Outfitting Your Auditorium With Multi-Purpose & Flexible Staging

Today, universities and colleges across the country are finding it difficult to meet the demands placed on them to provide the best possible education as well as ensuring their students get the most out of their education. There is also constant pressure to provide the finest amenities for incoming students.

Everyone wants to have the best system that is safe, enhances their performers’ presence on stage, and allows them to perform at their best. This can be difficult for smaller schools that may not have the full backing of the community as do the sports teams or have a very limited budget that the university can allocate to the performing arts. Words like multi-purpose, flexible, or modular become an important part of your vocabulary if you want to gain the support you need to outfit your performance groups.

Top-Level Equipment for Recruiting and Retaining Talented Students

Many professors and performing arts directors are great negotiators and top-notch fund raisers on top of their many other gifts. These fortunate ones have unlimited access to extremely wealthy donors, intensely active parents or boosters organizations or have an altruistic local company or organization that supports their every need.

For the rest of the teachers and directors, they have to work to find the extra money to support the programs. For the schools that do not have the free flow of financial support, it is imperative that there are creative ways to find the funding to get the students the top-level equipment that allows them to perform at the highest level. Finding other departments that have close to your same needs and are willing to find a cooperative solution may be the best in-house option.

A few ways of joint collaboration with other departments or the administration may allow you to find additional applications for staging or risers that can help them justify the purchase. If the collaboration is possible, the best place to start is to call on the other departments that share your passion for supporting the kids and the performing arts programs. The overall impact can be reduced if you can come to a consensus on what the bulk of the staging needed is, and what is really needed for both programs to share.

Then you would only need to add the specialty items to fit your exact needs. A choir and Band Director collaboration could yield either the individual drum risers, key board risers or a large raised percussion platform that can make his orchestra or band look spectacular for the winter and spring concerts. These same staging components can then be repurposed to build a 3 x 3 configuration or deployed in the theater department for on-stage risers in the next performance.

Orchestra Pit Fillers & Stage Extensions When faced with the need for a multi-purpose option in your permanent auditorium, there are a few options besides on-stage risers to help make the space more flexible. This could create a more intimate space for your performers and audience as well as accommodate your programs that have outgrown your current allowed space. The easiest option in lieu of building a new facility will be to extend the stage with either a stage extension, or-if you have an orchestra pit-to fill it with platforms. There are several considerations to take into account before any product is purchased. Some of the following points may help you to make the best decision for your program and facility.

Getting Started

Most performing arts facilities are occupied by multiple users. Meeting with the other users of the space to determine and agree on what the primary needs are is a great first step. You may share the space with the band, orchestra, dance, drama, or choir groups. Working as a team to collaborate and come to agreement on what the top priority needs are is a very important first step prior to contacting a manufacturer of staging.

A few questions will immediately come up and will need to be addressed before starting the project. They can include the following concerns:

1. Should the stage extension/pit filler be just at the existing stage height or should it also set up at audience level and orchestra level?

2. When set at stage height will you need a spanning or bridging design which offers clear space under the decking for the orchestra or for storage of equipment, pianos or instruments?

3. How will the conductor view the orchestra and the performers on stage during a musical performance?

4. If you also want the decking set at audience level, will you be wanting chairs mounted in that space in order to increase seating capacity up close to the stage?

5. What other configurations or uses for the equipment do you have? Some systems will allow you to make risers from the same decking but using different height supplemental supports.

6. Who will set up and take down the equipment, where will it be stored, and what weight capacity will it need to support?

7. Are you anticipating the need for grand pianos, lifts, heavy scenery elements or large numbers of moving performers?

8. Who is paying, what is your budget, and what is your ideal timeline for completion of the project?

Expect it to take some time with multiple meetings before consensus regarding all these important considerations is reached. Once you have discerned the needs of the facility, then you should contact some professional staging manufacturers to help guide you.

This is an important step to insure that you will get an engineered system that is developed for the application and fits the constraints of your facility. This is not an area that you want to try and build on your own as many risks are involved in doing so.

Design Process and Construction Considerations

The design priority is that these modular units be extremely strong and safe in order to withstand the live loads and action performed on them by a large quantity of enthusiastic performers. Safety, meeting code, ease of use, versatility, quietness, and stability of the platforms, as well as how they store, are all important considerations to weigh out. Be prepared to share a lot of information with the staging company including the ideal scope of the project and all of the needs you outlined as a user group. You will need to share dimensions such as width, depth, and height needed. It is good to have as many details, drawings, and photos to send to the staging company as you can get your hands on. The more detail the better.

Once you are ready to move forward, you should contact several staging companies. A minimum of three different bids should be sought to make sure all aspects from budget to the design you developed are met. Most staging companies can typically generate a professional design layout, equipment list, and quote within a few days. Ask for multiple photos, specs, and support materials. It’s also smart to get references and testimonials from other customers to help make your decision. Price should not be the only consideration, especially when taking into account that you will live with this system for many years; you want to get the best match for your needs.

Equipment Options

There are many options for equipment type and materials that can be used to build the system. The staging company will be able to help build a system that will function safely at the needed height and required configurations.

The performance surface can be made to fit your event needs or to match your main stage to give it a permanent look. Another consideration should be that the platform is quiet for the performers and will not be distracting when they transition from the main stage to the extension. The system should be designed in a way that all of the components work together to provide a stable area for your dancers, actors or the orchestra. Having a stage that has platforms that bridge together and supports that have cross bracing is not only an option but a must-have if your stages are higher than sixteen inches.

Certainly, the staging manufacturer should provide a stage that will meet the building and fire code standards as an integral part of the design and construction. Installation and training by the manufacturer is important to ensure all the components fit and function perfectly and your set up crew is trained in the proper safe use of the equipment. Once you have selected a professional staging company and communicated all of your needs, you can go back and focus on your upcoming shows, knowing that they will deliver a worry-free system for your performances for years to come.

About the Authors
Rick Roe has 23 years of Stage-Right sales experience serving all divisions through the years with the last 13 years as the StageRight School and Church Market Manager.

Kip Weis joined the StageRight team in 2007 and was recently named the Market Manager for the Performing Arts market. Kip brings a passion for theater and music that, combined with his product knowledge and experience, makes him a great resource for your venue's needs.