Invitation Only

Inside P.C. Richard & Son Theatre, One Of New York’s Best-Kept Secrets

Lighting & Sound America, May 2011
by David Barbour

The P. C. Richard & Son Theatre is billed as "New York's most exclusive venue." Located in Tribeca, it regularly hosts a wide variety of popular music acts. Among those who have appeared there recently are Jennifer Lopez, Mumford and Sons, Foreigner, and Adele. But don't even think about buying a ticket for a show there.

According to the theatre's website, "The P.C. Richard & Son Theatre is the new live performance home for Clear Channel Radio-Z100, Q104.3, 106.7 Lite FM, Power 105.1, and 103.5 KTU-in partnership with the leading electronics/appliance dealer in the tri­state area, P.C. Richard & Son. The 5,500-sq.-ft street-level performance space plays host to today's top recording artists as they perform at ultra-exclusive private events for station listeners and P.C. Richard & Son customers. The venue will also be the home base for Clear Channel to capture content, like the Stripped series, for national distribution."

Aside from VIPs who receive invitations to concerts at the theatre, music fans get to attend by signing up for an account, into which is deposited 3,000 points. One earns additional points by, among other things, taking part in surveys and trivia contests, and identifying bonus codes in P. C. Richard print and web ads. The points can be traded in for concert tickets.

This highly unusual project resulted from a collaboration by Clear Channel, Meridian Design Associates, Brooklyn ­based theatre consultants Studio T+L, LLC, acousticians Acoustilog, with audio and broadcast video design by SIA Acoustics. In its finished form, the venue features highly flexible lighting control, and LED content systems. Regularly spaced 12" box trusses hang in the spaces between the ceiling panels, offering performance lighting designers many options for installing lighting gear. Raceways placed above the trusses provide easy access to power and data for all the lighting equipment, with more power/data locations near the floor for TV or video production.

Probably the most unusual aspect of the P.C. Richards Theatre is the way in which the lighting gear is infused into the space, thanks to a surrounding on-stage video wall consisting of approximately 8,000 LEDS. This covers the areas behind the performers, in the ceiling, and on the walls extending into the room. The LED control system extends images shown behind the per­formers to ceiling and walls, encircling the room and audience members with plenty of color, light, and movement.

"We were contacted by the client to do the dimming and rigging," says Jason Livingston, of Studio T+L, who was in charge of systems design. "As we began working on it, we immediately began to feel that the project, as designed, was not the space that they wanted. We discovered that they wanted something that was capable of being a cinema and also hosting large internal company meetings-however, it's primary use, as a rock 'n' roll venue, was not being met."

This led to the development of the video element. "We kicked around various ideas, including plasma TVs, and eventually got to LEDS, which led to the idea of covering the entire upstage wall in a grid of [Philips Color Kinetics] iColor Flex SL strings." To supply content for the wall, Ed McCarthy, also of Studio T+L, who handled performance lighting deign, recommended Green Hippo's V3 Hippotizer, which, he notes, comes with a library of stock content. If an act shows up without video content, designers have something to draw upon. The Hippotizer has also been programmed to deliver pre-show content, including logos for P.C. Richard and the New York City radio stations owned by Clear Channel.

Overall, Studio T+L's brief included stage lighting trusses and rigging, stage lighting dimming and control, stage lighting gear, the upstage LED wall, LED fixtures on the ceiling and walls, and performance lighting design, including branding looks for all Clear-Channel stations, LED content and playback, concert lighting, and lighting for those occasions when the space is used as a dance club.

The stage lighting package includes 20 ETC Source Fours, 29 Arri Junior 650s, four Altman Lighting 6' three-circuit Zipstrips, 30 Coemar Parlite LEDs, six Philips Vari*Lite VL 1000s, four VL2500 Spots, four VL500As, eight VL500Ts, 26 Martin Professional SmartMacs, and ten Pulsar ChromaBanks. The rest of the LED lineup consists of 270 Color Kinetics iColor Cove MX Powercore, 95 iColor Flex LED strings for the upstage wall, and 46 more iColor Flex for the side and rear walls. Two hundred linear feet of James Thomas Engineering 12" box truss was used. Dimming and control includes two ETC full-size dimming racks, one ETC Paradigm architectural control proces­sor, one grandMA lighting control console, a Green Hippo V3 Hippotizer, and a Color Kinetics Video Systems Manager. An ETC Net3 data distribution system links the lighting and video gear. Many of these choices were made to response (sic) to a request for gear with low power draws.

The SmartMacs, Parlite LEDs, and ChromaBanks are located on the upstage wall, providing backlight. The ceiling over the audience area is defined by a series of curved acoustical panels; behind them are iColor Cove MX Powercore. The Vari-Lite gear is obviously meant for stage presentations, and the Arri gear is useful when the stage is lit for broadcast and web streaming. The control systems are designed for many eventualities. The grandMA is very well-known console; the Paradigm system has an easy interface; it can be operated by non-technical staff when the space is used for meetings or other events.

Big Sound, Small Space

Just as the lighting rig was carefully tailored for the specific demands of the space, the audio gear also includes some very particular choices. To begin with, the front-of-house loudspeaker rig consists of eight Outline C.D.H. 483 units in two arrays of four elements each, and six Outline LAB 15 SP subwoofers located under the stage. Power for the arrays is provided by four Outline T7s, suspended with the loudspeakers via a custom-designed rigging bar. Fill for the raised VIP seating is provided by three Outline Mini­C.O.M.P.A.S.S. units, with front fill provided by a dozen of the company's Miera II boxes. Acting as monitors are four Outline H.A.R.D. 45 SP and ten H.A.R.D.115 SR boxes.

Outline, an Italian audio manufac­turer; is well known in Europe but relatively unknown in America. However, says Adam Shulman, of SIA, says, "The venue needed a high-level touring performance rig in a compact form.

"We arrived at Outline using a specific method of evaluating loudspeakers," Shulman continues. "After a thorough examination of the technical performance, we looked closely at Outline as a company, their manufacturing and design operations, and other key issues to ensure that the system would be well-supported and accepted, in addition to performing well technically."

The Outline gear was chosen for its combination of size and power, he adds. "If the arrays were any larger, they would be hitting people's heads. The Outline speakers have very high output for their footprint, exhibit exceptional off-axis consistency, are easy to rig and handle, and aesthetically match the space. The boxes are not self-powered, so we designed a modification to the rigging bar to allow the amps to be suspended right behind them. That way, there's the shortest amount of cable between the amp and speaker; also, they can be easily accessed and reconfigured." Speaking of the subs under the stage, he says, "They're in a cardioid configuration to minimize off-axis spill, as the stage is only a couple of inches above the cabinets. The subs also had to be coordinated to fit within the stage's support structure."

A pair of Tanney VQ Net 60s is also used for rear fill when the spaced is configured as a club. A JBL Eon 510 serves for on-stage mic announcements. Genelec 8050As are employed for 5.1 monitoring with the recording system. And extensive infrastructure is provided to support a variety of performance genres and event layouts.

The house consoles, both front of house and monitors, are Avid D-Show Profiles. "On the live side, we find the D-Show Profile is compelling, especially when used in facilities that also have Pro Tools systems," says Shulman. "The client was seeking a Pro Tools system because they were already used to working with it. And it is widely accepted by touring artists." He adds, "There is an analog infrastructure at both positions, so if an engineer brings in a large-format analog mixer, there are only a couple of patches at each position, and you're ready to go."

The wireless mic component consists largely of gear from Shure, including four UR4D dual-channel receivers, eight UR1 m micro-body­pack transmitters, eight UR2 hand­helds with KSM9 capsules, in addition to eight Sennheiser ME104 cardioid units. Also available are, from Shure, SM89s, KSM141s, KSM44s, Beta 52s, SM57s, SM 58s, Beta 58s, Beta 98s, and SM81s. Additional mics include AKG C535s, Electro-Voice RE20s, and Rode NT4s. Sennheiser mics include e835sw, e604s, e602s, MD421s, and MKH60s.

Overall, says Shulman, "The biggest challenge on this project was trying to fit all of this functionality into a small physical space, satisfying a wide variety of program requirements. As this was an existing building, the shape of the envelope is somewhat odd; there were definite challenges in using the available floor space in the best way possible. On one side is fire egress, on the other is the lobby, and the other is the street. Above is a space for another tenant. There's a separate room near the lobby where they put the director, the recording systems, and the patchbays. On the other side of the racks is a VIP viewing space with a window and the dressing rooms opposite. There were all these constraints, and the envelope couldn't grow. Working closely with the design team, we feel that the result was a layout and design that works and satisfies the program requirements well."

The theatre was shortlisted for an ESTA Rock Our World Award for 2010. Despite the challenges it posted, it has become New York's most popular secret performance space.