Historical Theatre Shines Brighter than Ever

In 1927, the people of St. Joseph, Mo., knew they had something special with the opening of the Missouri Theatre. Years later, others agreed, as the building, one of the few remaining examples of Babylonian design, was listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places. Some 75 years after its opening, the theatre is even more of an architectural gem, as a recent renovation of the beloved str...

By Staff June 1, 2003

In 1927, the people of St. Joseph, Mo., knew they had something special with the opening of the Missouri Theatre. Years later, others agreed, as the building, one of the few remaining examples of Babylonian design, was listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places. Some 75 years after its opening, the theatre is even more of an architectural gem, as a recent renovation of the beloved structure, as well as innovative lighting design, with its use of LED (light-emitting diode) and wireless technology, has captivated the city’s art community.

The design team for the renovation, comprised of local architecture firm Ellison-Auxier and Kansas City-based engineering firm Henderson Engineers, began budgeting for the project three years before completion of construction documents. Due to the significant lighting component in the project, Impact Illumination, a specialty lighting division of Henderson Engineers, was brought on board to establish design criteria, equipment budgets, and of course, to provide lighting design services.

LED leads the way

The group was charged with restoring lighting to its original intent, and also increasing lighting levels in seating areas, integrating house lighting into the existing theatrical system, utilizing low-maintenance equipment and enhancing ornate detailing.

To start, the team needed to find a way to upgrade background lighting. One unique aspect of the original design was its capability to change ceiling and alcove lighting, making the theatre a state-of-the-art facility in its own time. The color changing was originally provided via red, green and yellow incandescent lamps located in existing strips in coves in the walls as well as above the tent ceiling. Initially, neon and cold cathode sources were reviewed as replacements. Digital LED technology quickly surpassed other options due to its long life, its low-energy interface capabilities in conjunction with the existing theatrical control system, and of course, for its color changing capability. Using mock-ups, the lighting team was able to compare the performance of the LED luminaires with the existing incandescent strip fixtures. The LED technology provided unlimited rich, saturated colors via red/green/blue (RGB) light combinations while highlighting architectural elements and providing dramatic mood settings.

Based on these findings, the incandescent strips were replaced in sidewall coves and above the tent ceiling with LED cove fixtures located 2 ft. on center. Taller walls utilized a combination of LED wall-wash and cove luminaires for uniformity. To further enhance detailing, as well as provide additional uniformity on the ceiling, LED cove space was added around the theatre and orchestra pit ceiling perimeters.

The replacement of incandescent strip fixtures not only freed up needed space for dimmers, but also allowed for lamp wattage increases in other areas including the seating spaces and theatrical lighting luminaires.

As far as more traditional lighting technology, too-low house lighting levels below the balcony were addressed by replacing the existing 40-watt/S11 lamps with 100-watt/S19/CL lamps. In addition to increasing light levels from 0.5 foot candles to 10 foot candles, the lamps yield a 10,000-hr. lamp life (vs. the 500-hr. lamp life of existing 40-watt/S11 lamp) while still maintaining the warm, incandescent source.

Elsewhere, existing luminaires located both inside and outside were refurbished. When feasible, as in the case of existing exit signs, new lamping was integrated to alleviate maintenance concerns.

All mixed up

As Impact is a part of Henderson Engineering, electrical controls and communications considerations were never far from the team’s mind. Two major obstacles jumped out: circuiting and control. The existing massive concrete structure made it impossible to add conduits to serve new equipment. Though the actual power consumption of the new equipment was significantly less than that of the existing equipment, field investigation revealed only one existing conduit available for use along the sidewalls. However, the intelligent LED luminaires required both 120-volt power to their power supply unit as well as a low-voltage line. In response to the control cabling question, Impact turned to its in-house technology experts, Henderson Technology Group. Ultimately, wireless technology (Ethernet-DMX512) was incorporated, eliminating location concerns and fulfilling control requirements without harming the historical fabric.

The existing theatre dimming console board was sufficient in providing a means to interface the new house lighting system with the existing theatrical lighting. However, the existing board lacked spare channel availability. It had 48 channels available for theatrical dimming, but 18 were tied up in the house lighting system, leaving only 30 channels for the theatrical side. In addition, the new technology required more channels to be added for house lighting. Instead of utilizing one channel for each house lighting zone, each zone required three channels—a channel each for red, green and blue. Colors were then created by mixing these three primary colors either manually via the console sliders or by programming combinations into the console board. Fortunately, both channel capacity and DMX-to-Ethernet conversion were addressed when the owner elected to purchase a new theatrical lighting console. The new console eliminated a separate box for DMX-to-Ethernet conversion by providing two unique universes of DMX within one console board. One DMX universe is utilized for the stage lighting while the other is dedicated to interfacing with intelligent LED luminaires. Perhaps more importantly, the number of channels was increased from 48 to 96, providing much needed flexibility for theatrical stage lighting.

Wireless technology design

As far as hardware was concerned, a combination of off-the-shelf communications products were used to send the DMX512 controls wirelessly to the LED fixtures. The design concept was standard wireless bridging technology: convert the DMX512 signals to Ethernet, broadcast the Ethernet signal from one transmitter to multiple receivers, convert the signals back to DMX512 and patch through to the LED controllers. The only difference between the Missouri Theatre installation and a standard wireless Ethernet network was that signals controlled lights instead of transmitting email or other traditional data information.

Although the application was straightforward from a data networking perspective, there were few products on the market for converting DMX512 to Ethernet that fit the budget. HTG researched potential suppliers and discovered an appropriate off-the-shelf system for the required application using ready-made for a plug-and-play wireless installation. The final design for the system was simple and straightforward—so simple that the electrical contractor, with no previous experience in either DMX or Ethernet, successfully completed the configuration and installation of the system.

The raw DMX512 control signal output routes from the control lightboard to the DMX EtherGate IN unit. This unit converts the DMX signal to Ethernet frames. The converted DMX signal connects to a wireless transmitter off-stage broadcasting an Ethernet signal to multiple receivers in the light coves of the theatre. Each of the eight receivers is configured in a “listen-only” mode since the DMX512 communications from the light panel is one-way only. Lacking any obstructions inside the theatre, the wireless transmitter and multiple receivers establish connectivity almost instantly. Finally, from each of the receivers, the Ethernet signal connects to an individual DMX EtherGate OUT unit and on to the LED fixtures.

A favorable response

Since the re-opening of the theatre last year, the response has been tremendous from both the public and owners. “It is amazing how much flexibility the new system provides while providing the owner a relatively maintenance-free, long-term solution to the renovation,” commented Ron Auxier, an architect with Ellison-Auxier Architects. “The improvement of color variety and lighting intensity further emphasizes the interior architectural details. The lighting truly blends the past design intent with present technology, recreating a historical masterpiece.”

For more information on lighting fixtures from Color Kinetics, visit www.colorkinetics.com . For information on lamps from Philips, visit www.lightingphilips.com For more on DMX/Ethernet technology from EntTec, visit www.enttec.com . For information on wireless transceivers from Proxim, visit www.proxim.com . And for more on console boards from Electronic Theatre Controls, visit www.etcconnect.com