July 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 2000 Current Issue
July 2000 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:




If you will be hanging technical equipment, always evaluate what’s above your head

Aside from construction crews and entertainment technicians, few people look up when they enter a room. But the ceiling is important both for what is there and for what might be missing. For meetings with substantial technical requirements, the condition of the ceiling is critical.

How high is the ceiling? Is it flat? Is it obstructed by chandeliers and low-hanging soffits? Is it hard plaster? Does it have removable ceiling tiles? Are there obvious rigging attachment points? Can equipment be rigged to it at all?

Ballrooms are not theaters, yet we insist on turning them into showrooms every time we set up a large general session. To do this, we hang heavy things from the ceiling.

Rigging points must be available to carry the load. Regardless of the attachment method, the most important question is how much weight will the ceiling support at each point, and how far apart are the points? Rigging points rated at 250 pounds per point every 20 feet will not support a lighting truss or even a decent-size speaker cluster. If you are doing an event that requires a lot of equipment to be hung from the ceiling, the points should be able to hold a minimum of 750 pounds each and should be roughly 10 feet apart.

While you are asking about the rigging, check to see if the riggers have CAD drawing files on the facility. Odds are, if anyone has them, the riggers will. They will be invaluable to your production company. The best file format is a drafting program like AutoCAD, not a graphics format like Photoshop.

Hotel lighting systems vary greatly in their capabilities and reliability. Get as much detail as you can on the circuit plan and the means by which the dimmers are controlled. Ask if a lighting board can be brought in and attached to the dimmers to control them from one spot. Ask what protocol the dimmers respond to. DMX is the preferred protocol.

One tough question you will have to ask: How reliable is the system? Does it work all the time or only some of the time? And how difficult is it to program? The answers to these questions will determine if you will be able to use the hotel’s lighting or if you will have to bring in your own.

Some ballrooms have grand and glorious chandeliers. These are the bane of a lighting designer’s existence, because they are invariably in the way. They never work with whatever stage decor or theme has been planned. They only work when the room is left in its natural state as the architect originally envisioned it. But it is far less expensive to plan around the chandeliers than it is to remove them.

If you are thinking about using the installed ceiling speaker system, ask for a test. Plug a single microphone into the system and have your sales rep speak to you from a podium. If you like the way it sounds, use the system. If you do not like it, bring in your own. Do not test the system with music unless your meeting is all about music. If your meeting is primarily intelligible spoken words, then your test should reflect that.

If possible, listen to the sound system in the room configuration you will be using. If half the ballroom will be set up with the stage on the airwall, then listen to the system with the microphone at the airwall and half the ballroom open. Listen for echoes as you walk. Make sure what you hear is clear everywhere you stand.

Remember, the ceiling is the foundation of substantial support equipment, without which we would neither hear nor see our speakers. So next time you check out a room, be sure to look up.

Bob Cherny is operations manager for Paradise Sound and Light, a production company based in Orlando.

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