Evaluating Water Damaged Equipment

Throughout the south there are schools, universities and professional theatres with electrical equipment that has been submerged in flood waters from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  They’re biggest question is, “What can I dry out and use, and what do I have to replace?”  NEMA (the National Electrical Manufacturers Association) has a guide for this (NEMA GD 1-2016 Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment) that you can download here.

Some larger pieces of equipment can be reconditioned, but that doesn’t mean simply drying them out.  It includes using appropriate cleaning agents, and the success of reconditioning depends on the “nature of the electrical function, the degree of flooding, the age of the equipment, and the length of time the equipment was exposed to water.”  The problem is that equipment submerged during a flood isn’t just wet, it’s now contaminated with whatever was in the water.

What does that mean for a theatre?  Here are some key items that should be replaced.

  • Fuses, switches, circuit breakers
  • Components containing semiconductors and transistors.  That means lighting and sound control consoles, dimmer rack control and power modules, and all LED fixtures.
  • Transformers.  If the transformer feeding your dimmer racks was submerged, it has to be replaced.
  • Outlets and switches
  • Wiring in conduit
  • Stage cables
  • Uninterruptible power supplies
  • Communications systems
  • Batteries

What might be successfully reconditioned?  Not much.

  • Conduit and tubing, if it can be completely dried out
  • Motors.  Consult the manufacturers of your stage and pit lifts.

Yes, it’s a lot.  But, it’s better to replace damaged equipment than to risk failure, or worse, of equipment with hidden damage.

Here’s the plug for Studio T+L:  Give us a call.  We can help you to determine what needs to be replaced, write a specification for the replacement equipment, bid the replacement, and check up on the contractors as they’re doing the work.  And, we’re nice!

The Levoy Turns 5!

In 2008 we began a four year collaboration with the wonderful people at The Levoy Theatre in Millville, NJ and R2Architects.  In September, The Levoy will have been open for five years and they’ve sent us some statistics on their success.

528 (and counting) public events, concerts, comedy, magic, theatre, movies and more!
200,000+ visitors
187 performances by the Off Broad Street Players
30,000+ hours of volunteer time donated by over 250 volunteers (between Levoy and OBSP!)
10,000+ students attended free or reduced cost school-day live theatre
Congratulations Levoy Theatre!  Here’s to the next five years (and the five after that)!

Building Target Margin Theatre

Earlier this year we started working with New York’s Target Margin Theater on converting a two story warehouse into a new studio theatre, rehearsal spaces, and office space.  Two acoustically isolated rehearsal rooms were built at the beginning of the summer.  When bids for the resilient stage floor were twice as high as expected the team decided that TMT could build it themselves.

TMT hired a technical director to oversee a crew of volunteers installing the resilient floor we designed and building portable seating risers.  The project required:

  • 50+ volunteers over 5 days
  • 125+ sheets of plywood
  • 50+ sheets of masonite
  • 2,000 rubber pads
  • 75+ 2x4s
  • 15 gallons of black paint
  • 3 gallons of wood glue

Target Margin now has a great floor and a set of risers.  Here’s a gallery of photos showing the progress.

Next steps will include a disconnect for stage dimmers, a pipe grid, and a new mechanical system.

The Myth of the Irrelevant Theatre Consultant

Kevin Willmorth has a long and interesting article on his blog in which he argues for the recognition of professional lighting designers, and what a professional lighting designer is and is not.  The post echoes Chapter 1 of Designing With Light, and many of the things I’ve written in the book’s blog, including promoting the lighting design profession, the value of professional lighting design, the need for projects to use a professional lighting designer (here, here and here), and  those other than professional lighting designers making design decisions, among other topics.  I don’t have much to add to Kevin’s post, except to say that it’s well worth reading.

Most of the arguments I’ve made about architectural lighting design apply equally to professional theatre consultants at all levels. At the professional theatre level (commercial theatre, regional theatre, or opera house, for example) no client or architect would begin a project without a professional theatre consultant on the team. However, the farther one gets from these projects, such as community or school theatres, the more likely we are to find owners and/or architects who think they an save money by not engaging a theatre consultant, or an architect who uses sales reps and manufacturers in lieu of a professional theatre consultant. We’ve seen this manifest itself in several ways, all of which are short sighted for a number of reasons, as we’ve outlined here.  The most common arguments are below.

The TD, production designer, or other in-house person can do it

“Theatre consultants won’t listen to us, so we’ll do it ourselves.” I’ve heard this argument many times, and some theatre consultants may have a tendency to think that they know best. There is also a very strong ethic of self-reliance in the theatre. In many, many cases what the design and production team dream up has to be built from scratch, so there’s a great deal of knowledge and a can-do attitude in most theatre organizations. It’s easy to see how that self-reliance would be applied to a theatre construction or renovation project. However, there are two reasons to avoid that path.

The first reason is simple scheduling. A theatre’s staff already has a job designing and producing the season, and designing or renovating a theatre is a full time job. Studio T+L values the input and collaboration of a theatre’s staff, in fact they are essential to a successful project, but the staff needs to focus on productions while we focus on the theatre building.

The second reason is that most people in the theatre don’t have a thorough understanding of architecture, mechanical systems, construction techniques, etc., any more than architects and engineers have a clear understanding of theatre production and operations. Theatre systems must be integrated into the larger building, which requires detailed knowledge in order to effectively communicate and collaborate with the building design team. The alternative is likely to be miscommunication, lost time, and wasted money.

The architect can do it

“The architect has photos of theatres they’ve designed in their portfolio, and they say they can do it.” Theatres are highly specialized buildings, second only to hospitals and laboratories in their complexity, and must meet the unique requirements of the theatre companies or artists that use them. Architects are experts in overall building design and the key contact between owner and design team. However, architects don’t design every building element themselves. They hire a team of specialists that includes engineers, interior designers, landscape designers, and others. The space planning and production systems design of a performing arts venue are best met by knowledgable specialists such as theatre consultants.

This hold true even for smaller projects. In our opinion, there’s no such thing as “just” a community, school, or black box theatre. Theatre as a process, “making theatre”, happens within an understood framework, but the specifics vary widely. A theatre building that is organized along generic or outdated principles will work against the production and the production process. People who have no experience making theatre don’t understand the difference.

My local vendor can do it

As with a technical director, a local equipment supplier has another job. He or she also has other priorities.  An equipment supplier has a financial interest in selling certain manufacturers or products.  A professional theatre consultant has no such conflicts of interest, and focuses on selecting the right system for each project. In addition, a supplier may be able to assist with a one-for-one exchange of old equipment for new, but is certainly not able to invest the time and effort needed throughout the design and construction process.

But the fees

Yes, theatre consultants insist on being paid for their work. However, consider the cost of not having a professional theatre consultant. The theatre will be in use, as designed, for decades. How much is lost if the space planning interferes with backstage operations or the production process instead of supporting them? What is the cost of production systems that are too complicated, or insufficient for the production’s complexities? Whose audience will return again and again if there are poor sightlines or badly arranged audience amenities?

So, call us. If you don’t call us, call someone. But don’t embark on a theatre design or renovation without the expertise needed to do it properly and see it through to completion.

Illustrated Theatre Glossary Now Available

There’s a funny, but true, phrase understood by theatre professionals and amateurs alike. “In is Down, Down is Front, Out is Up, Up is Back.” And that’s just the beginning! An architect or engineer designing a theatre will hear common words used in nonsensical ways.  For years we’ve kicked off projects by distributing an illustrated theatre glossary to everyone on our team.  We’ve found it to be very helpful, since architects and engineers usually don’t know the lingo of the theatre.  Now we’ve decided to make this short guide available to everyone.  Our Illustrated Theatre Glossary eliminates  confusion with clear definitions, descriptions, drawings, and photos. Definitions include:

  • Types of Stage/Audience Relationships
  • Spaces within a theatre
  • Stage directions
  • Theatre equipment

We hope you find it useful!

Why Hire A Designer?

We’ve had several people call this year to ask, “Why should I hire Studio T+L when the local sales rep/distributor has offered to do the work?” In one instance the caller was an interior designer we’ve worked with before who wanted help in explaining the role of a lighting designer to a client. In another, it was the client of an architect who was urging that we be brought on board as a theatre consultant. In all cases the owner was looking to save money, and saw adding another consultant to the design team as a potential waste of money. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Why Hire A Lighting Designer?
For starters, the local sales rep or distributor isn’t going to do the work of a lighting designer. She/he will suggest fixtures from the manufacturers that she/he represents. It will be up to the architect/interior designer/electrical engineer to determine if the suggested fixtures meet the project’s needs. What the rep or distributor won’t do is invest the time in meetings with the owner and design team to fully understand the project. The rep or distributor won’t develop a complete approach to the design that includes illumination levels, distribution, aesthetics, and controls. The rep or distributor won’t implement that design by selecting appropriate fixtures and controls, testing those selections through calculations or mockups, and creating the construction documentation. The rep or distributor won’t be available throughout construction to inspect the progress of the work, answer the contractor’s questions, focus the fixtures, and set levels in the control system.

Now, sales reps play a valuable role in acting as a liaison between the design community and the rep’s manufacturers. Distributors play a valuable role in procuring lighting equipment for the electrical contractor and delivering it to the site on time. To increase their sales, and their profit, they may offer assistance to architects, interior designers, electrical engineers, and owners, usually at no charge. That assistance may be useful, but no one should fool themselves into believing they are getting a fully developed design from someone who will participate in the project from start to finish. That’s what a professional lighting designer does, though, and is one of the reasons to hire one.

Why Hire A Theatre Consultant?
Theater consultants are hired for the same reasons as lighting designers, only more so, as we’ve written here. Designing a performing arts space requires extensive collaboration between the architect, owner, users, and theatre consultant, beginning with the very first meeting. The most obvious part of a theatre consultant’s work is designing and documenting the theatre’s special requirements – the form and layout of the theatre, space adjacencies, stage rigging, dimming and control, seating, etc. This work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. At Studio T+L we often say that design is as much a process as it is the product that is delivered at the end of that process. We listen carefully to the artists’ needs and desires, convey them to the design team in language they can understand, and advocate for those needs and desires throughout the design and construction process. We listen to the design and construction team and explain their needs and concerns to the artists. By assisting and guiding the collaboration we help to assure a successful project for everyone.

As in the lighting world, the local sales rep or distributor can’t and won’t design the project. Can they assist in a one-for-one replacement of old equipment? Absolutely. Can they sell the project a set of equipment (rigging, dimming, etc.)? Yes. But they will not, and cannot, provide impartial, wide ranging expertise from start to finish to develop, design, and build a fully thought out and integrated performing arts building. Those important services are only provided by a theatre consultant.