NATEAC New York 2008
North American Theatre Engineering & Architecture Conference 2008
Interest had been shown by a number of people in holding the Conference in another country; Bob Shook of theatre consultants Schuler Shook had suggested Chicago could host, John Coyne and others from Theatre Projects Consultants were interested in having the event in the US, while consultants Gerbrand Borgdorff and Louis Jansen of Theatreadvies proposed Amsterdam as a future location. But one person from the States who had been a regular attendee at the ABTT Theatre Show and who was knocked out by his attendance at the 2006 Conference, came up with a serious proposal to stage the event in New York in the summer of 2008.
Bill Sapsis of Sapsis Rigging was prepared to undertake the setting up and the financial risk of staging a North American Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference. To use the registered name, the event had to be structured similarly to those that had been held in the UK and be of a similar standard; to this end Richard Brett was one of the 15 members of an advisory board created to help Bill with the planning. Most of the background organisation was undertaken by Donna Frankel, and she and Bill were able to call on the services of a number of friends and young volunteers from the industry to assist them. Bill wrote about his reasons for going ahead in his introduction in the Conference brochure. The purpose of the Conference is well summed up in the mission statement: "to promote communication between the architects, engineers, consultants and manufacturers responsible for designing and building new theatres and renovating existing facilities in North America. It is also our goal to promote a higher level of interaction between these professionals and the end users of their facilities."
The Conference venue was the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University in Lower Manhatten. The university offered the 740 seat Michael Schimmel theatre and two flat-floored lecture theatres, with a separate room for catering. In fact the weather was again superb and many people took their refreshments outside. The conference programme was scheduled over only two days but began on the Saturday night with a cruise around NY City Harbour at which everyone met old and made new friends. The programme replicated that in the UK by having three sessions in parallel in order to provide a choice of subject and try to engender a mixing of disciplines
The topics for discussion were of particular interest to those involved in planning, designing and equipping theatres in north America and Canada, but there were a number of visitors from the UK, Europe and further afield. Richard Brett was honoured by being asked to make a keynote speech, along with architect Hugh Hardy, who has a distinguished career which includes many theatres, such as BAM, the renovations to Radio City and the New Amsterdam Theater. The sessions included a number of case studies; the construction of a theatre in a parking garage for the Philadelphia Theatre Company, single purpose theatres as in Las Vegas and beyond, Mega Churches and creating 'greener' theatres.
Design issues ranged through the role of the architect in theatre facility design, compliance with ADA regulations for performers and technicians, educational facilities, function versus form, and designing for value - understanding what can be deferred and what can be lost when the real costs become apparent.
Acousticians also participated; Mark Holden and Larry Kirkegaard spoke about meeting increasing audience expectations from theatre sound without breaking the bank or ruining the aesthetics of the auditorium. In the engineering field, the regulatory issues of Technical Standards were examined by Karl Ruling, the Technical Standards Manager for ESTA, along with Ron Bonner from PLASA in the UK, and consultants Bill Conner and Jim Niesel.
The future of stage machinery, both overhead but also in the floor, was explored, as well as the implications on the building structure of the increasingly motorized theatre world. This linked in with the issues, attitudes and strategies involved in project commissioning and with the importance of regular inspections and maintenance of equipment, a topic close to the conference organiser's heart and on which he spoke!
Eddie Raymond, Vice President of IATSE Local 16 led a session on designing safe work spaces, and the effect of the ever-increasing technical requirements on historic venues was considered in a number of case studies. This rich mix of topics also included consultants Chris Buckley and Robert Long teaming up with scenographer, lighting designer and production manager Stan Pressner to discuss how alternative performance spaces, the empty warehouse or abandoned power station, can be used in the way required by creative actors, dancers and directors.
The closing plenary session was moderated by Stephen Ehrenberg, Vice President of Technical Production, BASE Entertainment, and David Taylor who had recently taken up post as leader of the Performing Arts Business Sector for Arup. One of the memorable quotes from this most successful inaugural event was from David, "As theatre folk we are really good at triumphing over adversity. But when it comes to building buildings, we're really good at introducing new adversity so we can triumph over that!"
Visits to venues in New York were arranged for Conference delegates and a large group enjoyed the tour. This included seeing the upgrading work being carried out in the State Theater in the Lincoln Centre, visiting the Rose Theater and the spectacular Allen Room forming part of 'Jazz at the Lincoln Centre' (which had been described fully by Chris Darland of Artec Consultants at the 2006 Conference) and seeing from the top to bottom of Radio City Music Hall courtesy of Eddie Kramer of IATSE Local 1.
Ellen Lampert-Greaux, Consulting Editor of Live Design and LDI Conference Director, caught the mood of Conference in her reports: "NATEAC has brought together a stellar group of roughly 250 people - primarily architects, theatre consultants, and acousticians - about 75 of whom are panelists. The conference got off to a fabulous start on Saturday evening, July 19, with a Circle Line cruise setting sail from South Street Seaport." "The best panel I attended was on the role of the architect in the theatre design and building process. Moderated by theatre consultant Bob Shook (who announced at the beginning of his session that they had no PowerPoints to show (a statement met by a round of applause!), his panelists included consultant Joe Mobilia, acoustician Mark Holden, cost consultant Joe Perryman, architect Leigh Breslau, and owner's rep Rick Pfannenstiel. What ensued was a lively discussion based on a series of questions posed by Shook, and it was great to hear such an intelligent group of people really discuss such issues as the architect versus the 'starchitect', the role of the end user in the design process, etc."
"The second day of the Conference confirmed its success and importance. In the Alternative Spaces session, Chris Buckley, Stan Pressner, and Robert Long looked at recent technically challenging productions such as the Macbeth at the roof-less tobacco warehouse in Brooklyn and Die Soldaten at the Park Avenue Armory, using them as prime examples of the what's, how's and wherefore's of using such spaces, from proper permits to having enough power."
"The Greener Theatre session talked about LEED-certified buildings and ended on a pretty funny note. Architect Scott Georgeson had shown an image of a theatre with a grass roof so that people looking down on it from the bluffs above would see a park rather than an industrial roof. Later in the session, someone suggested that wool, right off the back of the sheep, would make great acoustic material and be a very organic option. So moderator David Taylor suggested putting grass on the top of all fly towers for the sheep, to keep them nearby. Taylor continued to be very funny and spot-on during the plenary session he co-chaired with Steve Ehrenberg - who had just moderated the Single Purpose Theatre panel, using Vegas as an example, and even showing the numbers of how these $100 million venues recoup their costs quickly.. in just two years for a sell-out show."
There is a lot of support for another event to be held in North America in 2012.