The scheme for the re-development of RADA - one of the premier training establishments for theatre arts and technology - was made possible thanks to a £22.7m grant from the Arts Council Lottery Board, along with £8m of self-generated capital donations. RADA includes a new Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, George Bernard Shaw (GBS) Theatre, John Gielgud Studio Theatre, a recording studio and three control rooms, all of which are linked by a state-of-the-art sound, video and communications systems which allow complete synergy between the performance spaces.
Education is naturally the major emphasis, however, RADA also doubles up as a public performance venue with 16 full productions a year and as such its infrastructure needs to be flexible. For Colin Brown, head of sound and a RADA technical staff member since 1974, the new work involved co-ordinating with the BBC, Theatre Projects, the Oxford Sound Company, builders Laing and project managers Buro Four Project Services, to create work spaces that would allow both practical production and instruction in the same area. The same criteria applied to head of lighting Neil Fraser. The new Jerwood Vanbrugh theatre therefore is the first space in London to use a high-tension steel wire grid, which both lighting and sound can be focused through without obstruction, whilst allowing easy access for rigging and placement.
"I had a very clear idea that I wanted three control rooms for sound, and knew what I wanted in them. The wiring up, the layout, the design of the units and the outboard racks were done in close consultation with the contractors. All the theatre design, racking and so on was down to Andy Hayles at Theatre Projects.
Brown expands. "We have a Central Apparatus Room, which holds all the amps, comms and patching systems, plus there is another separate amp room for the Gielgud Studio theatre which is all racked and can be moved - or even toured."
Each theatre has its own Soundcraft K3 Theatre desk, a choice which was made easier for Brown given its accessibility to both training and practical production protocols. A Soundcraft B800 console can be found in Control Room 1, alongside the recording studio, the choice of which was a direct result of the BBC’s input into the facility with BBC Consulting and Projects’ David Seditas a consultant on the Sound Recording Studio Complex. "I did look at other desks; those that were affordable tended to be digital and the analogue ones within our price didn’t have what we wanted," says Brown. "If you go to a big analogue desk, you’re talking tens of thousands of pounds, which was out of our price range and beyond our needs anyway. The Soundcraft K3 offers a practical number of channels with extensive auxiliary options and matrixing, which is highly important in theatre for distribution. It also was one of the few boards that offered pre-fade LED input monitoring on each channel. Students can instantly see if a signal is going through the channel without lifting the fader or putting on headphones. It sounds basic, but we are here to teach and that is an aid to understanding the sound chain."
The second control room is based around a Mackie D8B digital board and also incorporates a running theme through the spaces with the inclusion of an Akai DR16 Pro hard disk recorder with removable MO drive, thus allowing students to transfer projects between studios if required. All the control rooms offer MiniDisc, DAT, CD, cassette and Revox open-reel mediums, along with reverb, effects, compressors, gates and Dell PCs installed with Syntrillium Cool Edit Pro and Cubase VST24. Additionally, all three control rooms can be pa