Mid Kent College
A complete design and build solution for education
Stage Electrics has recently completed a comprehensive, state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting installation at the Medway Campus of Mid Kent College, a brand new £86 million purpose-built educational facility for the Medway Towns.
The high technology Campus contains classrooms, workshops and laboratories alongside library, refectory and social zones in a bright, modern environment.
Some 18 months before completion, Stage Electrics' project team, headed by Darren Beckley, was asked to propose a complete technical package to include a central theatre, a television studio, two radio studios and a recording studio. The concept also involved working within the parameters of the new architecture, which included a glass walled theatre - originally designed as a daylight performance pavilion - at the heart of the project. Typical usage includes the college's own drama, musical theatre and experimental theatre, public performances and commercial hire - emphasising the need for maximum flexibility.
Performing Arts Lecturer Nigel Wren explains: "We wanted a flexible theatre space, to accommodate everything from end-on theatre for musicals as well as drama both in traverse or in-the-round. Flexibility, in fact, was the key ingredient. Prior to Stage Electrics' involvement, very little thought had been in put in about how the space was actually going to work. They worked with us and achieved a very good, workable space, and delivered every aspect of the project successfully."
"Stage Electrics proposed a package that included some highly creative solutions, including a theatre truss grid that can be lowered to the ground for simple reconfiguration and maintenance, and an Ethernet backbone to carry all video, audio and lighting data around the building, which sounded a little scary at first but has worked out extremely well. It also both simplified the cabling and kept costs to a minimum, as well all the technical benefits it provides."
Design work for the theatre included moving the proscenium arch from its original position to a central location, and reconfiguring the room generally to work as a professional theatre.
A blackout curtain has been hung on all four sides of the theatre space that creates the 'black box' environment and tames the lively acoustics, and a white cyclorama behind the stage, are mounted on Hall Stage curtain tracks. The custom built stage manager's desk provides a TheatreCue 14-way Cue Light Master Station and a RCF zone-switchable show relay system with RCF speakers throughout the foyer, box office and back stage areas.
Other key design features in the theatre included fully reconfigurable, modular Prolyte StageDex staging and retractable seating that allows full use of the open floor, while also providing a control deck at the upper, rear level.
Lighting is a combination of well proven and versatile equipment, the key elements being Martin Professional MAC 250 Entours and MAC 250 Wash Lights, ETC Source 4 profiles, Selecon Rama and Acclaim Fresnels, Encore PAR 64 cans and a concealed RGB LED surround (using 13 RGB Tryka Strip luminaires) around the proscenium arch, adding a unusual touch that's ideal for rock&roll performances.
A Le Maitre Hazer and Jem Hi-Mass smoke machines provide effects, and projection is provided by a Panasonic PTD5700 XGA data projector fed by a Kramer wireless data system, with a retractable Screen International 4:3 projection screen.
Over 100 ways of ETC Sensor dimming are in command, with ETC Unison and ION control. All DMX data, in common with audio and video data, is distributed via Ethernet throughout, with multiple facility panels around the space allowing flexible equipment use. The side of stage patch bay for the ETC dimming is laid out to represent the venue's socket layout, simplifying patching for the students.
Darren Beckley explains: "We specified equipment that is both extremely reliable and well proven in the professional world - precisely the kind of equipment students are likely to encounter in the world of work. We also used our in-house 3D Studio Max visualisation system to give the client an accurate 'walk-through' of the project before a single brick had been laid, allowing us to discuss various aspects before committing to designs and specifications."
The Prolyft H30V front-of-house lighting truss, which covers most of the floor area, is raised and lowered as a single piece on six Prolyft motors. Facility panels mounted on the truss's top chords provide 120 outgoing lighting circuits, 20 RJ45 outlets and 10 loudspeaker outlets - allowing lighting and audio elements to be positioned freely to suit each production. The overstage raise and lower truss is flown from a near-silent ASM steel band system with internally wired bars, allowing use during a show.
Audio-wise, the team opted for a digital solution, in the shape of a RSS by Roland M-400 mixer, with a Sennheiser infra red system for the hard of hearing. Two pairs of RCF TT22-A two-way active 750W full-range loudspeakers and two TTS-A Double 18" Reflex Active Subwoofers are fully portable, requiring only mains and signal cables to be run to a the chosen location. A range of microphones includes radio microphones and rifles from Sennheiser.
The TV studio is for students taking the two-year vocational National Diploma for Moving Image, who combine work in the studio, outside broadcast, filmmaking, sound for radio and sound for TV. As with the rest of the installation, facilities mirror those students will encounter in the industry.
Three Sony HVRZ1E video cameras on Manfrotto tripods film the action in front of a large curtain-tracked Chroma Key green screen, with a Sony HVR-DR60 portable hard disk recorders to hand. Stand-mounted Arri lighting resolved a low ceiling height issue, while an internally wired dimming system with wall plug points for power and cameras keeps cabling neat and tidy.
In the control room, a Newtek Tricaster Studio Edition with Live Control and Time Warp provides vision mixing for up to six cameras and recording control. Audio is captured and mixed on a Yamaha MG1666cx USB console and Shure / AKG microphones. A pair of 17" TFT monitors display, respectively, live cameras and the live output, with a further 32" Panasonic LCD for live output. Detailed editing can be carried out on a high-spec Apple Mac G5 running Final Cut Pro.
The Recording Studio is based around a Mac-hosted Pro Tools recording and editing system with a DigiDesign 003 FireWire workstation, along with Focusrite, Tascam, Foxstex, Roland, Behringer and Alesis outboard equipment, with Audix and Sennheiser microphones and Event TR8 monitor speakers.
The radio studio was designed in collaboration with Sonifex. The College required professional quality radio studios, and both are equipped with Sonifex desks with a P Squared playout system. The results are broadcast internally over the Internet, allowing lecturers and students to open up a Real Player on any computer in the college, and listen in to a live stream of internal broadcasts.