3 Jun 2024

Melbourne’s St Michael’s Grammar School Installs L-ISA Immersive Technology in St. George’s Performing Arts Centre

Studio Entertech transforms late-19th century church into 400-seat theatre with L-Acoustics A and X Series

Founded in 1895, St Michael’s Grammar School is an independent co-educational school in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. Its modern curriculum covers Australia’s primary, secondary, and pre-tertiary school levels, emphasising a holistic approach to education through its signature evidence-based experiential learning programs where development and discovery outside the classroom are encouraged through active participation in sports and the performing arts.

St Michael’s Performing Arts department has a very high level of voluntary student participation and stages many productions, concerts and performances throughout the year. Productions include contemporary dance, music, and choral ensemble performances.

Senior and middle-year musicals are highly acclaimed and have won the Best Production award from the Victorian Musical Theatre Guild four times. Students also enthusiastically participate in a House drama festival involving students from across the senior school.

Besides participating in music, drama, and dance, the school encourages its students to take on production roles in lighting and sound operations, set construction and design, hair and make-up, and stage management.

Since 1990 St Michael’s has been using the heritage-listed St George’s Church for music rehearsals and school gatherings, and needed to expand the capabilities of the space to host the raft of musical, dance, and theatrical shows that the school was producing. The transformed building reopened in May 2023 as a performing arts centre and is now the primary venue for staging productions all year round. The space’s original 1877 interior features a vaulted timber ceiling, a heritage listed organ by Lewis and Sons of London, and beautiful late 19th century stained glass windows.

The building’s interior was mindfully repurposed to keep original elements while creating a theatre with state-of-the-art facilities, including a custom-sprung floor for the safety of rigorous dance movements, a custom choir stand, electronically controlled blackout curtains and drapes that can create various stage configurations. The primary fixed raked seating bank in the church’s nave accommodates an audience of just over 200. Meanwhile, the floor can accommodate 200 chairs, with flexible seating arrangements in its transept section.

After studying leading theatre spaces throughout the region, St Michael’s management team chose the Alexander Theatre at Monash University’s Clayton campus as inspiration. Leading local theatre design consultants Studio Entertech, who had designed the Alexander Theatre’s sound system, were brought on to the project to ensure the new theatre would receive future- proof technology.

St George’s Church was built in 1877 and designed for choral music performances without amplification. The Director and Theatre Consultant at Studio Entertech, Kate Kelly, said, “The redevelopment needed to transform this bright church ambiance into a space capable of hosting a wide range of modern music and drama productions.” A nearby tram line and everyday school activities posed noise management challenges, too.

Studio Entertech proposed a 3D spatial audio mixing system using L-Acoustics L-ISA technology. “The reverberant space meant any sound system deployed had to be highly controlled. The L-ISA technology allows us to achieve great control and enhance the space with immersive hyperreal sound. It will also provide an exceptional, future-forward learning experience for student producers and technicians,” says Kate.

In collaboration with Damien Juhasz, L-Acoustics Application Engineer, Studio Entertech settled on an L-ISA configuration consisting of a main frontal Scene system of five hangs of two A10 Focus and two A10 Wide each, with two KS21 subwoofers flown behind the centre hang. Eight X8 coaxial boxes provide spatial in-fill to the first rows. A surround system of 10 L-Acoustics X8 speakers serves a fixed audience area. In the transept section, a side-fill system consists of two A10 Wide flown per side. Stage performers receive monitoring from four X12 speakers.

Studio Entertech provided the theatre’s technical team with a separate computer screen with the L-ISA Controller connected to the mixer console via MADI, allowing it to switch from the mixer console seamlessly. Two students can operate sound anytime via the L-ISA Controller on the console and one on the separate display. A basic left-right output mode is available for less demanding hall events.

Students at St Michael’s will leave the school familiar with cutting-edge audio technology that is installed in only one other location in Australia – the Sydney Coliseum, giving them a leg up as they ease into their professional careers. “St Michael’s eagerness to invest in next-generation technology has allowed the students to get hands-on experience with equipment that is relatively new in Australia and will ultimately prove to be an investment for the future of the performance industry,” says Studio Entertech’s Kate Kelly.


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