Storyhouse is born from derelict cinema

Ten years after its Odeon cinema closed down, the city of Chester has a brand new multipurpose venue in the form of Storyhouse. Anna Mitchell looks into how integrator Stage Electrics ensured flexibility and quality with AV equipment and infrastructure.

Thirty-seven million pounds (approximately €41 million) has been ploughed into a disused Odeon cinema to transform the site into a new theatre, cinema, library and arts space for the city of Chester in the UK. 

Cheshire West and Chester council appointed Kier Construction as the main contractor for the project that transformed and extended a 1936 Grade II listed building into a modern leisure facility. Great care was taken to preserve the façade of the Odeon cinema and extensive archaeological investigation was required in areas where new ground was to be broken. 

The resulting 7,000 sq metre facility retained the original building and added an extension (housing a theatre) constructed with glazed cladding.  

With the building project well underway, Charcoalblue, a UK theatre and acoustics consultancy, designed theatre and cinema systems while Stage Electrics completed the team as the AV and lighting integrator. 

After securing the project through a tender process, Stage Electrics spent about 12 months on site and handed the project over in the first quarter of 2017, ten years after the original Odeon cinema closed its doors. 

Ian Dunne, commercial manager at Stage Electrics and the project manager for Storyhouse, said it was one of the best teams he’d ever worked with, adding: “It worked well because we work with Charcoalblue on a regular basis and we also know and work with Kier Construction.” 

Storyhouse is named after the theatre company that now runs and manages the venue. The company stages open air theatre events and therefore had the expertise within its technical team that was needed to run the systems installed the Storyhouse venue.

Stage Electrics installed a distributed audio system to handle paging and back of house calls throughout the building that includes a cinema, a library, reception areas, offices, two bars and two theatres. 

The system is based on 236 Tannoy and Penton loudspeakers with some supporting ADS and JBL wall mounted paging speakers. It is managed by Symetrix Dante networked Prism processors and powered by Crown DCi amplifiers. 

Audio can be controlled by local control panels. Intercom throughout the building was handled by a Clear-Com system that incorporated PS-704 power supply, RS-703 belt packs and CC-300 headsets. Extensive lighting throughout the venue was based on ETC modules and control.

The infrastructure that Stage Electrics delivered offers a great deal of flexibility, with sources distributed over fibre and HDBaseT to virtually anywhere in the venue. 

Dunne describes the library as a relaxed multiuse space: “It’s a massive, open area. It opens at 12pm, and you don’t get thrown out until 11 at night. There’s background music playing all the time and it’s a very nice environment to be in.”

A 12,500 lumen Christie projector and fixed tension screen (installed on a raise and lower winch) were deployed in the foyer space. Stage Electrics supplied a second Christie projector with a flight case for use anywhere in the venue by using facility panels to plug it into the Cat6 infrastructure, also delivered by Stage Electrics. 
Exterior of Storyhouse

Cinema and theatres

Stage Electrics worked with its partner Sound Associates to build a DCI compliant cinema. A JBL surround sound system – incorporating 3722, 4181 and 8320 cinema speakers alongside Control 23 and 30 units - was installed in the 100-seat space. QSC DCA amplifiers completed the audio package. A Barco Alchemy system transfers the DCI or DCP packages over to a Barco DP2K-6E projector, firing on to a custom built screen supplied by Sound Associates. The cinema space also offers inputs in the form of a Denon Blu-ray player and AKG microphones. 

The glass exterior of the cinema includes LED colour changing lighting that Stage Electrics designed, installed and provided ETC touchscreen control for. Dunne says: “The whole cinema is in an eight metre high glass box. The glass panels are made in 8m by 0.4m sections and we can control the colour of each section which gives a stunning effect and an amazing contrast. Because the walls are white, the cinema itself can flood the whole of the huge open space in colour.”
Standup in main theatre
In order to receive and display broadcast productions from organisations such as the National Theatre Live and Royal Shakespeare Company, a satellite was installed on the roof of the Storyhouse. The signals are fed into an Extron switcher and can be distributed throughout the building using Extron fibre transmitters. 

The main 800 seat proscenium theatre has three tiers of seating and can be converted into a 500-seat thrust stage. The former is used for touring productions, while Storyhouse uses the latter configuration for its own productions. 

A d&b audiotechnik sound reinforcement system was installed in the main theatre. It comprises six Y7P loudspeakers, two B4 subwoofers, four 27A subwoofers, 47 E5 loudspeakers, six E8 loudspeakers, five 10D four channel amplifiers and three 30D amplifiers. 

An Ampetronic fixed induction loop system was also installed here, while other areas are served by infrared listening coverage.

A second theatre, seating 150 people, was constructed on the top of the building, next to a glass-fronted bar that overlooks the city and countryside. This studio theatre is used for performances, workshops and rehearsals. 
“Stage Electrics have not only delivered this complex installation on time and on budget, but also with great professionalism and to an extremely high standard.”

Stage Electrics designed and installed bespoke stage management desks for each theatre. The main house desk incorporates a custom 24-way Cuelight controller as well as intercom, paging, worklight control, timing facilities and show relay screens. The studio desk is a smaller desktop unit that has 12 way Cuelight controller, paging, intercom and timing facilities. 

Stage Electrics trained Storyhouse staff to provide an overview of how the building works and remains on hand for support as they settle in to their new home. 
Dunne said he was “genuinely happy” with how the project had gone saying that technical staff, the public and the people of Chester had all offered a positive response. 

Graham Lister, project director for Storyhouse, said he was “immensely proud” of what had been created. “Ian Dunne as project manager and the whole team at Stage Electrics have not only delivered this complex installation on time and on budget, but also with great professionalism and to an extremely high standard,” he said. 


ADS Kestrel wall mounted speakers
AKG show relay mics
Ampetronic MLD induction loop amplifiers
Clear-Com intercom
Crown DCi amplifiers
d&b audiotechnik audio system
JBL cinema loudspeaker system and paging loudspeakers
Penton Sentry RCS 8 ceiling speakers
QSC DCA amplifiers
Sennheiser radio microphone transmitters and receivers
Sonifex distribution amplifier
Symetrix Prism DSPs
Tannoy loudspeakers

Barco Alchemy server and DP2K-6E projector
Christie WU14K-M DLP and HD-14K projectors
Denon Blu-ray player
Extron switcher and fibre transmitters
Kramer VM 25 video distribution amplifier

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