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Palace Of The Future - Q&A With Redditch's Tim Mackrill

The Redditch Palace is a 1913 Grade II listed theatre, with new foyers and front of house areas, and a studio developed on the front of the building in 2006. The auditorium was also renovated at the time, although no works were carried out backstage on the workshop, stage house or dressing rooms during this process. Since 2008, the Theatre Manager, Tim Mackrill, has pursued the goal of improving the theatre's sustainability - with both obvious and unexpected results. We asked him a few key questions about the Palace's experiences...

es:     What sort of shows get staged at the Palace?

tm:     Our performances cover everything from stage musicals to artists like Billy Ocean, stand-up with comedians such as Milton Jones, dance, drama, conferences, film shoots, bands, various tribute shows and four weeks of panto every year doing 46 shows. Our audiences are in the main from Worcestershire and Birmingham, although as with all theatres, if someone has a big following you get people travelling in from Europe, Ireland etc.

es:     What led you down the path of improving the building's energy performance?

tm:     Future sustainability. My aim was to reduce the overall operational running costs, and more importantly trying to relieve pressure on staff time so we could spend more time running shows - doing what we should be doing and providing a service. Reducing time changing lamps, time setting up shows and the amount of kit we need also means less portable appliance testing and maintenance of kit – all saving time. We are now hopefully in a position to reduce our summer maintenance to one week from two - this is tieing in with more hirers coming on board and moving the business forward.

es:     Improving loft insulation is always cited as one the main things any building can do to improve its energy performance, but you rarely see it in older theatres. Was that a big job to achieve, or did it form part of other works?

tm:     Yep - as it was very old, the whole roof came off to be re-done, so we had the thing re-tiled and insulated at the same time.

es:     Solar panels can be a major capital investment, as well as a major building job - did the theatre have to close during installation?

tm:     When we did the original rebuilding project, the new extension housing the foyers, bar and top floor, the studio was designed for solar panels to be placed on the roof. Unfortunately, funding was changed at the time, so we didn’t get them in as part of that build. That did mean, though that when we did come to do it, installation was relatively straightforward and we stayed open with just minimal disruption by our main front doors during the day.

es:     How was the solar PV project funded, and how are the solar panels performing? Is it too early to predict a payback period?

tm:     The project was funded by the climate team at Redditch and Bromsgrove councils –the cost was around £16000.

Last financial year (2013 / 2014) we made £1861 in income just from the panels, which makes payback just under 9 years - not too bad. It all helps get that bottom line down. Originally, we weren’t going to get them, as they thought that since we operated mostly in the evening that all of our load was consumed then. This is true, but during the day we still have washing machines,fridges, emergency lighting batteries charging, PCs, box office machines, general lighting, hoovers, etc. all still running which soon racks up – so I pushed for it.

es:     You've retrofitted a lot of tungsten fittings with LED - how have the units performed, and do you have any tips for anyone considering similar retrofits?

tm:     They've performed fantastically! We had to do a lot of waiting for the technology to get to the levels of brightness required, and dimming in the auditorium was a major problem in the early days - we couldn’t even start as the technology wasn’t there. There were many products that said they would work but they would pull more load on dimming (due to the dimmers we use) and cause issues at the bottom end of the dimming range and just switch off. Not good at the start of a show!

We actually started with our lift, as we were going through MR16 50 Watt lamps like they had gone out of fashion, but the 4 x 3 Watt LED ones we replaced them with have been in there now for about 6 years - haven’t changed one since (although I bet now I have typed this that one has just gone!).

The project also solved other issues of heat staining around fixtures, less grubby marks on ceilings where lamps keep being changed over time etc. We had a huge amount of MR16 50 Watt in our foyers and bar. The knock-on is huge. We have now even put dimmable LED GU10’s in our control rooms and re-used the lamps on the stage birdies, sacking off all of the old MR16 birdies ,as the dimmers needed a dummy load, whereas the GU10s don’t - again saving more energy and set up time there. It all helps.

es:     What has been the most troublesome undertaking - for example have there been any issues surrounding planning permission, access, etc.?

tm:     I was lucky I didn’t get involved with the panels, but from what I was told everything was easy with planning - as the part of the building they are sat on is modern and designed for this, it fitted well. So no problems for us, luckily.

For the scene dock and workshop roller shutter door replacements, planners were pleased with the new doors as they matched the rest of the building (right) and fitted in so much better than the horrible grey roller shutter door. The difference in the winter is massive! It helped enormously with the comfort in the main auditorium as when the old dock doors used to open onto the stage for scene changes, the mass of cold air used to freeze the public in the stalls!

All the internal lighting was retrofit, so that was easy, although the colour temperature of the LED ones placed in the auditorium wasn’t quite correct, so, armed with a LEE swatch book, we found a gel that made the LED look very similar to the tungsten. In the auditorium we took out around 4800 watts of lamps and put just 800 back in.

es:     Will you be looking at the stage lighting impact, and converting production equipment to LED?

tm:     We have been doing this bit by bit now for years, as I believe the key here is not trying to replace the kit like for like, but to focus on the job you are primarily using the kit to do. Our first project was in 2008 to try and minimise Parcan use where they were just creating colour washes - 24 of them doing red, green, blue and amber. They're not too bad on a rock and roll thing flashing away, but when you're warming up a L152 wash with six of them for example, it soon shoots up your usage! Instead, we put in eight 108 Watt moving head LED fixtures, and I lit the panto with them doing the solid colours instead of the cans and the savings were huge. And no lamps to change on them.

They did have their problems of course - dimming on the bottom end was an issue - but designing a scene with a MAC and/or generic over the top blended the colour temperature well and covered any harsh snaps at the bottom end. The benefits obviously far outweighed these negatives; huge power savings, the flexibility of the moving head LEDs meant less kit rigged and millions of colours off one unit meant one unit could do huge amounts more.

We have recently installed fourteen ETC Source 4 LUSTR+ units, replacing all of the kit doing our L152 wash, L202 wash and cyc washes. We took down 31 units consuming a total of 34,950 Watts and put back up fourteen units consuming just around 160 watts each - a total of 2,240 Watts. We borrowed some units and tested them against our then current kit, and the performance was incredible. In relation to power, the optics were far better than the old Cantata kit with less spill, better controlled light and comparing LED 202 to tungsten L202, the only difference was a slight colour temperature variation – to be honest, I preferred the LED. It looks cleaner and sharper. With the new kit, dimming is now not an issue and the additional benefits are massive, now no lamps, no gel (press a button on the desk, done!) no ladders needed to recolour, the whole swatch book at your fingertips and with the power consumption I could run it off a couple of UPS battery backups and do a show off grid!

Obviously on redesigning the rig I have left up some generics as a get out of jail, as you never know what someone could need, and our specials are all still tungsten at the moment but moving in the correct direction. The benefits to our customers are massive. Lighting a show now can be far more fun and the end results are superb. Shows honestly look stunning, as techs are more likely to add more colour and throw more effort into making the show look good, because it's easy to do and fast.

es:     Was there a case of tackling small things first, or did you jump straight in with major improvements?

tm:     We started chipping away at the small things that took us time in running the building first, making everything as easy as possible to run - fixing the recurring issues frees time to fix the more major problems. This has massively supported the whole operation of the building and without that work in the early days, we couldn’t do the amount of events we now do.

es:     Have you tackled other areas of the building's environmental impact, such as waste streams?

tm:     We separate all of our paper card and glass from office and bar areas into a separate green recycling bin/skip outside.

es:     What does your audience think of what you are doing?

tm:     Everyone loves it! Our regular hiring theatre companies especially so, as the benefits to them are huge on the stage side, effectively now increasing the value of the service we provide. I was thanked for everything I have done at the last meeting I had with them, too, which was very kind.

Our climate change department and the whole of the council love it too. Our paying customers see a building that looks well maintained and well-kept so don’t complain - that’s always a good start! We have had plenty of positive feedback also on Facebook when we have posted projects.

es:     Finally, what's next?

tm:     We are looking at rainwater harvesting in our basement to feed all of the toilets. We already have the tanks and pumps, and just need the filtration system and separate feed to the toilets from the rainwater harvesting tanks. Dependent on cost and potential saving, of course, as with all projects….!

¦     www.redditchpalacetheatre.co.uk

Pictures: © Palace Theatre, Redditch

We have compiled some of the Palace Theatre's pictures of their work into a photo album, which you can see here. Tim is a member of entsust.com, and has kindly agreed to answer any questions on the theatre's work in the comments area below.

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Tags: environmental, etc, recycling waste news, stage lighting news, uk news, west midlands news

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