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Touches of Technology

September 21, 1986|RANDY LEWIS | Randy Lewis is a Times staff writer.

Every night the Orange County Performing Arts Center is open, a meticulous recording will be made and later inspected by technical operations director Philip Mosbo. Mosbo's recording, however, won't resonate with the silky shimmer of violin strings; instead it will be a computer printout charting the performance of an innovative air-conditioning system, one of the many technologically advanced touches in the center's design.

This air-conditioning system obtains cool air not as the result of electrical cooling but from massive blocks of ice that fill two basement-level tanks the size of railroad cars. The system has been given energy rebates and an energy-efficiency award from Southern California Edison, because water will be frozen in the hours after midnight, when energy demand is lowest. The system will also help minimize traditional air-conditioning noise.

Maintaining a constant, comfortable temperature will be a complex task, Mosbo says, because of the large number of variables that go into the formula, ranging from the number and intensity of lights and the size of the audience to the type of performance. That's why Mosbo will be depending on a computer printout of the system's performance to guide him.

"It will be harder to estimate (air-conditioning needs) on one-night productions," Mosbo says. "But on extended runs, we'll get a computer readout of peak energy needs, of when cooling was and wasn't adequate, and from that we can make adjustments for the next performance. We'll have several types (of pre-programmed settings): opera, full house; opera, half house; symphony, full house, etc."

From that computer-assisted air-conditioning system, to a sectional "fly-away" orchestra shell, to retractable sound-absorbing banners, the goal of the center's designers and builders has been to anticipate every need of the range of performers who will appear at the center in years to come.

These design requirements have been realized not in a "one-size-fits-all" building but in one building with sizes for all.

"The degree of adjustability is more complete, more advanced than any other hall of its kind," says John Von Szeliski, principal theater-design consultant for the center.

Indeed, almost everything about the center can be raised, lowered, increased, decreased, extended, withdrawn, expanded, contracted, added or removed, depending on the user's needs.

The proscenium opening, for example, is adjustable vertically and horizontally from 25x52 to 45x68 feet, to accommodate various types of performances: large orchestras, plays, solo recitals. The speaker cluster at the top of the stage, forming the upper edge of the proscenium, is part of the house sound system and is motorized for easy raising and lowering.

A sectional "fly-away" orchestra shell will be used for performances of symphonic music. The rear, main section is nearly four feet thick and is connected to a series of gantry cranes. When not needed, the shell can be raised and stored behind suspended theatrical backdrops, utilizing space that otherwise would be wasted. The other portions of the shell's frame have been constructed in telescoping layers that retract into the floor. "The whole process is highly mechanized, so it can be done with few personnel," Mosbo says. "In operating a place like this, budget is always a big consideration."

A special storage compartment next to the stage will house a piano, to minimize disruption when there is a soloist in one portion of a concert.

A projection booth is equipped to accommodate slides, which will be used for Supertitles during opera performances, as well as for 16- and 35-millimeter films.

The theater has been mechanized, automated and computerized to reduce costs and to speed turnaround times between productions. The ability to move quickly from one type of performance to another is essential to the center's ability to schedule, for example, a concert between the closing of an opera and the opening of a ballet, Mosbo says.

"A lot of things that have been done are influenced by the fact that this is a multipurpose facility," Mosbo says. "If we can't change from opera to ballet in 8 to 10 hours, then we can't put a concert in the middle if it takes a day to get to it and a day to get back." He also says that measures to streamline costs will help make the center less expensive for local performing groups.

And there will be no conflict for performing groups preparing for subsequent performances if the main stage is being used. The floor of the main rehearsal studio has been built to the same specifications as the main stage, to provide dancers with a rehearsal surface that has the same spring as the main stage.

"We want to have as much activity as possible to cut down on the number of dark days without cutting down on quality," Mosbo says.

A number of the center's special features will ensure the quality of sound under various conditions.

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