Let There Be Sound and Light
For four years now, I’ve been studying the engineering literature and analyzing our Community Center’s hall to figure out how to improve its performance sound and, more recently, its theater lighting, so that we can properly showcase our bountiful local talent. (See project details at <BoCenter.org>.) I’d like to thank Jeffrey Commons, Charlie Docherty, Zoro Drux, Dirk Epperson (engaged through Don Read), Burton Eubank, Gabe Faure-Brac, Steve Heaslip, Clay Lilleston, Robin Livingston, Jerry Lunsford, Tony Smith, Paulie the soundman for Bonnie Raitt (through Soozie Mills), Derek Tracy, Duke the structural engineer (through Roger Peacock), Peter Turner, and Anthony Wright for donating valuable consultations to these efforts. The hall today displays a lot of progress.
Acoustic absorbent on the back wall and stage ceiling have eliminated echo, cut down on boomy bass, and helped musicians hear each other much better on stage. Thanks to Chris Besenty, David Kimball, Steve Wrenn, StuArt Chapman, and Matt Yerington for helping with that installation.
To make event setup easier, we’ve had cabinetmaker Nick Bogle build us a beautiful roll-around sound booth (at a tremendous discount), so that instead of two hours of schlepping and wiring for every gig, we just flip the cover and turn it on. Also, the front-hall tower of boxes and snake-pit of cables have been supplanted by an unobtrusive wall cubby for running activity sound and a locked under-stage rack for the big amplifiers. Thanks also to Ananda Brady, Ralph Camiccia, Jeffrey Manson, and Charles Weismuller for helping make that all happen.
Lighting got a big boost from the Dance Palace (thanks to Burton again) donating us their entire recently replaced lighting system and from Jeffrey Trotter giving us a bargain on his 24-fader console. New light-mounting pipes installed with the help of Matt again, plus Rick Sherman, will help us hang it all and aim it right.
But there’s more to do, including relocating the speakers, installing bass traps, adding microphones, rewiring the lighting power into new dimmers, refurbishing the spotlights, and upgrading the stage. Despite over $20,000 saved using donated labor and equipment, we’re still thousands short and really want to bring the project to a conclusion. Please come to our dinner/dance party project fundraiser this Friday, kick up your heels, and kick in some $ even if you can’t come on Friday. Thanks!
– Don Smith
To read more about our Sound & Lighting Projects click here:
One of our biggest goals is to bring more music and theater performances to our Community Center and to create a well equipped and inviting space for our performers and patrons. Bolinas has always had an impressive array of local talent in theater, music, and dance. In the past few years, there has been an upsurge in musical output among our young adults, notably This Old Earthquake who have produced two albums and become widely known. We also have two local professional dancers leading classes at the Center. We have an “After School Theater Class” run by Artistic Director Lisa Townsend, and a “Theater Workshop” for all ages with actor and screenwriter Patrice Daley.
We want to further encourage these artists and help the community enjoy their talent by creating for them the first-class performance venue they deserve. Years of study and discussion have given us a clear idea of what it will take to do this, and we have organized the results into the five projects outlined below.
For years, local bands have refused to play on the stage due to extremely poor acoustics. The hall is all wood with no sound baffling (until November 2012), which has created an annoying echo and excessive reverb for musicians on-stage as well as an enormous bass standing wave in the hall that defies soundboard control. Over the past few years, community member and engineer Dr. Don Smith has volunteered his services, time and a cash loan to help fix the sound problem in the hall. We’ve also obtained input from two outside consulting acoustic engineers. Fall 2011, we covered the stage ceiling with sound-absorbent material, with the result that musicians and patrons both are extremely excited already about the improvement in the acoustics.
For a long time there have been only five working theater lights at the BCC. In the fall of 2012, the Point Reyes Dance Palace generously donated their old lights and dimmers to the BCC and we now have a total of 20 lights in the hall. We’ve spent over $1,500 in the last few months just for new pipes to hang the lights and a lighting technician to create a House-Plot, repair fixtures and wire some of the lights. We still need more cables to hook up lights, 2 dimmer packs (since the 1984 analog pack from the Dance Palace is too obsolete to be a long-term solution) and a control board of our own, since the one we have is on loan. Since many of the lights we did receive from the Dance Palace are old and use too much power we hope to be able to upgrade to some LED fixtures and ETC Source-4 ellipsoidals.
Currently, our sound system’s components need to be pulled from a storage closet and assembled in the hall for each show. This is a complicated and time-consuming process that is also hard on the equipment. We have difficulty finding and paying sound technicians to deal with this, and it puts the system off-limits to amateur groups who’d like to mount a show. The lighting console is similarly stored. We need a raised, portable sound and light control booth built which would stay locked up in the corner of our hall with all the equipment permanently wired, ready to roll out into the best position for any particular staging, and a locking cabinet on stage to store monitors, mikes, cables and a new roll-out carpet.
Recent testing of our ‘90s-vintage sound equipment has shown that most of it is functioning properly, but we have been advised to add individual compressors and narrower-band (1/3 octave) equalizers to key input channels on the soundboard. Also, the main speakers need to be relocated away from hall corners and suspended front-of-stage for best sound and minimization of feedback. A wireless mike would greatly enhance audibility of live theater performance. We need a reverb/delay unit, since we only have one and can only use either reverb or delay throughout shows, instead of using both options. Finally, we need more microphones and microphone cables since the old cables have been repaired numerous times and keep falling apart. We don’t own a drum microphone kit either. Two of our six stage monitors and their amplifiers are very old and unwieldy and need replacing.
The BCC has never had a real backstage / dressing room. In the past, the kitchen and office have been used; but if an event has food, the kitchen is unavailable. The office stores a lot of sensitive information that shouldn’t be available for anyone to see. There is a small room to the right of the stage that is used as a storage space for tables and chairs. We plan to build an outside storage shed to hold the chair and table racks, thus opening up the space next to the stage to be a “backstage” for performers. The shed cost quote is $1500, and we also need to purchase lights, clothing hooks and other necessities for the new backstage area.
The stage back curtain we have is dreadfully old, discolored and patched and takes 15 minutes with two people sweating on ladders to roll back up after each use; we need a new and heavier one – for both appearance and acoustics – that is easy to roll up and down. A cyclorama for the stage would also enhance stage appearance significantly, ideally one with the easy roll-up-and-down feature as well.
YOUTH TECH TRAINING
Once our lighting and sound equipment are up to par, we want to start a “Technician Training Class for Youth” to teach youth how to use and operate the sound and lighting equipment. Tiny, rural Bolinas doesn’t have much to offer its youth, and we believe this is a great opportunity, for those so inclined, to learn a fantastic trade in their hometown and even get paid for running gigs at the BCC as a light or sound technician in the future.
Sound & Light Project Items
(Highest priorities listed first in each of the 5 project lists)
Research and engineering (volunteered) 100hr
Acoustics consultant (Salter Eng.) $ 660*
Measurement equipment (dB meter, tone gen., spectrum analyzer) $ 550*
Absorbent material, cover fabric, framing, hardware $1080*
Absorbent installation (volunteered) 50hr
24-channel control console (to replace borrowed one) $1700
Extension cables, dimmers to lighting fixtures $ 900
12 channels of DMX dimmers (to replace 1984 analog pack) $2100
4 Elation 36W DMX-driven 4-color LED wash-light fixtures $1600
9 ETC Source-4 ellipsoidals (to replace 1984 Colortran’s) $4500
6 mounting pipes & ceiling attachments $ 680*
Lighting Tech: installations, repairs & parts Fall 2012 $1330*
Pipe engineering & installation (volunteered) 40hr
Portable, locking control booth $1500
Locking cabinet for stage equipment $1000
Main-speaker quake-safe overhead suspension at stage edges $ 600
Wireless mike system $ 500
6 compressors for vocal & drum channels $ 600
2x DBX 31-band EQs for 4 monitor channels $ 400
Reverb/Delay Unit $ 200
Drum mic kit $ 400
25’ and 12’ audio cables $150
2 self-powered monitor speakers $1100
Convert closet to performer prep room $2000
Heavy velour backdrop curtain $ 800
Cyclorama (10×19’ white polyester, all edges hemmed) $ 200
Rolling-up gear for curtain & cyclorama $ 500?
Full-coverage roll-up carpet $ 800
Youth Tech Training $ TBD
*Expenses to date, borrowed from other budgets or Center members