The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in innovation and new capabilities for Glen Street Theatre.

Digital film and stage equipment upgrades have improved Glen Street’s ability to showcase performances that are hosted in the 400-seat theatre at Belrose.

Emerging from COVID lockdowns, the theatre has once again been hosting a variety of live stage performances. However, throughout the pandemic staff were forced to innovate on ways to allow performances to continue, while being unable to physically fill the theatre.

According to Glen Street Theatre Technical Director Damian Barber, the solution was capturing and streaming the performances on video, but a typical professional setup was beyond the reach of a COVID constrained budget.

The need to find a solution suitable for capturing performances in the theatre that would fit within a tight budget spurred Mr Barber to look at innovative solutions, which is when he came across Australian company Blackmagic Design.

Blackmagic Design manufacture broadcast-quality video equipment at significantly lower cost than traditional equipment suppliers, such as Sony. Their platform is now widely used in professional video production, including Hollywood. In 2016, they acquired Fairlight, the professional audio company that was founded on the Northern Beaches.

For well under $20k, Mr Barber was able to fully equip Glen Street Theatre with broadcast grade video equipment, to allow events to continue through the pandemic.

According to Mr Barber (image above), the Blackmagic Design equipment has significantly expanded the capabilities of Glenn Street Theatre, allowing events such as the Sydney North Public School Dance Festival to continue last year.

“It’s all the local primary schools and high schools. For two weeks, we have 126 different schools come through and they all do a dance number. Normally, we’d have 300 students performing and 400 people in the audience.

“They couldn’t do that, so they decided to do video and then put it on the big screen. So we set up a bunch of cameras, all different angles, and got really different views from the auditorium, recording each dance,” said Mr Barber.

Mr Barber is enthusiastic about the additional capability the video production system, including a professional workflow solution, adds to Glenn Street Theatre, allowing an already valuable asset to deliver more to the community.

“We were recording each dance and I was live switching, it was actually all edited live. What this [ATEM Mini video switcher, image above] does is record directly to a hard disk, and it creates a DaVinci Resolve file. You plug it into your computer, open it, and all the transitions are there.

“Not only that, it records all the cameras simultaneously. It records nine files, up to eight cameras, plus the one that I’m switching. You can go back in and decide if you want another camera instead, just click a button and it drops that one in. It’s so easy.

“I had 26 minutes from when they started the dance to when I had to start the next dance. In that time, I live edited, loaded it into DaVinci Resolve, fixed it up, dropped in the intro and exit screens, and saved it out as a MP4 (video file).

 “I had 26 minutes for each one of those, and I had 126 of them to do. I couldn’t have done it without this. There’s absolutely no way it could have been done without that sort of workflow,” explained Mr Barber.

The improvement in Glen Street Theatre’s capacity has already proven popular, but the innovative solution has run a little ahead of Northern Beaches Council’s ability to charge for it.

“Because we’re council operated, we have fees and charges. There is no fee and charge for this yet. We can’t just all of a sudden say, I want to charge this much money for this. It has to be put into the budget and then charged for the following year. As of June, we’ve got a video package we can charge for,” said Mr Barber.

Not all the recent enhancements to Glen Street Theatre have been digital, with Mr Barber showing off the improved ‘fly lines’ that drop staging down to the stage during a performance (image above).

“Originally it was 26 [fly lines] and we upgraded to 40, that allowed us to get more leeway. If we put lights on a lighting bar, we can’t use the two lines either side of that.

“A lot of the new venues have all electric, which I don’t actually like because they’re very limited unless you have an extremely expensive system. They’re one speed up and down. With these, you can really go from very slow to really fast,” said Mr Barber.

Glen Street Theatre has also installed a $15k Lumens Projector to enable it to show films and documentaries in high quality. Mr Barber said they would soon be showing rock climbing and snowboarding films, but the main purpose for Glen Street Theatre will remain live entertainment.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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