Crisp, Full-Bodied Acoustics with a Clean Finish: Final Testing at Penn State

Recently a few hundred people were invited to spend a pleasant afternoon in the nearly complete School of Music recital hall at Penn State and serve as the audience for acoustic testing and tuning.Since the presence and size of an audience affects the acoustics of the recital hall, they were a critical part of the process. Directed by acoustician Rick Talaske, the project team and students in Penn State’s acoustics program took measurements, listened carefully, and adjusted the room features while various School of Music ensembles performed. Meanwhile the invited students, faculty, and community members studied, graded papers, read, or simply enjoyed the music.  

The new hall accommodates orchestras up to 50 pieces and holds 400 patrons in vineyard-style seating, including choral seating for 75. It is thought to be the first vineyard-style hall of its size. Nextstage Design worked closely with Rick and the project architects to specify 4,500 square feet of adjustable absorption – mostly in the form of AcouStaCorp banners that deploy from the recital hall ceiling. This adjustability allows the hall to accommodate a wide range of repertory and ensemble sizes. Finding the best placement of banners for each ensemble and type of performance was a primary task of the tuning effort. The verdict? Widespread delight in the quality of the acoustics and intimacy of the experience provided by the new hall.  

See our project page for more info about the firms involved.


USITT Architecture Commission Tour

Tony signed himself and me up for the USITT Architecture Commission theater tours on Tuesday March 13, 2018. It was a long but rewarding day. Many thanks to David Vieira of WJHW and Richard Heisenbottle of RJHA for organizing and leading the tour, and the generous venue staffs for opening their doors to us.


Our first stop was the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens. This pleasant little multipurpose theater seats 450 and was designed by RJHA.


The next stop was the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road in the heart of South Beach. This art deco cinema opened in 1935 and was converted for live performance by Morris Lapidus in 1976.


RJHA renovated the 440-seat theater in 2006, adding dressing rooms above the stagehouse (!) with scissors stairs to provide two means of egress.


The New World Center was a short walk from the Colony. The 750-seat concert hall was designed by Frank Gehry. It’s a fine, carefully crafted hall and a beautiful building. But it’s the New World Symphony’s innovative programming that makes it a phenomenon.


Your intrepid touring theater consultants at New World Center.


 Then back on the bus for the trip to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. The Cesar Pelli designed complex has three formal performance spaces—the 2,400-seat Ziff Ballet Opera House, the 2,200-seat Knight Concert Hall, and the 200-seat Carnival Studio Theater. The Florida Grand Opera was in a lighting rehearsal, so we caught only a brief glimpse of the opera house. We had a whirlwind tour of backstage areas the studio theater, and we spent quality time in the concert hall, looking up!


 The final tour stop was the Olympia Theater, an historic atmospheric picture palace in Miami. Originally designed by John Eberson, the theater opened in 1926. It was renovated in the 1970s by Morris Lapidus, and again in the early 2010s by RJHA.


As further proof that it’s the programming that makes the building sing—the Olympia operator uses the lobby lounge as an informal performance space for the Moth Miami StorySLAM, jazz performances, and a combination of burlesque and improv.

In Memoriam: William B. Warfel

As we close 2017, we note the passing earlier this year of Bill Warfel, a significant figure in our profession, a friend, and a mentor. This is an extended version of a memorial published in Yale School of Drama’s 2017 Alumni Magazine.

Bill and Phyllis Warfel at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in 2012. Photo courtesy of The Defining Image LLC.

Bill and Phyllis Warfel at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in 2012. Photo courtesy of The Defining Image LLC.

William B. Warfel, teacher, author, lighting designer, theater consultant, and Professor Emeritus of Theater Design at Yale School of Drama, died on May 28, 2017. He was 84. Bill is survived by his wife Phyllis Warfel, daughters Arden Lowe and Katherine Trudeau, four grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

Bill was born February 12, 1933 in Holyoke, Massachusetts and spent his early years in New England. His family moved to the Philippines after WWII, where Bill graduated from the American School. A classmate described him as “trustworthy, kind, and friendly”—qualities he displayed throughout his life. While attending Yale College, Bill took classes at Yale School of Drama and met his future wife Phyllis Johnson. They married the day after Bill received his BA and Phyllis her MFA. That fall, Bill attended Yale School of Drama and, because of the courses he had already taken, earned his MFA in 1957.

After graduation, Bill spent five years as Technical Director and Instructor of Humanities at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He and Phyllis were soon the parents of two girls, and they observed that Hanover (a decade before Dartmouth became coed) was not where they wished to raise their daughters. In 1962, Bill went to work for Century Lighting in New York, designing stage and architectural lighting fixtures and installations, and beginning a 50-year career that bridged stage and architectural lighting design. In 1966, Bill formed a lighting design partnership with Don Gersztoff and Jim Nuckolls, and in 1968 he joined the New York office of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, which was then expanding from acoustics into lighting design and theater consulting. Bill set up his own architectural lighting design practice in New Haven in 1971, and continued to practice there under various business names until shortly before his death. Bill’s work as an architectural lighting designer comprised hundreds of projects, including urban streetscapes, public structures, and buildings of all types. His early work included special effects lighting for the Unisphere at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and one of his last projects was exhibit lighting for the museum in Peru housing the repatriated Machu Picchu artifacts.

Bill returned to Yale School of Drama in 1967 as a faculty member in Design and Lighting Director at Yale Repertory Theatre, positions he held for 27 years. For most of that time, 1972 to 1993, he was co-chair of Design. He lit many productions at the Yale Repertory Theatre, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, revived on multiple occasions at Yale and later at American Repertory Theatre, and the 25th Anniversary production of Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot, which also played on Broadway. He designed many productions for Yale Baroque Opera Project, Yale Opera, and other companies. Toni Dorfman, Yale Theater Studies faculty, recalls Bill as “the consummate theatrical collaborator: ingenious, resourceful, kind, encouraging, prepared, alert, generous, honest, unhurried but efficient, and ever optimistic.”

Following a successful collaboration on the 1975 renovation of the Yale Repertory Theatre, Bill merged his lighting design practice into a partnership with fellow faculty member John Robert Hood. The new firm, Systems Design Associates, offered both architectural lighting design and theater consulting services. Over the course of two decades, Bill consulted on over sixty theater construction and renovation projects, traveling to Ecuador, Nigeria, and throughout the United States. Both Bill Conner FASTC and I began our consulting careers at this firm.

Bill Warfel was the author of The Handbook of Stage Lighting Graphics (1974) and The New Handbook of Stage Lighting Graphics (1990). Both volumes were widely used as college textbooks. He wrote articles for Architectural Lighting, LD+A, and other magazines, and he addressed academic and professional groups in China, Egypt, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and many places in the United States. He received awards from several professional organizations for his work.

In the mid-1970s Bill and his student Walt Klappert began the “color project," measuring the spectral profile and transmittance of over 500 stage lighting color filters (“gels”) from six different manufacturers. Walt notes they were eventually joined by a dozen additional students and Bill’s daughters. Based on the color project, Bill and Walt wrote Color Science for Lighting the Stage, published by Yale University Press in 1981. This pioneering text provided lighting designers with an accurate explanation of color science and independent and comparable technical data on the color filters available at market. Bill and Walt followed up in 1996 with the GelFile computer program, which gave users the ability to see how multiple colors would interact when lights overlapped. Their efforts forced manufacturers to improve their technical data and, more importantly, changed how designers think about and work with color.

The significance of Bill’s achievements as a designer of stage and architectural lighting, theater consultant, and author are complemented by the accomplishments of so many field leaders who studied with him. Bill was profoundly dedicated to teaching and to the well-being of his students, and he is remembered as much for his humanity and his kindness as for his excellent work. Like many others, I knew Bill as a teacher, mentor, generous friend, and gentle soul. I cannot adequately express my gratitude for his role in my life. I will miss him.

Gene Leitermann is co-founder of Nextstage Design, an educator, and a theater consultant with more than 30 years of experience.

Whitinsville Fine Arts Center Nears Completion

Matt and Gene were commissioning theater rigging and lighting equipment earlier this week at the new Whitinsville Christian School Fine Arts Center. Nextstage Design provided theater planning and equipment design as part of the design build team. The theater equipment was provided by PDO under separate contract to the owner. The new facility has a Wenger acoustic shell and AcouROLL banners to provide an adjustable acoustic environment for performances by the school’s multiple chorus, band, and string ensembles. The drama and musical theater productions of the middle and high schools are served by an ETC motorized rigging system with a QuickTouch+ controller. All house and concert lighting fixtures have LED sources with full dimming through an ETC Paradigm control system. Performance lighting is a mix of conventional and LED sources, controlled by an ETC Ion console. The new venue will also be used for chapel, convocation, and other gatherings of the school community.

Whitinsville Fine Arts Center

Production Infrastructure for outdoor public places

Nextstage recently worked on a project to upgrade the production infrastructure on the historic New Haven Green in Connecticut, just blocks from our office. Balancing the needs for up-to- date power, network, water, and sewer while respecting and maintaining the historic look of this public space was a challenge.

Events on the green require varying degrees of infrastructure. Some events can be a few hours long and completely stand-alone with no power tie-ins or staging. On the other extreme are festivals that run for two weeks or more, with a full outdoor stage, portable rest-rooms, and full production lighting, audio and video. We were asked to suggest improvements that would enable simple events to be accommodated quickly and easily, and complex events to be held with adequate support and low impact on the greens trees and lawn.

One example that we studied was the Quartier des Spectacles, Montreal (QDS). Billed as a square kilometer of culture, the QDS is an urban zone fitted out with robust production infrastructure that supports over 30 indoor performance spaces, 8 outdoor public spaces, 9 building facades with architectural video projections hosting over 100 events a month. QDS had the advantage of being built recently as part of an extensive urban renewal project, so they could install lots of infrastructure underground while the ground was open during demolition and re-building. Their fiber network is amazing, controlling video, audio, communications, and show control throughout the quarter. Check them out at

On the historic New Haven green (a grass covered public area) installation of underground utilities needed to be done gradually and in concert with the constant schedule of events during our short New England summer. A phased process has begun to upgrade existing power cabinets, install some cable tunnels to reduce the amount if cable run over the ground, and water supplies and sewer connections were located where they were most urgently needed.

Future work may include permanent structural tie-downs for anchoring temporary stages, a fiber network to support events, and video cameras to allow monitoring events and daily use for security and safety. With the advent of more energy efficient lighting systems the amount of electric power can be reduced from the ubiquitous 400 amp feeds we are used to specifying. A wider distribution of smaller (200 amp) feeds will serve the needs of the various events located all around the green. Temporary turf protection has been purchased to help maintain the grass.

Making outdoor public spaces suitable for performances requires a sensible balance of practical accommodations (protecting the turf from large crowds and staging), and robust network backbone and distribution, power, water, and sewer. Municipalities will benefit from careful study and design. If the opportunity exists to install infrastructure during other major construction work, it can make all the difference.




Daylight in Auditoriums

Many pre-modern theaters were dependent on daylighting. This was obviously true of open air theaters—the theaters of ancient Greece and Rome, Japanese Noh theaters, Taoist temple theaters, the Spanish corrales de comedias, the public playhouses of Elizabethan England, and so on. Daylight was also the principal source of illumination in some indoor theaters, including the private Elizabethan playhouses. Even as performances were lit with improved artificial light sources, daylight continued to be provided in a few theaters. And daylighting has always been a common feature in rooms for music.

Today, daylight seems to be a feature in more new performance spaces and auditoriums. Do you want daylight in your new performance space? The response to this question is often a vehement “NO!” but sometimes it’s “Maybe” or “Let’s talk about it.” What follows is an overview of the issues this question raises.

Why provide daylight?

Daylight itself is pleasing. It provides a connection to the world outside the auditorium and creates a more humane environment. Daylight increases what environment psychologists call the “information rate” of an environment. Spaces with high information rate promote arousal (also called activation) and invite active participation.

Daylight can reduce the need for artificial lighting and contribute to the energy efficiency and sustainability of the building.

Sometimes daylighting is a “side effect” of the desire to provide views out of (or into) the auditorium. The Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts is one example; the auditorium provides a striking view of Back Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Some venues provide views into the auditorium to allow audience seated on the surrounding lawn to experience the performance. Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood is a notable example. Sometimes the motivation is to increase the visibility of the activity within the auditorium and provide visual connections with the surrounding spaces or landscape. An example is the Ruth Caplin Theatre at University of Virginia, shown in the photo below.

Ruth Caplin Theater

Ruth Caplin Theater

How is daylight provided?

We can divide daylighting features into two broad categories. Clerestory windows, light monitors, and skylights provide daylight but not views of the exterior. Windows that are closer to floor level, curtain walls, and large openings (barn doors) can provide both light and views.

Potential concerns

A primary concern is the need to black out the auditorium, so that artificial lighting can be used to control the visual experience. An effective blackout can be achieved with motorized shades, but they add costs—both initial capital cost and ongoing maintenance costs. While some shades are high-quality and reliable, lower-cost products can be problematic, leading to fears of a breakdown a half-hour before the curtain rises.

Windows, skylights, and curtain walls may all raise acoustical concerns. These elements are not as massive as the surrounding walls and may be weak points in the effort to isolate the auditorium from exterior noise. This concern can be addressed with careful design and detailing, which may increase costs. Also, because these elements have less mass, they absorb rather than reflect low frequency sound, resulting in a room acoustic with less “warmth.” This may be a concern, especially in music spaces. The planar surfaces of windows and curtain walls do reflect mid and high frequency sounds, and these reflections can be unwanted. Again, careful design can address these concerns.

Direct sunlight (as opposed to daylight) can be uncomfortable for both audience and performers. It’s best to orient the daylighting elements to minimize or eliminate direct sunlight during likely performance times. If necessary, a brise-soleil can be used to block direct sunlight or fritted glass can be used to filter it.

If they cover a large area, clerestory windows, light monitors, and skylights can be a distraction during daylight performances even if they don’t allow direct sunlight. The changing sky or an approaching storm can dramatically alter the daylight (and the mood) within the auditorium.

Views out of the auditorium can be distracting, and views into the auditorium can raise privacy concerns. Lower windows, curtain walls, and openings can be distracting if activity outside of the auditorium is in view of performers and audience. Views into the auditorium can raise concerns about voyeurism and occupant safety. These concerns can be addressed by the use of fritted glass or light filtering shades, but obviously both block the views that perhaps were intended to be provided.

- Gene Leitermann is co-founder of Nextstage Design, an educator, and a theater consultant with more than 30 years of experience.


Conference Season Wrap-up

Nextstage attended several performing arts conferences this summer. An alphabet soup of organizations from TCG, to SCUP, to NATEAC. Conferences are our chance to check the pulse of performing arts among the practitioners at Theater Communications Group (TCG), campus planners at Society of College and University Planners (SCUP), and architects, engineers, and other theater planners at the Quadrennial North American Theater Engineering and Architecture Conference (NATEAC).

Now that the name badges are hanging off the task lamp at my desk and the work that piled up is under control we can reflect back on what we learned at all these gatherings.

The non-profit professional theater universe is expanding and becoming more and more vital to our national debate over inclusion and unity. Now perhaps more than ever before the field is a voice to be reckoned with as fresh new voices find powerful ways to express our state of turmoil. Institutions are supporting them, and making homes to promote these critically important expressions. Of course, the conference was in Washington DC, maybe that had a bit to do with the theme – “Theatre Nation” ? Technology and digital media are becoming another tool in the artistic toolbox. Performance spaces will need to adapt to some of these changes, but mostly good intimate spaces continue to host powerful performances and experiences for audiences.

Universities, where the new fresh voices are trained are struggling to keep their aging buildings in good condition. Performance spaces are being renovated and replaced, but the challenge for many educational institutions is to balance the demands of rapidly emerging technologies with time-honored practice of drama, music, and dance.

Technology dominated the sessions at NATEAC, from how best to deliver complex systems in construction projects, to understanding the power and flexibility of video and streaming capability that the audience is coming to demand. Nothing stands still, and either can we.

So, onward to the next generation of performance spaces, virtual or real, new or repurposed. Nextstage is excited about all the possibilities!

Notes from USITT 2016

A month or so ago I attended the annual USITT conference and expo in Salt Lake City. This annual gathering of teachers, students, professionals, and manufacturers is always a great way to catch up with people and the latest trends in practice and products. I have been going to this conference on and off over the past 30 years, and each time I go I am reminded how valuable it is. I also realize how young all the attendees are getting, go figure.

One piece of technological wonder was not part of the expo. A former classmate of mine, Jon Farley, together with some very clever people at Luxium have developed a LED retrofit lamp for the time-tested PAR-38 and PAR 30 lamps used in border lights, and many other fixtures backstage. It is called the ZR30. He had a prototype in his messenger bag, and he proudly showed me how it works. (controlling it from his smartphone!) This is not my old PAR 38 lamp! This small wonder changes color, color temperature and brightness through its built-in DMX interface. It is available in wired and wireless DMX models and is a small but mighty game changer. Go back to your old high school and figure out how many, or few, of these you need to change the clunky border lights into something really useful. Or, consider changing out your backstage work-lights for the version of this lamp that can be blue, white, or red.

It struck me that this kind of ingenuity enables a wide variety of users to benefit from the power savings, color and intensity control that the advent of LED sources has opened up. Who knows where it will lead, but call your old high school and turn them on to the ZR30, or screw them into a clip light and have fun!

Check out this new marvel at

*Photo courtesy of Luxium



Tony Forman is co-founder of Nextstage Design and a planner of and advocate for performance spaces that work for audiences, performers, technicians, and communities.