Mercer’s Tattnall Square Center of the Arts secured funding of $34,020 for a new control booth in the N. Logan Lewis Theatre in December. Through GiveCampus.com, the theatre department surpassed its original goal of $33,000 with the help of 75 donors. The new control booth is set to be enclosed, rather than the current open booth setup, and will include new technological features for stage operations.
The fundraiser is an initiative proposed by Mercer's Office of Development, according to Director of Theatre Scot Mann.
“Todd Smith, the Development officer for CLAS, had run a similar fundraiser for the debate program where they had so much success that they proposed we attempt the same kind of targeted effort to address our problem,” Mann said.
In a production, all of the technical elements such as lights, sound and a majority of communication regarding timing for onstage and offstage operations are spearheaded through the control booth. Mann discussed the usage of the control booth during production.
“There are typically three people running the systems of a show that the audience never sees or hears,” Mann said. “There’s a person running the lights, a person running sound, and a stage manager who follows the show on a prompt book telling each of them when to run their cues. They also communicate with the actors over a PA system so they know when to come on stage.”
Most of these operations take place on an open balcony existing from back when the theatre was a church, divided from the audience by merely a curtain.
“We [have] to set up a closed-circuit camera to a monitor so the stage manager can see the stage, since the curtain prevents that,” Mann said. “Also, the stage manager is only about 16 feet from the first audience member, which means everyone in the room can hear everything they say. We built a soundproof shell over their station so they could talk over headset to the rest of the crew without the audience hearing. Along with these challenges, there is no HVAC access to the balcony, so it gets extremely hot up there when all the lights are running for the show.”
In addition, stage manager Tori Kershaw talked about the difficulties her role faced with the open booth setup.
“We cannot always tell which light cue is on display,” Kershaw said. “Because of the black curtains blocking our view of the stage and the monitors that do not show much color, it is hard to tell when a lighting cue is off…another stress on the technical team is volume. The stage manager has to lean into their sound-proof box to whisper their cues throughout every performance so that the audience does not hear down below.”
With the new closed booth aiming to solve these problems, Kershaw discussed some of the new features she would be looking forward to.
“I am most excited to be able to watch the show directly rather than through a limited monitor,” Kershaw said. “Although the monitor is useful to see in the dark, I felt a disconnection between the tech team and the performance down below. The monitors allow us to see what we have to see, but the overall experience will be more meaningful when we can see the actors shine on stage.”
Laura Ashlyn Pridgen, the president of Mercer Players, further explained the improved features that the production team will be looking forward to.
“Essentially the control booth will be enclosed and soundproofed to allow for easier communication between the technicians,” Pridgen said. “It will also allow for a more organized and efficient setup of our boards and computers since we won’t have to be blocked from the audience by a curtain. And because it is enclosed I do believe they are looking at running our air conditioning to it, which is a major bonus compared to the current booth.”
Mann looked at the variety of opportunities that the new control booth will open up for theatre students.
“The stage managers are looking forward to operating like a professional theatre where they can see the show, call cues, and communicate backstage over the intercom without having to put their head into a soundproof box," Mann said. “We’re also going to be able to use the soundproof area as a Voice Over studio for the program, where we train students to do voice-over work for things like audiobooks and video games.”
In addition, Mann stressed what the new control booth would mean for the entirety of the theatre program.
“The structure will definitely make us a more competitive program when it comes to realistic training,” Mann said. “We’ve had students graduate and work for places like Busch Gardens, Disney, and touring shows and they can tell you that training in a professional facility makes the transition to the professional world much easier.”