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Future-Proofing a Performing Arts Theater

Even if the Jerome Robbins Theater at New York's Baryshnikov Arts Center never decides to use it, the AV team that overhauled the venue laid the infrastructure to support current and future systems.


The AV technology in the now-complete Jerome Robbins Theater is that of a hybrid, incorporating not only Cat-6 and fiber, but also analog AV over copper. The fact that the client OK'd such an infrastructure is a testament to the consultant's ability to explain the plan's strengths.

Niesel says the theater industry is still on the fence when it comes to digital audio, even though the rest of the pro AV industry is well into its transition from analog to digital. But because the space was intended for use by a variety of arts groups, there was no way to be certain of what equipment they'd bring into the theater with them. The answer, then, was to prepare the space for anything and everything. "Since the theater [has] only 238 seats, some would say that running fiber is over the top," Niesel says. "We disagree. We want to do it once, and do it right."

The AV team put in an EtherSound audio network, a Yamaha LS9-32 console, several Yamaha digital signal processors, Meyer Sound speakers, and a Clear-Com intercom system. It used a mix of Shure and Countryman microphones, as well as a Listen Technologies assistive listening system.

The Baryshnikov Arts Centers pervasive concrete architecture presented challenges when laying the AV infrastructure for the new theater.

The Baryshnikov Arts Centers pervasive concrete architecture presented challenges when laying the AV infrastructure for the new theater.

Credit: Alexander Severin/RAZUMMEDIA

Niesel used Arup's own SoundLab software to model the space and auralize it for the client, design team, and prospective users so they could better understand what the finished theater would sound like and make informed decisions along the way.

Then there was the matter of the network. All the panels in the Robbins Theater have ports that connect to a computer in the systems rack. The idea was to build a dedicated LAN for all the Robbins Theater users that was independent of the building's main IT system. "There's a big push on the IT side to integrate networks and then divvy them up using partition switches," Niesel explains. But that can lead to technical issues. "There's an operational issue," he says. "Who's responsible for servicing the network if one of those switches fails?"

In the end, no stone was left unturned. The Jerome Robbins Theater might not be the biggest venue in town, but it's future-proofed against changes in AV technology. And after all the challenges, it's winning raves in the theater design press.

"The client was willing to work with us and accommodate a difficult schedule," Niesel says. "That allowed time for the integrator to do a quality installation."

Lee Distad is a freelance AV writer.

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