The Soweto Theatre is the first theatre to be built in the former township
South Africa -The newly built Soweto Theatre, designed by Afritects, is the first professional performing arts venue developed in a former township. Since opening it has been grabbing headlines worldwide for its eye-catching, colourful exterior. Nevertheless for project theatre consultant Denis Hutchinson it's the innovation inside, including Philips Strand Lighting dimming and Selecon luminaires, that he hopes will have an equally dramatic impact on artists, theatre staff, audiences and community residents.

After the inevitable tender process with city funds, Hutchinson recommended Philips Selecon luminaires and Philips Strand WallRack for all three of the groundbreaking Soweto Theatre's venues. The theatre, which will be used by professional and amateur companies, national and international alike, called out to be technically equipped with kit that can be commonly found in professional theatres worldwide. Hutchinson worked in close collaboration with Duncan Riley of DWR Distribution and Aubrey Ndaba of Muthiyane Trading to ensure that exactly the right balance was struck between state of the art technology and easy to understand and intuitive to use equipment.

The three spaces, a proscenium style main theatre and two smaller studio spaces, can, in total, accommodate more than 700 audience members and will stage a diversity of performances including theatre, dance, and music.

To that end Hutchinson specified Philips Strand Lighting Wallrack Digital Dimmers for all three of the Soweto Theatre performance spaces. "The Strand Lighting Wallrack is well known for its exceptional standards in permanent installation dimming for entertainment venues," says Hutchinson. "Space was at a premium and we did not want a dedicated dimmer room. Strand Lighting wall-mounted dimmers are the perfect fit, not only because they are compact but because they run almost silently. This meant we could get the most out of our space without compromising on sound quality."

"The dimmers are mounted in a convenient location onstage in each space, continues Duncan Riley of DWR. "It's crucial to have an element of transparency to the installed technology to ensure that technicians of all abilities can get the most out of this theatre. The hope is that this will make it easier for trainee technicians to learn and that it will also provide recognisable, easy to use equipment for professionals."

Overhead, Hutchinson decided on another Philips Brand product and chose Philips Selecon Rama and Philips Selecon Aurora luminaires. "We chose the Rama Fresnel fixtures for their smooth, even field and consistent performance. An added feature of the Selecon Rama units is Selecon's cool touch technology, making them safer and easier to hang and focus. The robust Aurora Cycs also offer an extremely bright, smooth beam that falls off evenly without visible highlights or shadows," says Hutchinson.

Hutchinson explains that planning for a multi-purpose venue can be difficult adding that he was looking for "high quality fixtures that would be flexible enough to cater for different performance pieces and easy for technicians to work with. The Aurora cyclorama fixtures go a long way in achieving the kind of flexibility and durability needed in South Africa's latest arts venture and are still more affordable for us than LED options. For now..."

The Soweto Theatre is the first theatre to be built in the former township and one of the most populous urban residential areas in the country, with a population of around a million. Thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg, the economic hub of the country, it's also the most metropolitan township in the country, increasingly setting trends in politics, fashion, music, dance and language, so the theatre will be a welcome addition to the mix.

The new venue was officially opened on 25 May, coinciding with the annual celebrations for Africa Day and has already won and been nominated for a number of awards.<

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