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Meyer Sound Makes the Play the Thing at Little Theatre On the Prairie
On the eastern Montana prairie sits a small wooden theatre with a rich cultural past. Built as a silent movie house in 1934 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Fort Peck Theatre was long a vital part of the community. During the construction of the Fort Peck Dam (still the nation's largest embankment dam), movies were shown around the clock to accommodate the work schedules of the nearly 40,000 area residents.
The theatre's heritage and the tireless efforts of volunteers, actors and technicians, for 35 years had forged a good name for the Fort Peck Theatre, but there was a fly in the ointment: sound in the theatre was burdened with a bad reputation. People came to plays and quite literally could not understand what was being said. Now, the theatre has reclaimed its 1930's status as the cultural heart of Fort Peck and its environs, thanks in part to a Meyer Sound system designed and installed for the theatre by DECK Productions.
Faced with possible demolition in the 1960's, concerned citizens formed the Fort Peck Fine Arts Council, Inc. Local business support, private donations, and government grants helped the Council fulfill their dream of restoring the theatre to its original beauty.
While the outside of the arts-and-crafts-styled building was being repainted, the roof replaced, and the electrical system updated, the Board of Directors of the Summer Theatre knew something had to be done about the venue's sound. Chairwoman of the Board Patt Etchart, elaborates, "The theatre was built in a hurry, and had no acoustics for live theatre. Actors weren't able to project." Christopher Kristant, the theatre's technical director, witnessed the problem during the production of Chicago that ran at the theatre: the performance was great, but the majority of the audience could not hear, resulting in many unclaimed seats. Clearly, if the theatre was to survive, the sound had to be addressed.
The first challenge was money: Kristant and Etchart knew the annual budget would not cover design and installation fees for a new audio system. But their desire to return the 1,209 seat theatre to its former standing led the two to organize a radio fund-raiser and the "Seat for Life" program, both of which helped raise the necessary funds. Kristant and Etchart shared their vision with DECK Productions' Elton Halley, who was to oversee the system's design and installation.
However, the building's incredible craftsmanship and its place on the National Register of Historic Places made implementation of the sound system somewhat challenging. Halley assessed the room's audio requirements and unique architectural design, including beams nearly 2 feet thick and 74 feet long, and settled on a system based around a center cluster of five M2D compact curvilinear array loudspeakers, flown using QuickFly rigging hardware. Halley filled out the system with two USW-1P compact subwoofers and an LD-3 compensating line driver.
An invaluable tool in Halley's design of the sound system was the Meyer Sound MAPP Online acoustical prediction program. "(MAPP Online) is just one more thing that gives me confidence I have designed a room that meets, and even exceeds the needs of the client." MAPP Online allowed Halley to virtually "build" the room, calculate the load of the speaker system, determine distances and speaker placement, and even show the client how the sound system would perform in their space.
Halley relied on the consistency of Meyer Sound products to meet all of the theatre's needs and make the installation go smoothly. "I knew what I would get right out of the box," he boasts. "When I'm EQ-ing a room, there is hardly ever any difference between two Meyer Sound speakers. It is my speaker of choice for all conditions. Meyer boxes are great for both music and spoken word." Halley also knew that training the theatre's staff would be simple, since self-powered loudspeakers remove the need for the user to ever deal with the potentially confusing setup of amplifiers, crossovers and speaker protection.
A fringe benefit of choosing Meyer Sound speakers was the ease and speed of the actual setup. "It was a breeze," smiles Halley. He and three volunteers put together the MG-2D grid for the loudspeakers and installed it in no more than 30 minutes.
The difference the new system has made to the theatre's success has been even more noticeable than the recently replaced neon sign. Hearing of the new sound system, people came from far and wide to give the theatre's sound another chance, and the response was outstanding, with patron after patron reiterating, "I never enjoyed hearing shows here until tonight." But perhaps the highest compliment was given when an audience member returned his Sonic Ear system to the box office during intermission, saying, "I don't need it." Those attending the first show of the season were so impressed they bought season tickets and booked rooms then and there.
A sound system designer with experience on Broadway, Halley readily acknowledges, "I don't care how good you are; any designer/installer is nervous until the system is cranked up." He need not have worried. While the theatre's rich historical past might induce patrons to a show, it is the high quality sound system that keeps them coming back.