Steve La Cerra gets to stop in once a year at many of the fine old theaters across the country; it's always a pleasure, he says, when he walks into a new P.A.

Test driving new gear is always fun, so I was excited to be returning to the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, N.Y., this past weekend. I worked a show there about a year ago, and the installed P.A. system was a bit tired. At the time, there were murmurs that a new line array was on the horizon; when I spoke with Technical Director Greg “Clutch” Reilly to advance this year’s show, he informed me that I would be the first outside engineer using the new P.A.

Some background on the venue: The Suffolk Theater is the last remaining movie house built by architect R. Thomas Short, and is also the last remaining art deco theater on Long Island.

The venue, with a capacity that ranges from 500-1,000, opened on December 30, 1933, and since that time has seen quite a few ups and downs. During World War II the Suffolk Theater was an official issuing agent for U.S. war bonds. The theater closed in 1987 and was up for sale until 1994 when the Town of Riverhead purchased it. It then sat largely unused until 2005 when it was purchased by Dianne and Bob Castaldi, who had vision of creating a unique performing arts center.

Fortunately, that vision included restoration and refurbishment, as opposed to demolition. The past five years have seen the Suffolk Theater transformed into a beautiful performance space hosting national acts, including Adrian Belew, Ani DiFranco, Darlene Love, Sugar Hill Gang, Rob Schnieder and Judy Collins, among others.

The new P.A. install was performed by Reilly, Suffolk Theater Systems Tech Jamie Spear and Buddy Braille of North Shore Theatrical Rigging. “I’ve been anticipating this for a long time,” Reilly says. "I started thinking about this in terms of architecture a long time ago, and shot the positioning of the hang points over and over to make sure that they wouldn’t interfere with the monitor line but would still cover the room thoroughly. That’s how we came up with the location for the hang.”

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As he points to the hang points in the ceiling, Reilly reveals, “Above this, it’s all 1933—steel lathe and plaster. We made a three-inch hole in the ceiling and brought up an escutcheon from the bottom. All of the cabling went through it, as did the chain hoist. We had to reinforce the support in the ceiling to make sure it wouldn’t sag, so the rafters are beefed up and we have steel straps. Design calculations were handled by dBTechnologies Systems Engineer Matthew Whitman; he and [our dB rep] Marvin Welkowitz were a great help beginning to end.”

The hang comprises dBTechnologies VIO L210 line array cabinets, four per side, hung directly underneath a VIO S118 subwoofer. All of the cabinets are active; each L210 generates 900 watts (RMS) and a maximum SPL of 135 dB, while the S118’s amplification produces 1,600 watts (RMS) for a maximum SPL of 139 dB, and can reach down to 33 Hz.

The side hang of four dBTechnologies VIO L210 cabinets, topped by a VIO S118 sub.

The side hang of four dBTechnologies VIO L210 cabinets, topped by a VIO S118 sub.

The entire system is networked for control and monitoring of system performance. System tuning was done by Chief Monitor Engineer Jacob Levesque and Production Manager Melissa Procopio. As Levesque explains, “We’re using dBTechnologies’ Auroranet to manage the system. Right now we have the bottom cabinet on each side attenuated 4 dB, and the next-to-bottom cabinet on each side attenuated 3 dB relative to the top two cabinets. This helps prevent blowing out the seats closest to the stage.”

Mixing on the new system is a marked improvement compared to the old P.A. Intelligibility is tremendously increased, and coverage throughout the room is much more consistent. The mix position is still a bit tough due to its distance from the stage, but walking the room with an iPad running control software for the Avid Venue SC48 was a treat. Listening on the floor, the P.A. was tight, clear and plenty loud. Happy New Gear to the Suffolk Theater!