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Cheltenham Ladies College


Outside View of the TheatreWorking with architects and theatre consultants on a listed building
Just a short walk from the elegant centre of Cheltenham, a small and perfectly formed new venue in the curvaceous shape of the Parabola Performing Arts Centre, recently staged its first production. Performed by students at Cheltenham Ladies' College, the building's proud owners, Romeo and Juliet was an appositely romantic fanfare for the space.

The project was headed by Foster Wilson Architects, the theatre consultants were Theatre Projects Consultants, acoustic consultant Paul Gillieon Acoustic Design, with production audio, lighting and wiring integrators Stage Electrics.

Together they have fashioned an elegant 325 seat auditorium, housed in a new, oval-shaped building connected by a short glass link building to the refurbished grade II listed Regency villa that forms the venue's façade and provides front of house, teaching accommodation and backstage facilities.
Attention to detail is striking and of a very high order. The equipment list is equally impressive with a d&b and Roland based house audio system and ETC production lighting. There's a full orchestra pit powered, and a tension wire grid which allows students to experience for the first time in their lives standing in thin air whilst focusing a light.

The auditorium comprises a gallery and stalls seating which can be modified to provide for a variety of stage layouts or an orchestra pit. Matching some of the school's existing buildings, only three materials were used in finishing the auditorium interior - fair-faced in-situ concrete, fair-faced brick and wood.
Stage Electrics' Jonathan Porter Goff shared the project management with colleague Dave Grover and says "The client wanted a small performing arts venue for teaching purposes, which also allowed them to accommodate small scale visiting companies, which is exactly what they've built".The Control Position

Stage Electrics' Jonathan Porter Goff shared the project management with colleague Dave Grover and says the contract was won after a competitive tender. "The client wanted a small performing arts venue for teaching purposes, which also allowed them to accommodate small scale visiting companies - which is exactly what they've built".

Professional Standard Venue at the Heart of the Community
Theatre Projects' consultant, John Riddell, observes: "The client was very keen that the girls should be able to put on the shows and use the lighting and sound equipment themselves. It would also encourage community involvement with the arts centre, as the college is very much the heart of Cheltenham, both physically and in terms of its culture.

Hence the decisions we made in the design process, including a reasonably high level of specification that's more akin to a professional arts centre than a school and in terms of the layout and design and safety features, such as having a tension wire grid over the auditorium, allowing up to four girls at a time to get involved in rigging and focusing over those areas. Also the size of the control rooms takes into account space for teaching small groups".

View From The BalconyA Complete Installation Service
Stage Electrics installed a versatile sound and communications system infrastructure with controls equipment in two racks in the control room and facility panels on each level. The facility panels have a mix of the connections required for audio, communications, video and data with suitably flexible routing.

An audio data system with Ethernet tie lines on the majority of the facility panels allows for digital feeds to be transferred from the rack (via Ethernet switch and patch panel) to any point in the building. The RSS M-400V Digital mixing desk can be used anywhere within this structure by simply patching a CAT5 lead to any facility panel and at the rack.

The install also included a paging and show relay system, with a show relay colour camera and preview monitors backstage and background music systems
Much of the lighting is based around ETC with 144 ways of Sensor dimming and an Ion console: "It was the perfect desk for the space," says Riddell. "If the girls learned to programme a desk like that they'd be able to transfer those skills to the real world".

The Inside of the TheatreMaintaining High Standards
Riddell emphasises the need for highly detailed and visually aesthetic finish in part due to the auditorium's oval shape, down to such details as the colour of sound and comms outlets. Theatre Projects also worked closely with acoustician Paul Gillieon to ensure the desired equipment would meet his electrical and mechanical services noise specifications.

He adds "When Stage Electrics did the installation, they were extremely helpful in getting the level of finishes up to what we all thought they should be, and spent a lot of time working with ourselves and the architects on the colour of the outlet boxes to match the grey colour chosen by the architects and paying attention to the level of detail required".

Dr Joanna Bratton, Director of Extra-Curricular and English and, indeed, director of the inaugural performance of Romeo and Juliet - lit by Stage Electrics managing director David Whitehead - says "Many of our students hope to go on to make a profession in the performing arts, either on stage or in production. In our first year we need to test the building and work out how we're using it and then we'll start to open it out to external companies. It's a fantastic space for a school and technically a brilliant space for girls to learn".

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