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Minnesota’s Leading Arts Facility–Ordway Center For The Performing Arts–Gets A Digital Audio Facelift With DiGiCo

Jon Wehr of Cleveland’s SoundCom Systems, Ordway’s Head Sound Engineer Wendell Bell, and Anthony Nittoli of Akustiks, LLC

Minnesota’s leading arts facility,

Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, is home to a wide variety of performances, encompassing the finest in American musical theatre, world music, dance, jazz, opera, orchestral music and vocal artists. In addition to its in-house productions, Ordway also hosts theatrical road shows, and have three major arts partners, the Schubert Club, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Minnesota Opera. In 2006, the Ordway was awarded a $7.5-million in bonding funds from the state of Minnesota, of which they began a multi-tiered renovation process that included a major overhaul of its performance audio and video systems in the 1,900-seat main hall, theatrical lighting system, rigging, stage floor and lobby event space, as well as security and HVAC systems.

Anthony Nittoli and Sam Brandt of

Akustiks, LLC

provided AV systems design services for the project, including room acoustics, sound isolation and noise control consultation during the renovation project for any issues impacting the acoustics of the space. The upgrades to the performance AV systems were handled by Project Manager Steve Parrott, Project Engineer Brendan Dillon, and Site Supervisor Jon Wehr of Cleveland’s SoundCom Systems, and consisted of a new Meyer PA system plus a Clear-Com digital communication system, new infrastructure to support a


CS-D5 console at FOH, as well as a new broadcast booth complete with voice-over room to house a DiGiCo DS-00 plus extender, that also included complete Dynamic Automation for use in post-production mixing.

“Part of the grant’s purpose was a multi-faceted overhaul of sound and lighting,” explained Production Manager, Randy Ingram, who was hired a year ago when the program was already in process, “but the overhaul also included renovation of our broadcast booth, replacing all of the equipment there because the arts partners in particular are normally broadcast over Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), which is also based in downtown St. Paul. Additionally, we updated our HVAC system to not only make us more efficient, but more green and compliant, and to better enable us to control the a/c, heat and humidity throughout the building. Anthony Nittoli of Akustiks was key to the acoustic improvements of the room, and the guiding light of the upgrade–certainly to the sound system.”

“We started the design process in early 2008 and needed to be completed and bid before summer ’08,” explained Nittoli. “We provided construction administration services and commissioned and tuned the systems in September through October 2009. The contractors involved all did an incredible job of meeting an extremely ambitious work schedule in installing all of the systems over the summer break in schedule and had everything up and running for the first performance. The overall time allowed for the renovation project work was approximately 8 weeks. It has been a long time since we had a project go so smoothly with such a clean install.”  

Long-time Head Sound Engineer Wendell Bell was thrilled with the upgrades. By moving to an all-digital setup–from the Midas Heritage 3000 FOH to the DiGiCo CS-D5–has not only increased his input/output routing capabilities and networking capabilities between the consoles, but also streamlined the setup & changeover process overall. 

Jon Wehr of Cleveland’s SoundCom Systems & Ordway’s Head Sound Engineer Wendell Bell.

“This digital upgrade has vastly improved our situation here,” Bell recalled. “For starters, we now have twice the input capabilities and twice the output routing capabilities with room to grow by adding additional I/O boxes. The old analog was a great console but it was limited in its capacity. With the DiGiCo console–which I’d been familiar with seeing it in action on various productions in and out of the theatre–our setup time is greatly reduced having a system in place that doesn’t need to be tugged in and out. We don’t have to patch everything to the back of the console and we don’t have the whole rigmarole of using external outboard processing gear… that’s minimized to pretty much nothing. And the space-savings go without saying. The CS-D5 is a complete and compact package that allows us to offer a total sound system to handle the needs of the client–which can cover everything from a mic on a stick, up to a 100-plus input setups.”

Another added advantage of the DiGiCo was having the ability to create and program templates for the theatre’s annual repeat productions. “As a performing arts theatre, we have various shows that come in and out regularly. I really like the fact that years from now I’ll have all of my show templates programmed and I can just simply load a show file and recall them without the timely configuration and setup of an analog desk, assigning groups, dialing up faders and knobs…it is time-saving in that capacity to no end because the setup & routing is already there.”

The CS-D5 has interfaced effortlessly with the Meyer PA, says Bell. “We have all the outputs routed through matrixes and groups for the multiple zones that we need to cover–a dozen or more locations that include left/right, center cluster, front fills, box fills, under-balcony delays, onstage foldback (monitors), and speakers for effects. By the time you add all that up, you’re talking quite an extensive routing situation, and if you have an orchestra, supplying orchestra monitor mixes in the pit for individuals from the FOH position, the system can be quite extensive.”

Additionally, they purchased a DiGiCo DS-00 to handle broadcast and recording capabilities in the Ordway’s new isolated broadcast booth. Located in the balcony directly above the CS-D5 on the mezzanine level, the console serves as the theatre’s in-house recording center, handling promo or voice-over recordings for TV/radio advertising and broadcast for MPR. The system features a MADI interface throughout via a RME MADI Bridge fed from two 56-input DiGi racks with 40 outputs. They also added the RME MADIFace system, which Bell explains, “allows us to multitrack record and have live playback within a moment’s notice. It is a powerful tool to allow us to really dial in a mix with or without the performers.”

The Ordway’s revamped system was in place just in time for the start of the new season in beginning of September. “We opened our season with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for two weeks, followed by the Minnesota Opera and then the “Little House on the Prairie” touring road show and our own self-produced production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”. “Quite often, these shows will bring their own ACME or PRG sound packages, and can tie into our system effortlessly. But for engineers who have toured on a DiGiCo in their show, they can easily come in and drop a file into the console and be good to go.”

Both Ingram and Bell say they’re extremely pleased with the acquisition of the DiGiCo consoles and peripheral gear purchased. “From a visual standpoint,” offers Ingram, “the complexity of the scope of what the CS-D5 can accomplish for a multipurpose hall is a tremendous thing. The digital interface, remote access with the laptop, programming with guest sound designers is fantastic. Having the system gives us a great advantage as we produce our season.” 

“The ease of use and networkability between the systems is invaluable,” adds Bell. “The DiGiCo tech support from Taidus Vallandi and Matt Larson has been great, as well, not that we’ve really needed it. Matt, being local, has been very proactive in coming in and wanting to be a part of the transition, and I appreciate that. It’s been a seamless transition all the way.”