Space To Learn - The Theaters in Allard Hall at MacEwan University

by Michael Eddy
The Triffo Theatre
The Triffo Theatre

Located in downtown Edmonton, Canada, MacEwan University’s new Allard Hall Performing Arts Centre boasts purpose-built spaces including The Triffo Theatre, a 450-seat proscenium theater; a flexible, 140-seat black box theater, the Theatre Lab; the 250-seat Betty Andrews Recital hall; and a complement of rehearsal spaces, theater production shops, and two recording studios.  Allard Hall was designed by the late architect Bing Thom, along with Edmonton design firm Manasc Isaac. The theater consultants for the project were the U.S.-based Stages Consultants (SC), who provided theater planning, acoustics design, and performance audio-visual design. “Our scope covered all the theatrical spaces and support spaces,” notes SC principal Alec Stoll. “In addition to seating, site lines, and theater planning, we dealt with the acoustical isolation from all of the other spaces in the building. We did the AV systems and the production video for the theaters too.”

The Triffo Theatre

In regards to the approach to The Triffo Stoll describes, “It’s a large proscenium stage with a fly tower and grid iron. We went almost exclusively manual, counterweight rigging, which was a budgetary, but also importantly an educational consideration. The faculty and staff wanted to have a house that was largely manual counterweight to teach with it.” The space that the program had been using for the past 30+ years had no fly tower; no real rigging. 

“It was key to us to get a fly tower,” explains Geoff Bacchus, manager of theater and stage operations for MacEwan University. “We looked at automated rigging, but with 50 students, you just can’t get everyone on an automated rigging controller. And it is very important they know how to work a manual counterweight system after they finish our program to being able to get future work.”

At the owner’s request, SC did design an automated main drape that can be disengaged and controlled manually. LVH Entertainment Systems supplied the rigging systems and engineered this solution. “Working with LVH, we came up with a variable speed motorized curtain with a manual override, where the clutch can be disengaged from the motor and flown manually,” says Stoll. Bacchus adds that this design choice was again, education-based. “We wanted to be able show the students how that works in case of a problem or power loss. It also allows us teach them basic programming, how to adjust the limits, etc.” The rigging system consists of 45 linesets with Thern Brickhouse arbors. The pit filler and trap platforms consist of Staging Concepts’ platform systems.

The stage lighting systems, throughout the Allard theaters, are hybrid systems with ETC ThruPower dimmer/relays modules in Sensor3 racks, in addition to Sensor IQ relay panels for 208V non-dims. The lighting is controlled over an sACN Ethernet network and the space has both an ETC Eos Ti and Ion consoles. Edmonton-based Production Lighting provided the permanent dimming and lighting networking systems for all three of the performance spaces. Christie Lites in Calgary provided the lighting consoles and lighting fixtures for the three spaces. 

“In the old theater, we had a traditional dimming system and wanted the new space to be prepared with flexibility for what kinds of lights we could use,” points out Bacchus. “This again was a major issue for us—we have more fixtures nowadays that require solid, constant power in addition than just traditional tungsten lighting. We wanted a dimming and control system, where you can, through the console or another computer, you can just log on and make that dimmer do whatever you want, be it switched, always on, or dimmable. It’s again an industry standard to teach students how to use that part of the software and the system.” The audio console in the Triffo is an Avid S6L Venue, the same console is in the recital hall and an Avid S3L is in the Theatre Lab.

Theatre Lab
The Theatre Lab in Allard Hall

If there’s one performance space in Allard Hall that really embodies the teaching philosophy of the program, it’s the black box space. “The Theatre Lab was designed really as something of a touring space,” Stoll states. “Initially, they wanted a series of beams that they would mount chain motors to, and then hang trusses. Basically, an empty room. We explained that having a pipe grid as well would be a really good idea. Then they could hang their truss underneath the pipe grid. They agreed, and we coordinated the beams with the pipe grid, so that they can use both.”

The original plan was to only have a rolling dimmer rack and the networking was going to be done on a show by show basis. Stoll continues, “This was so that they could teach these kids how to tour, how to go into a ballroom, etc. Now, they have all of that infrastructure around—disconnects for them to tie into, and they can run their own multi-cables, but there is also a lighting network and an audio visual network.” 

“One of the bigger complaints we got from the industry was, ‘Your students are learning how to set up a show in a space that has everything there for them, but, what they’re missing is the ability to drag everything off a truck into a ballroom and set up a show,’” says Bacchus. “That was quite important to us to be able to replicate that scenario a bit. The Theatre Lab black box space is great for that.”

As a part of LVH’s equipment package were 10 CM Lodestar 1-ton chain motors and a 12-way chain hoist control system to allow for flexibility in set up along with the pipe grid and a portable pin rail system for spot rigging needs. There’s also a perimeter catwalk, with removable railing components, around the space at the booth level. There are perimeter runs of Uni-Strut above and below the pipe grid, so lighting box booms or a portable pin rail could be placed anywhere in the space. The dimming package includes two Sensor3 Dimmer Racks with 168 ThruPower dimmer/relays with an ETC Ion console.

Production Shops

Among the production shops in Allard Hall is a massive scene shop and column-free paint floor right off stage left, as well as a large crafts room, properties shop, and welding area. The paint floor is large enough to lay down a full stage drop, and the area can be closed off from the shop to become more wing space during production. “From SL, there’s a 35-foot deep wing and then the paint shop with big roll-up doors between the wing and paint shop,” explains Stoll. “You can use the paint shop as another 50-feet to store scenery and equipment during the show.”

Bacchus is pleased with the shop spaces and how they work in relation to the performance areas. “We have ideal flow, now, through the shop,” he says. “From the loading dock into the shop where we build the scenery; then things roll right through a big door in to the paint shop. They can set it up; paint it; and it rolls through a bigger door to the stage left wing.” 

When Bacchus is giving tours of the space, many comment on the size of the control booth in the Triffo Theatre; it runs the whole width of the theater and is 12-feet deep. “When they walk in and there’s one person working in the booth, it looks massive,” he says. “We have to explain that it’s not just a booth for two people, it’s a classroom for 30 people. Even our catwalks are designed so you can take a class up there. We knew we wanted to be able to teach in these spaces and now we can do that.”

Stoll and Stages Consultants were a good partner for Allard Hall. “We were open and willing to listen to what they were doing, and what they were trying to do. Because this was not your typical college theatre department and they had a real desire to think out of the box. That’s what we were really interested in doing, as well; helping to find the unique solution, not the traditional one.”

Recently Bacchus and his team invited some local technicians in to tour the spaces. “We’re getting nothing but great feedback,” says Bacchus. “Technicians are the first ones to pick a space apart, but they’re impressed with how it turned out. We had a lot of things on our wish list, and probably 98% of them got done. We have nothing to complain about.”