North Queensland’s New Performing Arts Epicentre
Text:/ John O’Brien
After a long and protracted genesis, the Cairns Performing Arts Centre (CPAC) opened to the public on 15th December 2018. Two decades in planning and two years in construction, it replaced the ageing Cairns Civic Centre with a state-of-the-art facility to support local, regional and touring performances. CPAC features a 941-seat proscenium auditorium with full fly system (the only one in far north Queensland) and a reconfigurable 400-seat performance space, rehearsal and warm-up area. As part of the upgrade, these rooms received brand new audio gear, matching the quality of the new venue. Some of this equipment is also used at the adjoining amphitheatre in Munro Martin Parklands.
Theatre consultants Schuler Shook conducted a feasibility study and ended up completing full planning and design for the technical elements of this project. Its sound system specification outline required SPL levels, room coverage and some specific equipment but left the brief open enough to cater for quality non-conforming tender responses. For consistency and continuity, one tender covered both performance spaces.
Graeme Hicks at Entertainment Production Services (EPS) pitched a proposal based on a range of d&b loudspeakers with Midas front ends. Principal contractor FKG accepted the bid without a conventional speaker shootout, primarily because the 3D modelling and industry standard specified coverage and levels were easily met. Besides, they did not yet have a building to test any gear in!
d&b’s ArrayCalc simulation software modelled the spaces and derived the ideal combination of products from the projected dB/SPL overlays onto the virtual rooms. A mix of loudspeakers are deployed to ensure sound quality is consistent throughout all seating positions in each room.
So how does this convert from paper and screen to real life? According to CPAC Technical Manager, Jon Driver: “It translates very realistically. I was expecting serious industry standard gear and certainly got it.”
The main theatre system consists of left and right arrays of 6 x V8, 4 x V12, and 3 x V-SUB per side. 2 x V10P speakers are used for room infill and 6 x E6 boxes cover the balcony. 15 x 4S speakers enable multiple fill configurations around the stage and pit lips. This flexibility is enhanced with 6 x T10s for portable fill and a V-GSUB for extra stage oomph. Onstage foldback is catered for with 8 x M4 monitor wedges. Driving all these speakers is a combination of d&b 30D and 10D amplifiers.
With its automated flooring system, the smaller but more versatile Studio space has a rig of 2 x Y7P and 1 x Y-SUB flown per side, 4 x E6 and 16 x 8S handling fill duties and a pair of M4s for foldback. D20, 30D, and 10D amps power these speakers.
Both rooms feature Midas PRO-X desks fixed in place out front. The venue has a third PRO-X, used for monitor mixing on stage in the Theatre or as an alternative FOH position in the Studio.
JD: “Using PRO-X is a really good option, because the nearby Tanks Arts Centre also uses PRO-X, so local operators already understand the PRO series platform, allowing a consistency of training between venues. Plus, it’s also a really nice product.” Toowoomba’s Empire theatre also has PRO desks — another continuity plus for the locals.
THE INS & OUTS
Handfuls of DL231 IOs send 96kHz AES50 digital audio to the amps and d&b R1 remote software and native digitally enabled amplifiers take over from there. As the d&b supplier, NAS provided considerable technical assistance. NAS’s Doug Pringle and Dave Jacques were onsite helping to commission the systems, time aligning delays for fills, setting up snapshots of common configurations for different room layouts and storing simple base configurations.
These start with basic L/R and sub level control for client operators and R1 looks after the rest of the room. It has delivered a very flexible system with easy home positions to default to, but with full power available for more experienced hands.
6 x IO boxes (24 IO) can be put anywhere on the network or in the venues, allowing great flexibility in audio routing and formation. DANTE cards are in all desks and can send audio from theatre to studio (holding area for casts of hundreds), to external OB or wherever needed. Even redundant analogue links have been included for touring rigs, covering all configuration options.
JD: “Soundproofing is also excellent. The acousticians and architects have done amazing job with setup and isolation between venues.” With live performances being the most regular gig here, this has been crucial.
JD: “It’s great to have a d&b rig located between the rainforest and the reef. Since the upgrade, we haven’t had to bring equipment in to supplement any of our shows.” Being a long way from capital city gear hire, this is a legitimate concern, as is reliability and backup. “The five year warranty is particularly good. We are a local community venue after all. Dealing with NAS is always a pleasure and they are very helpful. Graeme at EPS was great bringing it all together.”
Reception from the Cairns public has been excellent. 4500 locals attended the opening day and were suitably impressed. For the city and local arts scene, it’s been a boon.
JD: “This place is going to be here for a long time. For the last 20 years, we’ve been hearing ‘When are you getting a new venue?’ We could have spent less but we did it justice and did it the right way.”
The venue staff also listen closely to feedback from touring acts – their crew are very happy with what they find and the system has been pretty much flawless. Listening to these experienced heads has “saved a lot of discussion at the loading dock.”
JD: “The hirer will drive the direction of what we buy and how we run systems. With this in mind, we know that d&b/PRO-X will facilitate that for a long time into the future. What we have got now is pretty impressive and definitely top stuff. We now have the most accurate dispersion control throughout the entire frequency range.”
From simple lectern only to school presentations and musicals, local dance shows, junior eisteddfods and a variety of cinema sessions – from local community events to professional touring acts – one system does it all.