ArcSystem gives Duke University’s Page Auditorium a new glow

Date Posted: 8/27/2015

Duke University's Page Auditorium

Before its 2014 renovation, Duke University's Page Auditorium was an aging campus mainstay in sore need of an update. Now, with re-finished interiors, new Sensor dimming and GDS by ETC ArcSystem houselights, the auditorium shines once again.

"I've always felt it was a diamond in the rough," says Marcy Edenfield, Associate Director of Ticketing and Theatre Operations. "I'd say 'there's potential,' and people would think I was out of my mind."

The Durham, North Carolina, venue has a storied history. Completed in 1932, the building was designed to echo the architecture of the nearby campus chapel, with tall, neo-gothic windows and a rusticated exterior. Over the years, the venue played host to concerts, touring stage musicals and a number of prominent speakers - including Martin Luther King, Jr., whose 1964 speech was so well-attended that the side doors to the auditorium were opened and overflow audience members listened from the adjoining lawn.

Duke University's Page Auditorium

The space was renovated in the 1980s, but by the present decade, the building's interiors and infrastructure were showing their age. The auditorium seats were cramped - by modern standards - and the red upholstery and railings seemed at odds with Duke's blue and white color scheme. The lighting in the house was also problematic. The original windows had long since been covered over, and the seating areas were lit by 300-watt PAR 38 lamps that required constant replacement and "four chandeliers that looked like they should have been in a room one-eighth of the size," says Edenfield. All the lights were run on aging dimmers, offering few options for complex control and no options for LED upgrades.

With campus resources spread across multiple construction projects, the renovation team - in conjunction with architecture firm Lord Aeck Sargent - decided to focus the attention on bringing the front of house up to date. "This was a really tight budget," remarks Edenfield. "It was great to see the transformation."

In addition to refurbishing the seats and refinishing and re-raking the house, great attention was paid to updating the lighting-control infrastructure. Working with ETC dealer Productions Unlimited, the team installed four Sensor® dimmer racks with CEM3 Power Control and ThruPower modules, providing dimming and power to the performance lighting, and the new GDS by ETC ArcSystem LED houselights. A Unison Paradigm® system was installed to handle the architectural control, and an expanded control booth was outfitted with a new Ion® console.

Duke University's Page Auditorium

Now the old chandeliers are gone, replaced by recessed constellations of ArcSystem Pro One-Cell luminaires above and below the balcony - each unit carefully focused to light the aisles while avoiding unsightly scallops on the walls. Pro Four-Cell Pendant luminaires peek out between the new acoustic panels above the orchestra seats, providing additional long-throw illumination. With the long-lasting ArcSystem LEDs, the maintenance crew's days of crawling along dusty walkways to change hard-to-reach lamps are over.

According to Josh Allen of Theatre Consultants Collaborative, the principal consultant on the renovation, the use of ArcSystem made for a painless installation. In past projects, incorrectly-installed lights could cause addressing nightmares during commissioning. ArcSystem luminaires are individually-addressable regardless of where they are placed, and they are configured and controlled wirelessly via ArcMesh Transmitters. Freed from the burdens and potential errors of wired control, setup went quickly. "Once the engineers get it, a lightbulb goes off in their head, no pun intended," says Allen.

Duke University's Page Auditorium

"With Paradigm and GDS fixtures working together as a system," Allen continues, "It gives you a lot of flexibility in control. Writing the presets and configurations, we were able to look at where the aisles were and keep them lit while dimming the house. Even the control-booth lighting is GDS, so we can individually control the light at each workstation."

The Theatre Operations staff is excited about the possibilities of their new system. With discreet control over each smoothly-dimming ArcSystem luminaire, they now have the ability to bring up individual lights to highlight important guests during events, or to build special house effects for concerts. One enterprising technician has already programmed the houselights to do the 'wave.'

Renovation complete, the Page Auditorium reopens just in time for the new school year. Warmly-lit and decked out in grays, blues and wood tones, this historic campus building is ready for a bright future.