With Musco Center’s versatile theatre, the arts thrive at Chapman University

March 21, 2016

Chapman University students and faculty and the Orange, California community can look forward to a new era of cultural and educational opportunities with the March 19 opening of the 88,000-square-foot Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts.

Located at the gateway to the university, the new $82 million arts center—designed by architect Pfeiffer Partners in collaboration with Theatre Projects, acoustician Nagata Acoustics, and AV consultant Sonitus— gives Chapman University a characteristic architectural icon designed to meet the needs of their award-winning Conservatory of Music, and the Departments of Music and Theatre.

The building features the 1,044-seat Julianne Argyros Orchestra Hall, a remarkable and versatile multipurpose theatre. Theatre Projects worked with the design team to create an intimate auditorium—with a mezzanine, side boxes, and two levels of balconies that step down toward the stage. The seating wraps the audience around the stage and draws them closer to the performers for memorable and impactful performances. The theatre features a large stage with full fly tower, stage traps, and two orchestra lifts that can create a Broadway pit, large opera pit, or stage extension when in concert mode. It also has a modern theatrical dimming and relay system, advanced LED lighting, and a full array of rigging, including a motorized house curtain.

But the real story of the room is its versatility. The University wanted both a dynamic performance space for drama, dance and opera, and a world-class venue for symphonic and choral music. So the design team created a room that can transform from proscenium theatre to concert hall in less than an hour through the use of a one-of-a-kind fully flown orchestra shell. The unique 120,000-pound shell, designed by Nagata Acoustics, not only creates an exceptionally dynamic sonic environment, but also provides a cohesive architectural style to the room.

"What’s great about the Musco Center, and what we put a lot of care and effort into, was making a beautiful performance space that doesn’t just feel like a room with an orchestra shell wedged into it," Michael Ferguson, project manager, said. "It’s not just a proscenium theatre that we put a shell in; it’s a concert hall where we can take the shell out. It’s one of the most well-integrated orchestra shells we’ve ever designed."

The shell is a heavy surface-weight curving structure, with decorative and acoustic wood shaping, created from a rear wall and four side walls, all with shelves that fold down for storage. There are also two curved ceiling pieces that tilt and, like the rear walls, fly to storage. The side walls pivot and travel offstage before flying to storage.

"The shell puts quite a bit of demand on the stagehouse in terms of weight, storage above, and handling," Michael Nishball, theatre equipment designer, said. Theatre Projects worked with Pook Diemont & Ohl and their partners, C.K. Wegner and Thern, to create the shell and extremely reliable hoist machinery to lift and fly the shell into the stage house through carefully coordinated grid slots. "The team was very good at planning and executing the work and also did a great job at engineering, fabricating, and installing," Michael continued.

The result is an outstanding environment for acoustic music that still manages to maintain an efficient and fast changeover.

The center also features a musician and choral staging area, dressing rooms, green room, scenic repair shop, costume shop, administrative offices, artist’s lounge, and a state-of-the-art recording studio where students of sound engineering, editing, and multimedia studies will get hands-on experience with cutting-edge equipment. The studio will be equipped with Internet2 technology, which is used by more than 60,000 institutions and allows users to instantaneously stream, share, and receive immense amounts of information with ease. With the technology, the university can stream live concerts, lectures, and performances instantly across the world.

Even though the project is just opening, the impact that the Musco Center for the Arts is having on the campus is already evident. Whether standing on the stretching plaza in front of the building, high up in the catwalks, or center stage, singing to the balconies, the engagement the Musco Center is creating with the arts is tangible and easy to see. And, Chapman University, students, and the Orange, California community will benefit from it for decades to come.

Theatre Projects provided programming, concept design, theatre planning, and performance equipment design and specification for the arts center, which will opened its doors to the public with an extraordinary concert featuring opera legends Placido Domingo, Deborah Voigt, Milena Kitic, and an orchestra and chorus of more than 150 Chapman students.

With Musco Center’s versatile theatre, the arts thrive at Chapman University
Credit: Doug Gifford
With Musco Center’s versatile theatre, the arts thrive at Chapman University
Credit: Doug Gifford
With Musco Center’s versatile theatre, the arts thrive at Chapman University
Credit: Doug Gifford