With a mission to become a ‘civic and cultural polestar’ in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the team behind the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center began by purchasing an old armory in West Chester with a view to converting it into a 300-plus seat theatre. They then brought in Clair Solutions, whose team of experts worked with them from early conception to final design, and from installation through commissioning – including help with early events.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center ‘When we first got started, the Armory was still a functioning national guard building complete with relics of 1960s Cold War America, including an ammunition vault in the basement and fallout shelter signs,’ recalls Senior Lighting Designer, Bill Simmons. ‘The founders wanted to convert it into a bustling theater that could stage plays, opera, comedy, dance, TED-style talks, meetings, and musical performances, including classical, jazz, Latin and rock.

‘They relied entirely on us to help conceptualise, design and install the technical audio, video, lighting, and rigging systems that would make all of those different kinds of events possible in this boutique venue. Moreover, we had to make it happen on a budget, so everything was carefully coordinated and demoed to make sure the venue would be getting the best possible performance and flexibility for the cost.’

Because the roof’s supporting structure could not take additional weight, Clair Solutions designed, fabricated and installed a ground-support truss from which to hang all audio, video, lighting, soft goods and scenery support.

The roof is barrel-shaped and was designed to support its own weight and the weight of a heavy Pennsylvania snow, but not much more. To turn it into a performance space, Clair Solutions engineered a ground-support truss system. The truss starts with new concrete piers poured in the basement with columns rising up to connect with the theatre floor above. From there, the truss rises up on either side of the stage and forms a proscenium arch. It’s bolted to both side walls and the upstage wall.

‘We used a spigot Eurotruss design with custom pieces and had it fabricated overseas,’ Simmons says. ‘Then we assembled it in place. That truss is really the key to making Uptown! Knauer PAC a performance space.’

The truss can support up to 8,000 pounds, of which 5,000 pounds is already spoken for with lighting and scenery, a video screen, custom curtains, lighting fixtures, loudspeakers and subwoofers. The venue’s PA system comes from Clair Brothers, and includes CAT115 line array elements with support from two CS218 subwoofers. QSC CXD-Series amplifiers power the system, with DSP from a QSC Core 100f. A Yamaha TF5 digital console commands the audio system, with instant recall for easy transitions between the various groups who use the space.

The video system had to be similarly flexible and ready for everything from digital signage to PowerPoint presentations to high-definition video. A Barco RLM-W8 projector paired with a motorised retractable Da-Lite screen allows video screenings and ably serves all of those needs. The fact that the screen can go away when it isn’t needed opens the range of aesthetic possibilities for events that don’t use video. Danny Olah, video system designer with Clair Solutions, gave Uptown! Knauer PAC video-over-IP solutions from Just Add Power to build a system with a modular number of transmitters and receivers.

‘We were a group of engaged community members with a big dream. Clair Solutions made that dream a reality at the highest calibre,’ says Gary Green, past president of the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center,

More: www.clairsolutions.com

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