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MILO Plays to the Balconies at Bob Hope Theatre
One result of the San Francisco Bay Area's continual growth has been that Stockton, 63 miles East of San Francisco, now ranks as California's 12th largest city, with a multi-cultural population of over 260,000 and an aggressive economic and cultural expansion program that has been revitalizing the downtown waterfront area.
Stockton is also justifiably proud of its history, and the newly reborn Bob Hope Theatre is a big part of that. Originally opened in 1930 as the Fox Theatre, the venue has a long and storied past, including incarnations as both a live theatre and a movie house. After falling into disuse during the 1970's, the theatre was rescued from the wrecking ball by Edward C. Merlo and Madeline Lawton, who got it declared an historic landmark by both the city and the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2000, the Lawton family donated their share of the theatre, the Merlo Trust sold their shares to the city of Stockton and a massive $8.5 million renovation was undertaken, including a state-of-the-art sound system based around the MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeaker from Berkeley-based Meyer Sound.
DECK Productions' Elton Halley designed the system, utilizing the Meyer Sound MAPP Online acoustical prediction system to help him cope with a number of restrictions based on the building's historical status, as well as the location and weight limitations of the theatre's rigging points. "I trust my ears," Halley says, "but I use MAPP to give me a visual representation of what I'm hearing, and it's never let me down. MAPP gives the designer the ability to have a better understanding of what's going on. Even people who don't have an intimate knowledge of acoustics are convinced by seeing a visual display."
As a city property, the theatre's proposed design had to pass muster with the city. MAPP Online proved just as valuable to this aspect of pre-planning, providing a convincing demonstration of the virtues of the proposed system to key city figures. "MAPP was integral for us in communicating with the City of Stockton the ideas contained in the proposal," Jester details. "Mark Lewis, the City Manager, was a major part of the planning process, and we had a pretty high bar to reach in obtaining the City Council's approval. MAPP's detail went a long way in helping us to achieve that approval."
The system Halley came up with comprises left and right arrays, each with five MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers and an underhung MILO 120 high-power expanded coverage curvilinear array loudspeaker for downfill to cover the orchestra area. A pair of 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofers are groundstacked on each side of the stage for low-frequency reinforcement.
"I was very familiar with Meyer's stuff, and at first we were considering the M2D (compact curvilinear array loudspeaker)," recalls Stephen Jester, the theatre's technical director. "But I had a chance to see the Rod Stewart tour, and was really impressed with the sound of the MILO. The show was divided into two sets – a rock band for his hits, and a jazz big band for the standards – and I was knocked out by the versatility of the MILO, being able to handle those two extremes so well."
Jester contacted Halley, a native of Stockton with many fond memories of the venue. "Over the years I went to a number of music shows there," Halley recalls, "and I always wished I had the opportunity to do something with the sound system." Jester sent Halley some CAD drawings of the room, and Halley agreed MILO was the ideal solution to a tricky situation that presented a number of thorny design issues.
"We came in after the renovations were completed," reports Halley. "At that point, there was no way we were going to be able to put in any acoustical treatment. We went in and visually examined the stage, then looked in MAPP to see how a system could work in the room. It's a very reflective space, with an expansive orchestra area, large balcony, and a lot of space under the balcony."
The depth of the theatre's balcony has traditionally been both a selling point and a sonic challenge for the room. "The balcony goes on for days," quips Halley. "There are more than 800 seats up there, on three levels. It's a real challenge to obtain consistent coverage." The area beneath the balcony presented its own issues, both in depth and reflectivity. "The rear wall is curved, and the mix position is all the way at the back of the house at orchestra level, under the balcony," Jester explains.
In Halley's design, each array utilizes three MILO cabinets, driven as three separate zones, to cover the balcony, while the remaining two MILO cabinets and the MILO 120 on the bottom of the array cover the orchestra level.
The location of the rigging points presented an additional challenge. "They're placed very far into the house," explains Jester. "To get the splay we needed, Elton suggested putting three MILOs on top, to hit the three sections of the balcony. Then, we dropped the bottom three cabinets to a much higher degree, so we weren't hitting the rail or any portion of the back wall."
"With the control the MILOs offer, and Meyer's QuickFly rigging system, we were able to get much more of a tilt and obtain the coverage we needed to shoot all the way to the back, under the balcony," Halley adds. "The MILO's control and directivity helped to keep things off the side walls, but gave us the horsepower to get up to the top of the balcony. And with the QuickFly system, we were able to drop the MILO 120 down and vastly improve the sound at the mix position."
Although Jester was already a fan of the 650-P high-power subwoofer, Halley suggested they audition the company's new 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofers. The decision was an easy one. "The 700-HPs are awesome," Halley reports. "They had never had good bass response in that room before, and the effect (of the 700-HPs) was stunning. I was at the back of the house when we kicked them on, and I had to laugh. Every piece of glass in the house started rattling. They spent the next couple of hours tightening it all down." Jester agrees. "The 700-HPs are really the icing on the cake for this system. I don't see why anyone would use another sub."
Halley also specified Meyer Sound's RMS remote monitoring system, which allows Jester to view the entire system on a laptop computer from his FOH position. Halley is impassioned about RMS, portraying the system as indispensable, providing both the ability to continually monitor the status of each loudspeaker in the system and facilities to aid in troubleshooting. "With the RMS system, Steve can use the muting function for checking individual speakers' output and temperature," he explains. "It makes it simple to dial in on any point in the room and diagnose the system."
The system's versatility has already been proven, with both musical and comedy productions during its first few weeks. "They've got a lot of shows coming in there now, from music to spoken word to theatre, and the system's sounded great on everything," Halley observes. "That's what I love about Meyer Sound stuff, it's so versatile. It's great to be able to install one system that can cover so many different types of applications, and do it all so well. Especially in this day and age of limited budgets, now even smaller productions can have it all."