Updated: Sep 27
On a day in late-March 2021, Laconia's Colonial Theatre raised their new sign and marquee, a milestone in the near completion of a multi-faceted renovation to one of the New Hampshire Lake's Regions hidden gems. It also coincided with venue and theater communities beginning to show signs of life while navigating performance-based operations in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic. MFi Pro provided Pro-Audio support for this remarkable transformation. Let's take a walk-through on this unique project.
A long and storied history
Up until a few years before the renovation, the theater had sat vacant since 2002 after an 87-year run. Reports vary as to the actual original opening date (1914 or 1915) but the Laconia Democrat described the performance space in this manner; "One of the handsomest play-houses to be found in New England and far ahead of anything which the average city of Laconia can boast”.
In 1916, the theater joined Charles Waldron's Amusement Enterprises circuit and became known as Waldron's Colonial Theatre with the promise of only playing "First Class Attractions".
The theater played host to mostly stage shows and vaudeville. By the late-20's and early 30's (with the popularity of vaudeville in decline) motion pictures became the main attraction. Notably, the world premiere of "Return to Peyton Place" was held there in 1961 and Author Grace Metalious, who lived in nearby Gilmanton, attended the event.
When renovating such old spaces, there are typically challenges, surprises, or great stories that emerge. It was reported that the original "fire curtain" had been lodged in the up position for some time. Renovation crews left well enough alone for fear of damaging the original piece.
One day (without notice), the curtain fell on it's own exposing a timeless mural of the City of Venice. Perhaps being stuck had preserved the piece; which may have otherwise been exposed to elements or other disruptive renovation processes. Original theater owner Benjamin Piscopo hailed from Venice and had commissioned the piece from local architect George L. Griffin. His desire was to pay homage to his origins while keeping with the Neocolonial interior style.
In 2015, The City of Laconia joined forces with the Belknap Economic Development Council in an effort to purchase, renovate, and restore the former theater as well as retail and apartment space. It would prove to be a multi-step process.
The original theater had a 1400-seat capacity but had been partitioned for four (4) different screens in 1983. In 2016, work began to remove these partitions, which included the removal of large metal work from the theater ceiling - some of which partially obscured original paint works. Surprisingly, many of the original features of the theater were either unintentionally or accidentally preserved behind false walls. This certainly made restoration of these original features more manageable.
MFi Pro teams with Port Lighting on Nexo Installation
The professionals at Port Lighting Systems had been tasked with dimming and control systems, stage circuits, audio, and the all important rigging for the renovation project. It is always a challenge to incorporate safe and reliable rigging elements into projects. Here, we had the added challenge of working around the newly-restored ornate decor. Original builders could not have imagined the audio technology that would one day hang near this decorative backdrop, let alone the rigging required to support it.
For this purpose, Port used Vortek automated line set hoists. A total of 13 in all. Vortek offers a variety of hoists which are known for adaptability in non-standard environments, whether new construction or renovated facilities such as the Colonial. With variable configurations, Vortek employs single point of failure prevention into their designs while blending counterweight and motorized rigging on a single stage. These hoists would become the backbone on which the NEXO Speaker Arrays would hang.
NEXO Speaker Arrays - the Live Performance "Go To"
The NEXO GEO M Series was chosen as the primary Loudspeaker system. MFi Pro has installed many GEO M Series systems in venues throughout New England. For this series in particular, NEXO describes them as both powerful and flexible. We have certainly found this to be the case. MFi Pro is the premiere NEXO loudspeaker dealer in southern New Hampshire. Please check out our NEXO product page.
For as many professional rigging safeguards that were installed at the Colonial, the compact and lightweight speaker construction (consisting of polyurethane composite) does not compromise sound quality.
The GEO M Series provide high-output, full-range sound and consistently even venue coverage. They are more compact than other competitor speaker systems in their class. Touring and Installation versions are available; the latter of which can be specified in any RAL color for low visual impact or to coordinate interior themes and elements.
A majority of the Colonial's hanging arrays are made up of installation versions of NEXO GEO M1012-I's. These cabinets can be set for 80° or 120° horizontal dispersion using magnetic flanges in the wave guide, with no tools required. They provide 12° of vertical dispersion.
For added dispersion, a NEXO GEO M1025-I was added to each column array. While they can be set for same 80° or 120° horizontal dispersion range as the M1012-I's, these cabinets provide an additional 25° of vertical dispersion (essentially double that of the M1012-I's). This evens out coverage for this particular room.
To cover the low frequency spectrum, a combination of NEXO GEO MSUB15-I's and GEO MSUB15's were mounted at the top of each array. They fit nicely atop the M1012-I's because they share the same width. Typical in many low frequency applications, the placement of these cabinets near walls or ceilings helps exploit their true bass response. This type of placement is true of most any sub-woofer product.
The MSUB15's are constructed from Baltic birch ply with large composite bumpers on the corners. Employing a single 15″ diameter / 3″ voice coil Neodymium driver in a high-efficiency band pass cabinet, they are designed with a quadratic shaped profiled port.
To complete the NEXO lineup, a total of 8 NEXO ID24 4" two-way speakers were installed at or near stage level. Four were the Touring version (designed for quick deployment and removal) and four were the install versions for fixed installations such as this.
While the "flown" arrays hanging from the theater ceilings ensure uniform coverage at the farthest reaches of the room, ID24's are designed to ‘beam’ sound into the first rows of the audience from the stage, ensuring total coverage and the best listening experience throughout a venue.
With a unique user-rotatable horn that lets users quickly select between 120° x 40° or 40° x 120° HF coverage, ID24 brings unparalleled flexibility to the world of compact speakers with a cabinet that delivers trademark NEXO sound and performance, whether mounted horizontally or vertically.
Power and Processing: The simplicity of NEXO's Plug and Play
Matching power amplifiers and speaker impedance used to require unique pairing and planning. NEXO and Yamaha collaborated to create the perfect, light weight power and control solution for NEXO loudspeaker systems. The NEXO NXAMP4X1MK2, rated at 4 X 1300 Watts, was selected to drive the M1012-I arrays. The unit combines advanced signal processing with four state-of-the-art Class D amplifiers and a large color touchscreen; easily viewable in low light conditions.
64-bit signal processing delivers significant advances in sound quality. Bass is solid and high-end definition is particularly impressive in a sonic performance that is both articulate and rich with detail. Even at low volumes, the sound is noticeably transparent and pure.
For remote and network integration, a NEXO NXDT104MK2 card was installed. Based on Dante Networking technology, the card is capable of receiving 4 audio streams in Dante TM Format (24 bits / 44.1 – 96 kHz). A unique 3-port system can be use as an integrated 3 port gigabit switch, as two Dante™ redundant ports, plus an optional 3rd port for additional remote control from any computer on the local LAN.
Honorable Equipment mentions
Every custom installation is different and consists of many components. Here are a few that are quietly running in the background but are an integral part of the system upgrade nonetheless.
With NEXO handling Stage and Production sound, Yamaha Commercial Installed Loudspeaker products also found their way into non-production areas of the theater project. In particular, Yamaha VXC6W, VXC8W, and VXS5 speakers can be found throughout common areas; whether that is to accommodate ambient background music or make theater-wide public address announcements.
No theater would be complete without a stage box solution. A small stage-side rack to accommodate multiple inputs and outputs. The Yamaha Tio1608-D is one such box. Designed to work in conjunction with Yamaha TF Series Digital Consoles, the Dante-enabled box provides 16 inputs and 8 outputs.
Advanced signal processing over Ethernet is also well represented. QSC-based Attero Tech D16 Mio is a high-performance networked audio interface supporting Dante with 16 channels of studio-grade amplifiers, each with +48 V switchable phantom power. The unit offers both RJ-45 and SFP connectivity; which enables fiber optic connectivity for long-range signal extension.
The London BLU-806DA has similar capabilities - but interoperability is the name of the game here. Four card slots (with six different available I/O card options) present almost unlimited connectivity of Analog, Digital, and even Telephone Hybrid signals. That's only the beginning. You'll find an impressive roster of additional features in such a small hardware footprint.
In the many incarnations of the Colonial Theatre over the last 107 years, there surely was more than one "final curtain call" along the way. The best of times, and the worst of times. When this renovation project first began in 2019, no one could have predicted that a 100-year pandemic was around the corner.
After all, the 1918 Pandemic had yet to happen at the time the theater first opened. In the midst of the renovation, questions lingered. Could live venue and theater communities reemerge on the other side of such a monumental event?
Nervousness permeated with some of the out-of-state contractors, understandably. On the other hand, those that were fully invested saw it as an opportunity to be associated with a "once in a lifetime" renovation. Many theaters like the Colonial had simply been knocked down over time. For the Colonial Theatre Steering Committee, this was never an option and they ultimately saw it through. Bravo!
In many ways, the Colonial Theatre renovation project is an exercise in true perseverance. Laconia City Councilor Bob Hamel estimated that 200+ meetings had occurred before much of the work had begun. And so, the curtain will indeed rise again in a unique theater that has been restored to early 1900's splendor. Here's to another 100+...
MFi Pro enjoyed being part of such a historic project. Lending our vast expertise with a delicate installation of this nature is just part of what we do. If you're considering a custom AV Installation or System Integration upgrade, you can schedule a free, no-obligation site visit with us at any time. Contact MFi Pro Today!
Contributor Links and Media:
The Colonial Theatre - Laconia NH
WMUR's New Hampshire Chronicle feature on the Colonial Theatre Restoration
After The Final Curtain - Colonial Theatre
Union Leader - Signs Point To Near Completion of Laconia Theater Restoration
Colonial Theatre renovation nears finish line
At Colonial Theatre, a sign of coming attractions
609 Main Street
NEXO GEO M Series ,ID Series, Power & Processing
Yamaha Commercial Installed Loudspeakers
Attero Tech - Synapse D16Mio by QSC
London Blu-806A Signal Processor by BSS Audio - Harman
ETC Connect - Vortek Control Pendants
MFi Pro - Creative A/V Solutions