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Noted Houston Opera Venue Outfitted With New Clear-Com Communications Backbone

Upgrade at Wortham Theater Center headed by complex Integration of cue lights and intercom systems helps redefine production crew workflow.
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The 1,100-seat Lillie and Roy Cullen Theater, part of the Wortham Theater Center equipped with a new communications backbone comprised of Clear-Com components.

As part of a recent AV systems upgrade project at the Wortham Theater Center in Houston, systems integrator Broadcast Technical Services (BTS). working with consulting firm Jaffe Holden, implemented a complex wireless intercom package utlizing Clear-Com components that’s designed to help the venue’s technical crews work more efficiently, save time and reduce production costs.

Opened in 1987 in downtown Houston’s theater district, the Wortham Theater Center is one of many major opera houses in the U.S., home to the Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera and a diverse schedule of chamber music performances, touring acts and recitals. The venue houses performing arts complex houses two theaters, including the 2,423-seat Alice and George Brown Theater and the 1,100-seat Lillie and Roy Cullen Theater.

Wortham management had already been planning communications system upgrades to the Brown and Cullen venues when Hurricane Harvey hit the area in 2017. The flooding of the basement along with portions of the first floor shut down its electrical infrastructure and damaged a vast amount of cabling for the AV systems, including the existing Clear-Com and cue light systems and most of the Clear-Com equipment.

Being a FEMA restoration project, the systems were required to be replaced by the same equipment that was existing before the flood. For the Clear-Com system, however, some of the critical original equipment was no longer manufacture so a new design had to be created to provide the same functionality.

“It was a massive effort just to assess the damage despite our extensive background in AV consulting, and we relied heavily on the support of BTS to conclude what exactly needed to be replaced.” explains Garth Hemphill, Associate Principal for Audio Visual Systems at Jaffe Holden.

“No equipment would work because it had been sitting in high humidity for several months. To install the new technologies, we had to start from scratch, pulling out the majority of the original cabling in both theaters,” adds Michael Hobart, BTS Vice President of Sales. Part of the Jaffe Holden design included maintaining the cue light system that had been previously controlled via the Clear-Com system. In addition to the FEMA replacement work, Wortham was looking for a new wireless communications system that would work independently in both theaters, ensuring their intercom was future-proof to keep them technologically current for years – a major undertaking considering the damage sustained.

The view of the house from the stage at the Alice and George Brown Theater.

The goals of the project have been enabled through a combination of a FreeSpeak II Digital Wireless intercom system purchased separately by Wortham Center Operating Company, joined by an Eclipse HX-Delta Digital matrix, LQ Series IP interfaces, a Helixnet Digital Network partyline and the Agent-IC mobile app for remote productions. The Wortham cue light systems, a network of 65 cue lights, also runs through Clear-Com’s IP-based V-Series Iris panels with 10-character OLED displays that allow users to identify calls, groups, and functionality with color-based messaging. The cue light systems are supported with 30 relays in the Brown and 24 relays in the Cullen.

“The Wortham holds theatrical and operatic productions, each with different sets of needs and styles of operation,” says BTS owner Bill McKee. “They wanted to make sure everyone was in constant communication in full duplex mode in an environment where 2-way radios are not practical.”

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Supporting the digital communication system are 75 HelixNet stations. including beltpacks, remote stations and wall panels with 13 deployed network switch locations connected via fiber allowing crews to easily tap into each theater. The theater’s LQ system has 96 ports per system, 64 on one card and 32 on another, with the HelixNet Digital Network Partyline System supporting up to 190 drop locations.

“They couldn’t do what they’re doing now efficiently without these technologies,” Hobart concludes. “From the basement to the 6th floor, you’re always on the intercom. BTS and Clear-Com engineering were able to facilitate all their requests, and that wouldn’t have been possible without Clear-Com’s 24/7 support.”

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