Feature Story Of The Month

Canberra Theatre Centre Upgrades with ETC and Sound Advice


Keeping the customer satisfied is vital for any business that wants to stay in business, even if it means a major investment.

It’s certainly worked for the team at the national capital’s premier performing arts centre, the Canberra Theatre Centre – they’re now enjoying the applause after installing a top-notch lighting system with the support and expertise of staging and lighting specialists, Sound Advice and Jands.

“It was definitely time to upgrade,” says Andrew Tweedie who has been Head of Lighting for the CTC for nearly six years.

“We had reached the point where touring companies were saying ‘it would be really nice if you had this or that but because you don’t, we’ll have to put two of your lights on for every one of ours’. It was obvious that staging a production with us was becoming more difficult for them.”

And it is not just the performing arts providers who have expectations. Andrew says Canberra people have the luxury of going to Sydney and Melbourne for the really big shows. They come home with an expectation they can get the same quality in Canberra. 

It added an extra degree of pressure to a process that already offered plenty of challenge. For starters, CTC is a government-owned organisation. Taxpayers and ratepayers like to know where their money is being spent, so the paperwork had to be immaculate and the tendering procedures transparent. Then there was the challenge of just how versatile the lighting system needed to be.

“We have everything from Lord of the Dance, to Carl Barron, to Swan Lake and Shakespeare, to Canned Heat,” Andrew says. 

“All of them have different needs. In a bigger city, they would probably be spread across different venues but we have to be all things to all people. 

“We had been going through a process of renewing dimmers and consoles, lighting fixtures and data distribution, but it was all bits and pieces. In the end we had to say ‘we’re trying to be an arts centre in the capital of Australia. We need to lift our game to provide a better service for our clients’.”

The CTC is made up of three venues: the 1200-seat Canberra Theatre, which is a traditional proscenium arch theatre; the 600-seat Playhouse, and the 100-seat Courtyard Studio. It was Andrew’s job to look at the quality and safety issues with the equipment and installations of all three, work out what was needed and prepare specifications for the several tender documents to cover different parts of the upgrade.

 “It was obvious that ETC was what everyone was used to using. Lighting designs were coming through for different productions, asking for that style of luminaire and we didn’t have it. I was given a budget to redo the entire rig in the two main venues, and that also improved the third venue. That included consoles, data distribution and all the luminaires.”

Sound Advice and Jands worked together to deliver a comprehensive system as per the tender process and, according to Andrew, once he compared prices, value for money and quality control, ETC came out in front, with Sound Advice the best possible supplier.

A total of 248 fixtures made up the CTC upgrade including 10° ellipsoidal luminaires, 15-30° zoom ellipsoidal luminaires and 25-50° compact zoom ellipsoidal luminaires. Ancillary items such as iris, pattern holders and a number of enhanced definition spare lens tubes were also supplied.

The end result is a huge success and not just for the immediate future. Part of the challenge for Andrew was knowing he would not be able to plan another upgrade for at least 10-15 years, so he needed to invest in a system that would hold its own for that length of time. He believes Sound Advice delivered.

“We’re not the Sydney Opera House. We need to be right at the front but not ahead. We have to give people what they want now, with an eye on what they might need in the future. If we make the wrong choice, we don’t have the ability to turn around and say ‘I want another $2 million to fix it because we went the wrong way with our previous choice’. 

Andrew says it’s been immensely satisfying to talk to lighting designers and touring electricians to tell them CTC now has an ETC rig.

“We’ve had a couple of shows through recently that had to double up on their lighting when they came here in the past. There were comments on lighting designs that our system was not quite cutting it – that they would have to tour a lot of extra equipment to get the effects they wanted.

“Now they don’t. They put their show file in the console and need to replot everything down a bit because the output on the lighting fixtures has been so good, and that’s been very pleasing to note! Better than they’ve had on tour elsewhere!

 “I’m very happy and we are very grateful to the ACT Government for the ongoing support and funding to guarantee the future of Australia’s oldest arts centre

We’re now measuring up to industry standard, to world’s best practice. Sound Advice, working with Jands, came to the party with the right mix of price, product and service and – hey – we have a great result and our clients are as happy as we are!” 

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