Theatre Acoustics: Designing Drama Spaces for Speech and Music

theatre acoustics bkl consultants

Theatre Acoustics: Designing Drama Spaces for Speech and Music

Storytelling is one of the oldest human traditions, and a great drama space connects the audience to the actors, setting and story.

What makes a drama space successful?

The communication between actors and their audience forms the basis of live theatre. But a room’s shape and construction can have a significant impact on this communication. The acoustical treatment that supports the actors’ voices is important to the quality of the final production. The shape and materials used in the “house” impact both the audience’s ability to clearly discern voices and the actors’ perception of the audience’s reaction. A skilled acoustician can adjust the angles and locations for walls, ceilings and floors—a process known as room shaping—and also recommend acoustical materials, so you can avoid problems such as confusing echoes, dead or acoustically quiet spots, and sound focusing.

Design for the program

The programming of a facility will greatly impact the design requirements. Theatres that double as concert halls must accommodate different acoustical criteria than drama-only spaces. Optimal speech intelligibility requires relatively short reverberation times, but music sounds better in spaces that have longer reverberation times. A skilled acoustician can balance the conflicting requirements for music and speech if addressed in the early stages of design. This can reduce design and construction costs, while increasing the efficacy of acoustical and sound system features.

Shh… Performance in progress

Acoustical design incorporates much more than just the acoustics in the theatre. Sounds or noises originating from outside of the theatre space should not intrude on the performance. Take heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, for example. A good acoustician can reduce the intrusion of HVAC noise without excessively increasing their cost and complexity. This requires a detailed understanding of the techniques and materials used in HVAC systems to achieve appropriate noise criteria.

The theatre should also remain isolated from sounds produced in the lobby or backstage. When onstage, actors should be free to perform without distraction from boisterous extras backstage or stage crews changing out sets.

BKL acousticians can provide wall construction details and advise in the layout of backstage dressing rooms, scenery shops, technical areas and crossover to prevent offstage sounds from becoming part of the play. BKL can also consult on how to isolate the sounds of latecomers in the lobby, as well as traffic and aircraft sounds produced outside of the building.

Who looks after the details?

A design team comprises many disciplines whose recommendations can impact the listening environment of a theatre. BKL acousticians have experience performing all aspects of theatre design and can review the acoustical implications of various design trade-offs and compromises to help ensure the overall success of a venue.

If you are designing a theatre or performance space and need a team that can resolve disparate design details and improve both the design process and final results, contact BKL today!

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