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Royal Shakespeare Company Courtyard Theatre

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For a venue that is designed to be purely temporary, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon exceeds expectation in many areas, with sound and lighting specifications that would not be out of place in any permanent installation. One prerequisite was an Ampetronic induction loop system intended not just to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, but to satisfy the high standards the hearing impaired should be able to expect of a venue such as this.

Designed by the in-house team at Ampetronic and installed by Stage Electrics, the system has impressed both Tim Cullen, in charge of the project for Stage Electrics, and the venue itself. “I was really impressed when I worked with Ampetronic for the first time at the Wales Millennium Centre,” says Cullen. “When I came here and installed this system myself, I was amazed with its quality, as was the venue itself. It’s almost like headphone stereo quality – an impossibility, of course, as it’s a mono system.”

The seating levels within the theatre have been formed from timber supported on a substantial steel frame. The brief for Stage Electrics was to ensure that the induction loop worked on all three tiers of this very intimate space and that all seats must be covered. “The proximity of the levels to one another as well as the massive amount of steel in the structure posed an initial problem of how to do it effectively,” continues Cullen. “But Ampetronic designed the system for us and it works perfectly.”

The upper levels of the auditorium each have two loops installed: an outer and an inner. The outer loop covers row two to the back of the seating area and the inner covers rows one to three, meaning that the system overlaps all the way round. The more extensive seating in the stalls employs four loops: two doing exactly the same as in the upper levels to cover the outer seats and two covering the inner. In this way, Ampetronic has ensured total coverage.

“One thing that threw a slight spanner in the works was that the end seats in the stalls and those in the same position in the level above needed to have the ability to turn the induction loop off,” explains Cullen. “This is because the RSC sometimes puts an orchestra or band in those areas, so we added key switches to turn the loops off – just in these local areas – to prevent them affecting instruments such as guitars.” The Courtyard Theatre has been built on the car park of what was The Other Place and will house the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions while the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is refurbished and restored to its original state.

In 2010 the refurbishment will be complete and the Courtyard Theatre will be demolished. In the meantime, fans of Shakespeare with and without hearing disability will be able to enjoy the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances in a venue that demonstrates that the RSC has thought very seriously about its patrons.

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