White Light Provides Complete Technical Services to Eastbourne Theatres

Located along the South Coast within the Devonshire Quarter, Eastbourne Theatres consists of three venues: the Congress Theatre, Devonshire Park Theatre and the Winter Garden . With a combined capacity of more than 3,500 seats, each venue plays host to a variety of in-house and touring productions each year and is part of Eastbourne Borough Council. The Theatres recently underwent a period of redevelopment, which required a complete update of their existing AV and lighting infrastructure. Having a long-standing relationship with White Light, they approached the company to oversee the entire upgrade and drew on its different departments to deliver the various stages of the project.  

WL’s involvement with the theatres began when Ryan Tate, Head of Lighting at Eastbourne, approached the company about purchasing some loose fixtures for the Congress Theatre. Ryan explains: “The Congress Theatre is a Grade II* listed, purpose-built theatre and conference venue with a seating capacity of 1,640 . One of the largest theatres on the South Coast, I was looking to supplement the existing lighting rig by investing in some new features to offer incoming designers maximum flexibility. I’d worked with WL on many occasions before so contacted Business Development Manager Jonathan Haynes, to explain what I needed and inquire whether he’d be able to acquire this for me”.

Jonathan explains: “We explored a range of options with Ryan and the team, carry out a number of demos to find the best fixtures to suit the venue, which runs a really mixed programme of theatre, music and comedy. It was decided that the best solution was a mix of Chauvet Ovation E-910FCs, Colorado 3-SOLOs, C-805FC and P-56FC RGBLA fixtures along with Robert Juliat Cyrano followspots.”

Next to the Congress Theatre is the Winter Garden. Built in 1875, this grade II-listed building has played host to literally thousands of live performances, with the majority taking place in its former skating rink turned concert space, the Floral Hall. The historic venue closed in 2017 in order to undergo some much-needed refurbishment and restore the venue back to its former glory. Whilst supplying the fixtures for the Congress Theatre, Ryan told Jonathan about their ambitious plans for the venue and how they were determined to make it a state-of-the-art facility. Jonathan explains: “Ryan was saying how they were looking to work with a company who could not only assess the space and acquire the desired equipment but could then commission and install the complete project. As he was explaining his vision, we discussed a range of options and lighting schemes and I introduced Martyn O’Donnell, one of our installation project managers to driven the project forward.”

The Winter Garden is one of Eastbourne’s busiest venues, hosting live performances, cabaret style events, dinner dances as well as conferences. As such, the technical set-up had to have maximum flexibility to accommodate such a diverse range of events. Having last been upgraded in 1985, WL’s role was to essentially take systems that were obsolete and update them with something that could be used for the next twenty years. Jonathan explains: “Knowing Ryan well and wanting to ensure he received the full use of our services and expertise, I actually worked closely with him to develop a lighting set-up that would work within the building. From our initial discussions, Ryan was determined to use as many ETC fixtures as possible, knowing the reliability of the brand and believing it would work well with the building’s beautiful architecture which we really wanted to accentuate. He also knew that ETC products offer enormous versatility, and longer warranties, which is vital for the Winter Garden as the venue needs to be multi-functional”.

Jonathan then performed a series of on-site demonstrations with a shortlist of equipment, seeing how well the fixtures worked within the space and whether they offered the range of options Ryan needed. Jonathan explains: “We eventually settled on a mix of ColourSource and S4WRD retrofit units – a mix of the 3000K version and the newer S4WRD Color RGBA variant. The ColorSource range has established itself in the market as a rock solid brand at a really attractive price point. The S4WRD units provide high output white light, and in the case of the S4WRD Color, some really nice saturated colours that can utilise existing ETC lens tubes and fixture barrels – a no brainer for a venue that was keen to make the budget go as far as possible without compromising on manufacturing quality that ETC holds dear. These fixtures also allowed the venue to become fully LED; an important factor for a venue wanting to be as environmentally friendly as possible.” 

Once the main lighting plans were drawn up, Jonathan liaised with Martyn to discuss the technical infrastructure and how this, alongside a brand-new AV system, could be installed within the space. Martyn explains: “It was our job to create a robust lighting and AV set-up, on what was essentially a blank canvas. The elements involved in the install were based around a wiring infrastructure from a backstage rack room to the facilities panels on stage and around the auditorium. Part of the brief was to provide an architectural lighting control system to run the main rig as well as house lights and décor fixtures, and install the relevant dimming/switchable power infrastructure on top of the paging and show relay to backstage areas”. 

The lighting system was designed around the ETC Paradigm system to control the Floral Hall architectural Gantom fixtures, along with all of the production lighting which included the ETC S4WRDs, ColorSource Pars and additional Chauvet COLORado 2 Solos units. Provision was also allowed for future expansion and the system allows for touring shows to use their own console if required.

The audio system installed was designed to handle both digital and analogue signals and control the auditorium production audio and backstage paging/show relay system. WL also installed audio show relay as well as video show relay, to allow for maximum coverage for those working in the venue.

The Projects team arrived on site in October 2020 and worked over the next 12 months to complete the installation, which was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And whilst the technology supplied was all brand-new and state-of-the-art, the building in which it was being installed was anything but. Martyn comments: “You always have to ensure you fully respect any space you work in but there’s an additional pressure when it’s Grade-II listed! Thankfully we have an experienced team who are used to working in venues such as this and the set-up we’d designed had been done with the building’s architecture and unique structure in mind”.   

Whilst the installation was ongoing, there was yet another opportunity that arose for WL to work with another Eastbourne Theatre venue. Ryan states: “A short walk from Winter Garden is Devonshire Park: a small Victorian theatre, also Grade II listed, and the third theatre under the Eastbourne umbrella. The house lights were still predominantly tungsten BC fittings, and given these are fast becoming obsolete, there was a need to upgrade to LED. As such, we have gone with the tried and tested ETC Arcsystem, replacing our old incandescent lamps with 2700K Arclamps controlled through the in-house console along with a new Paradigm control system. We wanted to ensure all of our venues were fully equipped to the same high standards to ensure both our audience and visiting companies received the best experience possible”.

An important service that WL provides to many of its customers is a service contract; meaning the company’s expert Technical Service team is on-hand to offer emergency support, annual services as well as preventative maintenance visits. Knowing this was available to him, Ryan took up a site-wide service contract for Eastbourne, meaning that WL will now service all three of its venues. Ryan explains: “What’s great about WL is that it genuinely is a one stop solution – yet every single service they offer matches the standard I’ve come to expect from the company. The fact that I’ve been able to work so closely with just one company on a project that normally would require three or four different partners makes life so much easier and I am delighted with how they have helped transform our spaces”.

Jonathan concludes: “It has been privilege to be part of such a mammoth upgrade of so many venues under the Eastbourne Theatres umbrella. What started as a conversation about some loose fixtures for the Congress has developed into a full-scale technical installation to a continued service contract across 3 venues – and the client knew they could rely on us every step of the way. It has been great to offer a full turnkey solution under one roof and we were able to fulfil all of their very different but specific needs which ultimately enabled these fantastic, historic venues to embrace the latest technologies and continue to be able to cope with the most complex shows and productions.”

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