by Jez Bond
Day 1 of the ITEAC or ‘International Theatre Engineering & Architecture Conference’ ended with a superb boat ride down the Thames from Westminster pier past the O2 and along to the Thames barrier – and, thankfully, back again! There must surely be a joke about how many theatre consultants you can fit onto a boat but, as the time fast approaches midnight, I can’t think of one. My head is spinning from an array of the day’s sessions and with an 8.30am start in the morning I am destined for the comfort of dreamland. However, having promised to write a little every day….
It was 50 years ago when the then newly established ABTT (Association of British Theatre Technicians) decided to organise an international meeting of technical minds. Almost 200 delegates attended in the first year – a rather impressive number which seemed to suggest the huge need for such an event, and indeed such an organisation. This year, over the course of the three days, the figure is nearer 500 delegates – theatre consultants, architects, stage engineers, acousticians, lighting technicians and a host of other specialist trades from countries including Germany, Holland, USA, Canada and the UK gathered this morning for the opening session…
So many sessions were organised that, throughout the day, three were taking place simultaneously in different rooms. The lunch and the tea breaks provided a good opportunity not just to reflect on the session one had just attended but to meet a number of people from these varied but specialist fields. It was also interesting to glean information as to what occurred in the other rooms – reports of sometime heated debates were abound on the floor.
In ‘Requirements of Receiving Houses’ we learned of the many simple (and sometimes not so simple) things which visiting/touring companies required from their back of house, front of house and stage areas. We learned a great deal from a couple of Dutch companies who demonstrated their realised designs of some larger receiving houses (or ‘road houses’ as we learned they are called in the USA) . In ‘Stage Mechanics’ the Germans led the way in explaining the modern advances in technology that enable – amongst other things – stage elevators, lorry elevators for set loading and platform lifts for hiding/revealing sound desk control positions. They also talked us through the advantages and disadvantages of the various winches, hoists and flying systems available on the market (which they manufacture). In ‘Achieving Good Acoustics (in drama spaces)’ there were different views on what made the perfect acoustic atmosphere and there were some interesting points from the speakers as to how to deal with many issues, but it was the question from an audience member that perhaps summed up the conference to date when he asked “is acoustics an art or a science?”
Arguments were put forward from both sides though it was agreed, to some extent, that at least a portion of acoustics is only pseudo-science and that the art comes in putting all the ideas together as a coherent whole, responding to the clients’ needs and deciding where to make the compromises that are inevitable in any project.
But more than this, now the day is over, this question seems to ring true for all who were there: for a conference run by the Association of Theatre Technicians, how much is of this is art and are these eclectic people gathered from round the world in fact artists or theatre practitioners? Perhaps tomorrow, after spending another day in their fascinating company, I shall be more equipped to answer this question.
As to how many theatre consultants you can fit on a boat – Arup said 190, Charcoal Blue said 205 and Theatre Projects said 182.