound and we’ll see you again next week.

Thanks, Bennett.

Great to have you with us for the SVC Podcast with Matt Peskie. We’ve got show notes and product links for today’s talk at Next week Matt will tell us about the portable stage manager cubes, the building routing and the stage video feeds for Baltimore Center Stage’s Head Theater on the next SVC Podcast.

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