Title means "Quietness", "Comfortable Sound" and "Excellent Acoustics"

Nagata Acoustics News 00-08 (No.152)
Issued : August 25, 2000

An Acoustician's Look at the Work of Theater Consultants

by Makoto Ino

As an acoustical engineer, I have long been aware of the profession of theater consulting. However, my knowledge of the contribution these professionals make to the creation of a space has increased measurably from the reports I receive from my colleagues at Nagata Acoustics who work directly on the Disney Concert Hall project in Los Angeles. The theater consultant for this project is the renowned Richard Pilbrow, founder and chairman of Theater Projects Consultants. Mr. Pilbrow is a London native and a resident of Connecticut. His Theater Projects Consultants organization boasts more than 500 projects in 40 countries.

In Japan, too, it is now the norm to include the services of a theater consultant when planning a new hall and a number of "home-grown" theater consultants are active both domestically and abroad. Naturally, the work of Nagata Acoustics' acousticians brings us into close contact and cooperation with theater consultants on appropriate projects. This article takes a look at the work of theater consultants from the acoustician's point of view.

<< The Birth of Theater Consulting >>

To learn more about the origins of theater consulting, I called Toshiaki Ogawa, one of Japan's most respected theater consultants, whose projects include many theaters around the world. According to Mr. Ogawa, the theater consultant profession first became recognized as a distinct specialty in Germany during the early years of the 20th century. As stage technologies modernized and expanded their scope, and as innovations were adopted that revolutionized theater and stage design, these developments coalesced into the genre of Buehnenntechnik. Simultaneously, the people who worked to bring about these changes and implement them organized themselves into professional societies.

After the end of World War II, the vanguard of theater consulting became an English phenomenon. The theater consultant programming for the National and Barbican theaters drew international attention and set new standards and parameters for theater consulting. As we enter the 21st century, I hear that the most talked about current theater consulting project is the renewal efforts for Lincoln Center in New York City.

<< The Theater Consultant's Work >>

Project owners-including committees and organizations entrusted with project responsibilities for the publicly-owned projects--ask the theater consultant for decisions about the most fundamental aspects of a new hall project:: what "kind" of hall should be built; its scale and components; and site selection. Communicating closely with the project owner, the theater consultant arrives at the basic programming for the new hall or theater. In principle, the project owner first approves the theater consultant's proposal and this becomes the basis for designs by the project's architect, stage equipment designer and acoustical consultant. Of course, the theater consultant does not perform the project programming in a vacuum or without direction. Rather, the theater consultant aims to define solutions based on the owner's operational plans and expectations for the completed hall.

<< Japanese Multipurpose Halls Designed without a Theater Consultant >>

Until recently, the role of theater consultant for Japanese multipurpose halls was accomplished by committee. Typically, a project would have a Construction Committee comprised of both executives from the project owner's organization and an assortment of experts and experienced individuals (often with name value) representing appropriate genres from the worlds of music, theater, dance and other art forms. However, the committee's decision making was often more of a rubber stamp than substantive consulting, as the project owner would present the committee with a proposal completed by the owner's own organization and ask the committee to use its "authority" to pass positive judgment on it.

In addition to the project programming work that is part of a theater consultant's role, there is also the more specific function of stage design. In the past, the design of stage apparatus, lighting and even the sound systems of Japanese multipurpose halls were often left to the specialty vendors who provided the equipment. Many of the multipurpose halls in especially municipal and prefectural facilities throughout Japan were designed in this manner, without the benefit of a professional theater consultant.

<< Stage Design Responsibilities and Fees in Europe and the U.S. >>

In Europe and the United States, theater consultants' stage design fees are said to be in the range of 3% of the cost of a project's stage construction and equipment costs. This fee structure parallels that of construction contractors and indicates that these theater consultants consider themselves responsible for both the design and construction management of relevant aspects of their projects.

From this acoustician's point of view, I am hopeful that there will be increasing use of theater consultants' professional capabilities for fundamental project programming work. I would like to learn more about how theater consultants in Europe and the United States rank this aspect of theater consulting work compared with the more specific role of stage designer. I would also like to see more information available on U.S. theater consultants' compensation for project programming work.

<< Theater Consulting in Japan >>

In Japan, true recognition of the necessity of hiring a theater consultant dates from the project programming of the New National Theater (completed in 199?). This facility houses Japan's first opera house, a genre without a long history in Japan. Consultation and reliance on the expertise of theater consultants from outside Japan was considered essential to the success of this project, and the theater consultants who participated in the project were included time and again to participate in the programming and planning of the New National Theater. This experience created new acceptance in Japan for the value of engaging theater consultants.

Japanese theater consultants have a wide range of backgrounds and specialized knowledge. Some theater consultants base their qualifications on their studies and research about theaters and other auditoriums. These theater consultants tend to work full-time as theater consultants and they may specialize rather narrowly depending on their research and experience. At the other end of the theater-consulting spectrum are individuals whose main career is something other than theater consulting. This second group of theater consultants also has a variety of backgrounds. They may have hands-on experience in some aspect of auditorium construction projects, and their main career may be that of an academic. Or, they may have many years of experience participating in a repertory theater group, in a management capacity, or as an actor, director, or set design, lighting or sound specialist. There are also architects who call themselves theater consultants and who specialize in the architectural design of theater and hall facilities.

In general, the backgrounds and scope of work performed by Japanese theater consultants differs from that of U.S. and European ones. U.S. and European theater consultants typically have stage equipment design and build-out as the foundation of their experience and the core content of their project responsibilities. The core competency of Japanese theater consultants is to assist in project programming and planning. U.S. and European theater consultants prepare detailed stage construction specifications and drawings. The work of Japanese theater consultants stops after they provide the general concepts and high-level drawings, leaving the detailed drawings and specifications to the stage equipment installer. Similarly, we have seen situations in which the sound system designs for stages did not include detailed construction drawings, leaving this work to the construction company responsible for installation of the sound system.

<< Which Projects Need Both an Acoustician and a Theater Consultant? >>

Even though classical music concert halls require decisions about hall size and seating configuration, the choices and decisions that must be made about the hall from a theatrical perspective are limited. Classical music performances do not require the kind of special stage apparatus or equipment used in theaters for other performing arts genres. Therefore, for classical music concert hall projects, the combined expertise of the architectural designer and acoustical consultant provide sufficient competency for the task of stage design. The excellent classical music concert halls that were built in Japan in recent decades were all designed through the collaboration of architect and acoustical consultant, without the addition of a theater consultant. There is even anecdotal evidence that when a lighting consultant was included in a classical music concert hall project, his only contribution was to leave an unnecessary lighting ladder hanging from the ceiling.

However, if the hall is a multipurpose facility, the situation is entirely different. The expertise of a theater consultant is essential to the success of any future multipurpose hall project. For these projects, the theater consultant should be relied upon to propose and clearly define the functionality of the hall and to design the appropriate stage equipment and layout needed for the hall's intended uses.

When Nagata Acoustics provided acoustical consulting for the New National Theater, our design work included the stage sound system, premise communications design and video and visual projection systems design. Included in the process were ongoing and sometimes heated debates with Japan's leading experts on stage equipment, with the theater consultant and with the theater's stage technicians regarding the design and specifications for the theater's stage equipment. Prior to this project, I had plenty of experience working one-on-one with lighting and stage design specialists. But this was the first time I needed to achieve consensus among so many differing and tenaciously held opinions. Through this work, I learned how important the role of the theater consultant can be and I now understand the complexity of the work theater consultants perform.

By the very nature of our professional training and expertise, acoustical consultants prioritize a hall's acoustics while theater consultants focus on a hall's stage and functionality as a theatrical space. Through mutual cooperation, we can together bring our views into harmony and raise the standards of hall quality to a new level of excellence.

A Look at the Operations of the Kurobe City International Cultural Center, As It Begins Its 5th Year

by Satoru Ikeda

The Kurobe City International Cultural Center, which also has the name "Colare" (Collaboration of Local Art Resources), is a Nagata Acoustics project that opened in autumn 1995. At the time, the center drew media and industry attention as an example of a facility where the local residents participated actively in all aspects of the project, from planning and architectural decisions through the daily operations of the completed center. In addition, the center received attention when it won the prestigious award of the Architectural Institute of Japan.

<< A Local Community Committed to the Center's Success >>

Colare's vitality stems directly from the local community's support and leadership. The members of the community who use the hall and attend its events, and the members of the community who staff the hall's management office and run the hall's operations are in lock step with each other. The event programming reflects the wishes of the local residents because they do the planning themselves and local volunteers perform the center's day-to-day operational tasks. In this article, I will share some of the details about Colare's exemplary local-centric operations.

<< Some Kurobe City and Colare Statistics >>

When Colare opened in November 1995, the city of Kurobe had a population of approximately 37,000. Colare has a hall "zone" with an 886-seat large hall named "Carter Hall," a 208-seat multimedia hall and a rehearsal room. It also has an educational zone, which has an exhibit gallery, a library and workshop rooms. In addition, the facility has a rooftop, outdoor Noh theater.

Since Colare's opening, approximately 800,000 people have come through its doors, and its utilization rate has increased annually. Last year, the large hall had a utilization rate of 69%, and the small hall was at 78%. The respective cumulative percentages since Colare's opening are 61% and 70%. All four of these utilization rates are respectably high. Perhaps aided by Colare's 10:30 p.m. daily closing time, the building's restaurant and educational zone are always popular, even on days when there are no events in the halls.

In the afternoon, after school lets out, Colare's lobby becomes one of the local hangouts for Kurobe middle and high school students. When exam time is near, the center places small desks in the lobby so that students can study there as well as spend time with friends. Meanwhile, adults flock to the center's Italian restaurant, now considered one of the best places in town for casual get-togethers with friends and neighbors.

<< Project Planning and Operational Planning Go Hand-in-hand >>

The timing of Colare's construction project programming and planning and its operational programming and planning development overlapped in a manner that has since become the norm for cultural centers. Five years ago, it was the enthusiasm and persuasiveness of Mr. Chiaki Arai, the architect whose proposal Kurobe City selected, who spearheaded a reworking of the original event programming for the center and who pushed for the development of the operational plans that Colare implemented so successfully.

Kurobe City responded to Mr. Arai's proposals with admirable alacrity and decisiveness. An operational planning team was formed which included local residents, outside experts and the architect to hammer out plans for the center's operations. This team was given a budget that was separate from the facility's overall project budget. The operational planning team prepared detailed business plans for the center's operations, revenue, publicity and sales opportunities, as well as plans for the center's inaugural events. The operational planning team even considered such details as recruiting the restaurant company that would occupy Colare's restaurant space, and it accomplished this all concurrently with the project's programming and construction phases.

Colare's operational planning team turned the content programming process itself into a series of events that included symposia and observation tours. In addition, because the operational planning team was organized from the outset of the project, it was able to have its opinions about the center's physical design heard and incorporated in the facility, increasing the operation planning team's attachment for the completed Colare. Local residents' participation in Colare's operations today is a natural extension of their inclusion in the project from its inception.

<< The Structure of Local Residents' Participation >>

The results of the operational planning team's 18-month-long development effort were clearly evident in the center's inaugural programming as well as in the ongoing operational structure, which relies heavily on involvement by members of the Colare Club. For the inaugural events, the operational planning team decided its goal should be to create interest in the center among as much of the local population as possible, rather than to simply try to boost the name value of the new center through the use of celebrity events. Accordingly, instead of a single gala opening event, the operational planning team created a phased approach lasting the entire first year of the center's operations.

The first phase of the center's inaugural year events began with encouraging people to come to the center and get a good look at every part of the facility, and the second phase focused on local use of the hall. Only thereafter did the content programming include concerts and events by top-name artists and events that would draw large audiences. The phased approach to the center's opening, beginning with a "soft" opening rather than a gala event, was not glamorous, but it successfully prioritized long-term, consistent use of Colare by local residents.

In addition to opening the hall with a strategically orchestrated phased approach, the center's program planning and operations have consistently placed the center's Colare Club at the forefront of these activities. Colare officially operates under the auspices of the Kurobe City International Cultural Center Foundation, a non-profit organization. From the outset, the foundation's directors have earnestly sought and encouraged local resident participation in all aspects of the center's planning. Colare Club is a natural continuation of the operational planning team that included local resident participation when the center was being designed and built. Local residents can join Colare Club at any time, and a committee composed of people elected from among the club's members and selected professionals draft programming proposals for presentation to the foundation's board of directors. Per the rules set by the foundation, half of the people who sit on the programming and operations committee are Colare Club members.

<< Benefits of Colare Club Membership >>

One of the early benefits of Colare Club membership was the opportunity to attend some of the center's pre-opening events. Since then, club member benefits have grown to include early ticket reservation, ticket discounts and invitations to special events, subscription to a newsletter and discounts at Colare's restaurant. These benefits make Colare Club a kind of "platinum" version of the patrons' societies instituted by many halls in Japan. Instead of the center focusing on providing Club members with mailings and discount incentives, however, the uniqueness of Colare Club is its activist character. Members serve as volunteers at the center and meet other members as well as develop friendships as they work together on the center's planning and operations. The club offers a diversity of ways for the community to become involved with the center and ensures that the center continues to meet the needs of the community. In particular, having 50% of the members of the important programming and operations committee chosen from among Colare Club members indicates the significant role and position of the club in the center's overall operational strategy.

With the Colare Club members taking "center stage" in programming and operational activities, the city can successfully assume a support role. This balance has a positive affect on the vitality of the center, which continues to thrive exuberantly nearly five years after the center's opening.

<< Colare Club's "Circle Groups" >>

Colare Club membership costs just \3000 (about US$33) for two years. Groups of members can form circle groups to plan and propose their own ideas for concerts and event programming. If the ideas are adopted, the circle group members have the opportunity to produce and stage the concert or event themselves. This system is one of the club's most appealing and popular features. Presently, Colare Club has approximately 1000 members, and 11 circle groups, and the number of circle groups grows annually. The circle groups are allowed to use rooms in the center's educational zone to hold meetings, a convenience much appreciated by club members.

The events planned and executed by the circle groups provide the groups' members the chance to express themselves and participate in ways best suited to each individual. Some members wish to perform and display their artistic creativity, others enjoy working on production and backstage activities, while still others are motivated simply by the desire to volunteer their time for a good cause.

A 14-person committee oversees the progress and administration of the circle groups. The committee meets once a month to evaluate the success of past events and check the progress of events still being developed. The committee reviews ticket sales and publicity activities, as well as monitoring actual attendance at circle group events. Each fall, this committee selects a short-list of productions to be included in the following year's roster of circle group performances and events. In addition, this committee accepts programming suggestions submitted in response to announcements in the club's Colare Times newsletter. The center's Operations Office reviews the proposals selected to ensure the capabilities of the performers and their ability to fund their proposals, then prepares written executive summaries of the proposals for the Programming and Operations Committee.

On average, more than 100 performance and event proposals are submitted to the Programming and Operations Committee each year. From these, the Programming and Operations Committee selects approximately 30 for inclusion in the center's programming. Among the factors that the committee considers are: achieving a balance among the proposals selected; whether the event or program has audience appeal; its artistic value; and, appropriateness as a center event.

The staff of the center's Operations Office is kept very busy helping the circle groups, but here, too, energy and vitality have infused their workplace since day one, and no one seems to mind the heavy workload. Initially, the Operations Office was managed by municipal employees, but these managers returned to other municipal jobs in spring 2000. Nevertheless, the remaining staff and volunteers of the Operations Office continue to perform the office's duties in an apparently seamless transition.

<< Colare Is an Inspiring Role Model for Building Community Participation >>

The headline of a recent announcement I received from Colare Club states that the club is forming a newspaper department. The center will be turning over the publication of the Colare Times to club members. The same announcement includes a column calling for volunteers for event ushers. As one who was instrumental in bringing the center into being, its successful recruitment of community participation is a joy for me to read. Colare serves as an excellent and inspiring role model, proving that local residents can be the life and breath of the cultural centers in their communities. I hope other cultural centers will also realize this dream.

Colare (Kurobe City International Cultural Center) can be contacted directly by phone at +81-765-57-1201.
The address is 20 Mittukaichi, Kurobe City, Toyama Prefecture. The website is http://kurobe.city.kurobe.toyama.jp.

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Nagata Acoustics News 00-08iNo.152j
Issued : August 25, 2000

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