Littlest Broadway theatre gets big renovation with ETC

Date Posted: 10/10/2018

Helen Hays Theatre

This spring, Second Stage Theater became the latest non-profit company with a Broadway home, opening the newly-renovated Helen Hayes Theater on West 44th St. To prepare for the opening, Second Stage made extensive upgrades to the 106-year-old building, including improvements to the onstage and backstage spaces, the audience chamber, and patron amenities. ETC was proud to be a part of the renovation, supplying power and electrical infrastructure for stage lighting – and playing an instrumental part in displaying David Rockwell’s stunning mural on the walls of the theatre.

Bacchus, Ariadne, and Pixels

The most obvious change to the theatre is David Rockwell’s stunning environmental mural that envelopes the audience chamber of the theatre. In addition to being a Tony Award-winning scenic designer, Rockwell also heads up The Rockwell Group, a 250-person cross-disciplinary architecture and design firm. And for the Helen Hayes Rockwell designed a tour-de-force mural based on the reproductions of François Boucher tapestries that originally covered the theatre’s walls. The mural is an enlarged, pixelated section of the “Bacchus and Ariadne” tapestry. The mural overlays a stunning blue ombré effect that fades from a deep blue at the stage to nearly white at the back of the space. 

“The unique design of the mural and its blue color — in all its shades — really became the identity of the theatre for Second Stage,” says Ryan Fischer, a senior lighting designer at Focus Lighting, the lighting designer for the renovation. 

It’s a stunning piece of art, and it posed a challenge to light. To create an even wash, avoiding any hot spots or reflections — and to make sure the colors in the mural were accurately represented — Fischer used ETC’s Source Four LED Series Two with Lustr arrays. “We chose the Source Four with the Lustr array because of its ability to really finely tune the exact shade of blue we wanted to pick up out of the paint, thanks to its seven-color LED array.” The seven-color array also meant that Fischer could match the Lustr’s color to a second fixture that was needed to light the mural under the balcony. The height of the balcony precluded hanging theatrical fixtures underneath it, so Fischer used RGBW fixtures from Ketra for downlight on the mural. 

Fischer also used Source Four Series Two fixtures in the balcony upstairs to again match Ketra fixtures and combine the down light cleanly with front light. That balance between two fixtures and ceiling heights was the hardest part of the design, but Fischer is extremely happy with how it turned out.  “Thanks to the Source Four Series Two Lustr’s impressive color performance we could make sure the two sources were able to blend seamlessly on the wall, both in color and in light distribution, to ensure consistency across the entire auditorium wall from front to back.” 

Helen Hays Theatre

An Intimate Landmark

“It’s the smallest theatre on Broadway, a very intimate space. That was the watchword for this project,” says Jeff McCrum, a theatre consultant at Fisher Dachs Associates and the system designer for the theatrical lighting infrastructure. “Up till now, it’s been like a lot of Broadway houses: four walls, ceiling, a lot of power. There were a lot cable runs running through the front of house, over the balcony, down the side walls, dropping in from the ceiling. One of the requests of Second Stage was they wanted to clean all that up.” 

But to do that, they’d have to work around the building’s Designated Landmark status. McCrum and the architects developed an ingenious cable run system for the front of balcony position that was supported from the top of the balcony itself, and houses Socapex power and shielded data runs. There are 186 circuits run via Socapex to various positions in the house: front of house, stage left and stage right box boom positions, balcony, and more. All those circuits come back to a custom intercept panel designed and built by ETC that lives stage left. The panel has 31 Socapex receptacles, and a 20-amp breaker on each circuit. “These days, Socapex fulfills power requirements with a little more flexibility than stage pin does,” says McCrum. “Socapex gives you the ability to add moving lights, fixtures that require 208 volts, or whatever weird stuff a designer wants to add. It’s agnostic.” 

Actors also benefited from the renovation. The theatre was known for cramped dressing rooms in the basement. Those were moved to the fourth floor, above the stage. New, wider stairwells were put in with white work lights to help the crew and blue run lights to guide actors during performance. An ETC Paradigm system runs the house and backstage lights, with ETC button stations and Touchscreens simplifying control for the crew. “We tied both of those systems together,” says McCrum. “It will be appreciated by everyone.” House lights can also be controlled via a console, thanks to ETC networking.

Litespeed Electric was the contractor for renovation, Focus Lighting supplied the architectural lighting equipment, and the Barbizon Lighting Company’s NYC office supplied the theatrical lighting equipment, project management, and technical services on the install. “Barbizon Lighting was honored to be a part of the renovation,” says Thomas Luczak, senior systems integrator for Barbizon. “This state of the art system will allow for ultimate flexibility for theatrical and architectural lighting into the future.”