The theatre has been given a spectacular £12.26m makeover in the first phase of a major redevelopment (photo: Philip Vile)
UK - The Bristol Old Vic, one of Britain's most historic theatres, founded in 1766 by 50 merchants, lawyers and politicians, has been given a spectacular £12.26m makeover in the first phase of a major redevelopment.

Originally designed by the Bristol architect James Saunderson, the theatre is believed to be the oldest working theatre in the UK. Stage Electrics was awarded the contract to design and install a completely new technical infrastructure and production lighting, audio and communications systems. The project has been headed by consultants Charcoalblue with design by John Stevens and project management by John Woodley; architect Andrzej Blonski and builders Galliford Try.

The refurbishment includes the raising of the stalls and gallery to dramatically improve sightlines throughout the Georgian auditorium, a new, flexible thrust stage format, conversion of the paintshop and sidestage into new, fully functioning performance spaces, adding new rehearsal spaces, a backstage lift and other improvements - all designed to make the building, in the theatre's words, "a safer, greener space".

In 1946, the newly formed Arts Council formed the first regional subsidised company by sending a group of actors from the London Old Vic to set up home in Bristol, hence its name, Bristol Old Vic, which was also given to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, opened by Laurence Olivier at the same time.

In the 1970s, a massive redevelopment saw the magnificent Coopers' Hall incorporated as a new foyer space, also adding a 150-seat studio theatre. Money then ran out until the fundraising that saw the latest redevelopment commence in March 2011.

For Stage Electrics, the project has been heavily infrastructure based, with the bulk of the overall budget aimed at getting the building right. Work has involves the fit-out of a new production lighting system based around ETC Sensor dimmers with 465 dim and non dim channels.

All of the outputs appear on stage lighting output boxes, accompanied by a number of custom made internally wired bars to match the curve of the auditorium.

A major element is the control supplied by a custom Stage Electrics designed and fabricated Stage Management desk complete with the latest Interspace cue light system - a feature that Stage Electrics has added, depending on customer requirements, to its latest stage management desks. The Bristol Old Vic's desk was configured in conjunction with the theatre's stage management team, and then rigorously tested to ensure the client was completely happy with the design.

There's also a system-wide ETC Unison control system with a series of integrated touch panels in the stage area and a large number of location-specific push-button panels throughout the building, offering local control over house lights and backstage work lights. A DMX distribution system throughout the stage and audience areas completes the stage lighting package.

The company's work also includes sound communications and AV systems, with a combination of video and digital tie lines serving the auditorium, stage and paint shop areas. All these facilities appear on bespoke audio visual boxes, colour coded by Stage Electrics to match the architects' specifications.

The call and show management paging system, meanwhile, is designed to integrate with further works - the next phase in the Bristol Old Vic's regeneration - which will commence at a later date. It features a BSS Soundweb Blue processor with RCF amplification and Penton loudspeakers for paging in backstage areas, the box office and other areas.

Adam Blaxill, head of marketing and strategic buying at Stage Electrics, comments, "It's been a huge privilege to be so closely involved with the restoration of one of the country's oldest theatres, which by pure coincidence is just a few miles from our own headquarters. Inevitably we have an emotional involvement with the Bristol Old Vic and are delighted to cont

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