Designed in the 1960s and constructed in the 1970s, the Barbican Centre was opened on 3 March 1982 by Her Majesty the Queen who described it as 'one of the wonders of the modern world'. Owned, funded and managed by the Corporation of London, the third largest sponsor of the arts in the UK, it was built as 'the City's gift to the nation' at an historical capital cost of £161million, equivalent to almost £400 million today.
Since 1998, the Barbican has become one of the most important promoters of international theatre in the UK through its BITE (Barbican International Theatre Events) programme. Initially occupying six months per year, the season became a continuous year-round programme in summer 2002 following the relocation of then permanent residents, the Royal Shakespeare Company to their new Stratford headquarters.
For 34 weeks of the year, the 1100 seat Barbican Theatre and its diminutive neighbour The Pit Theatre, act as a receiving house for leading international theatre and dance companies with the remainder of the calendar being given over to corporate and education events. Over the past five years, the sound department has had to reinvent itself and the equipment needs of the theatre have changed dramatically in order to cope with the demands of such diverse performances as Steff Langley, Senior Technical Manager, explains.
“The original equipment was all bought for the Royal Shakespeare Company and had very specific demands made of it. Now we’re doing opera, theatre, dance, pantomime and even puppet shows. Not only do we need to provide a state-of-the-art PA system, we also need to be able to offer a full choice mixing consoles, radio mics and outboard gear for the various engineers to use. The speed of turn around has meant that unlike the West End, we don’t have time to hire gear in so we have to have all the options onsite. The key is having enough equipment that’s all flight-cased up that you can get out at a moments notice”.
Recent editions to The Barbicans equipment roster have included a Yamaha M7CL-48 and 01V96 mixing console, as well as a pair of Yamaha DME64N mix engines.
“Our old routing system was about 15 years old and slowly dying and I was looking for a digital replacement. The DME64N potentially has a huge variety of uses with its on board facilities. We’re currently using it as a 40 x 32 switch-able matrix for both analogue and AES/EBU I/O. The great thing about the Yamaha gear is that the optional I/O cards are interchangeable, so I’m slowly building up a collection that we can use on the DMEs or the new mixers when we need to”.
What the Barbican has done is to develop is a completely new way of working and an infrastructure that can deal with all the demands of the various touring companies. They are now booking performances three years in advance with 2007 fully booked and 2008 already two thirds full.
For more information visit www.barbican.org.uk