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"Round" of Applause Greets Meyer Sound System in Sacramento
In July of 2003, after 52 summers of producing summer musicals in a canvas tent, Sacramento's Music Circus finally moved into a permanent home: the new 2,200-seat Wells Fargo Pavilion. Inside, patrons now enjoy installed theater seats (replacing steel and canvas chairs), air conditioning, enhanced lighting, and exceptional audio fidelity from 75 Meyer Sound loudspeakers.
In planning this new structure, the management of the California Musical Theatre – producers of the summertime Music Circus – was careful not to tamper too drastically with tradition. The new structure sits on virtually the same footprint as the old tent site, and the architecture is certainly reminiscent of a circus tent, though the permanent Teflon-coated fabric roof is well insulated and largely soundproof. Also, as before, all Music Circus shows are produced fully in the round, with 360 degree seating around the 30-foot diameter stage.
Bob Sereno has been resident sound designer at the California Musical Theatre for 18 years, and he was well aware of possible problems presented by the new, hard-walled circular structure. "The symmetry of the round bowl creates its own problems," he observes, "because the reflections are geometrically focused and meet at center stage. So there are gain concerns and fidelity concerns because of the potential out-of-phase conditions."
Acoustical consultants Robert F. Mahoney and Associates were brought in early on the project, and principal Bob Mahoney worked with the architects to minimize reflections by sculpting the wall shape and selectively applying absorptive materials. But he stopped well short of making it a "dead" room in order to maintain the live ambience that is crucial to the vitality of a performance. In order to preserve this delicate acoustical balance, the sound system had to be designed and installed with great care. The design was a collaborative effort involving Sereno, Meyer Sound, and Mahoney associate Curtis Kasefang.
Sereno first outlined his requirements to Meyer Sound technical support manager John Monitto, who in turn worked with Todd Meier of the company's design services department to select loudspeakers and determine optimum placement by evaluating various proposals using the Meyer Sound MAPP Online acoustical prediction program. "The MAPP Online plots were a great tool for us, because we were naturally very concerned about how the loudspeakers would behave in this round room," says Sereno. "They proved very helpful, and are also very colorful. I still have one up on my wall!"
The initial designs were then reviewed by Kasefang, who suggested some minor revisions, then the balance of the equipment was filled in, and final drawings prepared for the bid solicitations. All sound equipment for the project was supplied and installed by Audio Analysts of Colorado Springs, Colo., under the supervision of Shannon Jelenek.
In the final installed configuration, the Meyer Sound loudspeakers are distributed in concentric circles for 360-degree coverage. The main system comprises a dozen UPA-2P compact narrow coverage loudspeakers, reinforced in the rear by a delay ring of 16 UPA-1P compact wide coverage cabinets. Four CQ-1 full-range wide coverage units are used as dedicated effects loudspeakers, with one each over the four wide aisle often used as "in-one" performance spaces during scene changes.
Four UPM-2P ultra-compact narrow coverage models provide aisle fill (opposite the CQ-1s), while nine more work as downfill, and four others are used as stage monitors. Stage front fill is provided by 19 MM-4 miniature wide range loudspeakers, while four USW-1P compact subwoofers supply a propulsive bottom end. The entire system is networked using Meyer Sound's RMS remote monitoring system. Because all loudspeakers are self-powered (except for the MM-4 front fills), it was a simple matter for Kasefang to design an exceptionally flexible system for routing effects anywhere – or everywhere – in the room. "They have an eight output effects mixer," he says, "and you can drop any of those outputs in right before any loudspeaker. So you have an open opportunity to use this whole circular sound field to broaden sounds out from the stage."
Or, as Sereno observes, "We use any of those speakers to grab attention, or to revolve sound around the perimeter of the room – such as flying a plane around the bowl!"
Following installation, John Monitto aligned the system using a SIM II analyzer, while prior to opening Mahoney and Kasefang performed acoustical testing to ensure the effectiveness of the acoustical treatments. Mahoney, who had heard the previous tent system, was pleased with the results: "Both reinforcement and playback are vastly superior to the previous installations. The acoustic imaging, even in the front row seats, is solid and realistic, and the sound images from both prerecorded effects and live sources is astounding."
The Music Circus celebrated its grand opening at the Wells Fargo Pavilion on July 7 with a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS. Richard Lewis, executive producer of the California Musical Theatre, summed up his evaluation of the new system by remarking, "It was the first time ever that I actually understood all the words in CATS! I can't say I know what they all mean, but at least I could hear them. The clarity of the system was just extraordinary."
For Sereno, who designs sound for the entire summer series (the shows are self-produced, not touring), the new system has proven a joy to work with. "The result has been absolutely phenomenal. We've had nothing but positive responses. I feel that the system responds even beyond my own expectations – which were quite high because of my familiarity with Meyer products. I honestly feel we may have the best system on the planet." As for design associate Kasefang, he was relieved to find that the system and acoustical treatments worked hand-in-glove to deliver a pleasurable experience. "It's a very well executed system with phenomenal sound quality," he observes. "Meyer gets a huge gold star for the performance and clarity of their speakers. They are truly marvelous."
The Wells Fargo Pavilion is the keystone structure of the H Street Theatre Project, a $17 million arts facility project that also involved the Sacramento Theatre Company, the City and County of Sacramento, and a number of local businesses including, of course, Wells Fargo Bank. The California Musical Theatre, formerly known as the Sacramento Light Opera, also presents a wintertime Broadway Series at another venue.
As with many projects of this type, the Wells Fargo Pavilion confronted a budget crunch late in construction, which prompted a need to initiate "value engineering." But both Sereno and Lewis fought to prevent any compromises in the fundamental quality of the performance sound system. "I didn't want to accept any alternative," Sereno insists. "I wanted to have a place where people could really hear the difference that quality makes, and I honestly believe that John Meyer and everybody at the company truly cares about making the very highest quality product. Also, the people there, John Monitto in particular, went out of their way to make sure it could happen."
As the one ultimately responsible for the success of the entire Music Circus enterprise, Richard Lewis was similarly adamant in making sure the sound system was spared any damaging cutbacks, commenting: "Sound is the one thing where an audience can be totally unforgiving. The lighting can be a bit off, the costumes not all that great, but if the sound isn't right, they want their money back. And at the end of the day, keeping the audience happy is what it's all about."