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Shell will improve sound in Charlotte's Knight Theater

Long-awaited acoustical shell for Charlotte’s Knight Theater arrives

The Knight Theater might be more peaceful if there were merely a rock concert going on.

There isn’t a show at all. Instead, the shriek of power tools fills the theater. Three years after its opening, the South Tryon Street venue is finally getting its finishing touches.

In a few days, the theater will have an acoustical shell: an enclosure that moves into place to surround the stage during concerts, helping push the sound where it belongs.

“It will help throw the sound into the audience. They will feel surrounded by the music,” said Christopher Warren-Green, the Charlotte Symphony’s music director.

A lot of assembly comes first.

Pipes that lift thousands of pounds of theater sets rest on the stage. Installers kneel over them, attaching support cables and electrical wires. At the front of the stage, maple-stained wood panels – the pieces audiences will see – peek out from half-opened crates.

“It’s like cabinetmaking,” says Bill Dantos, technical director of Blumenthal Performing Arts, which operates the theater. Even though the shell will total nearly 30,000 pounds, workers have to handle its components with care.

Last week, the technicians assembled the three ceiling sections. The 10 side towers have come together this week. The climax comes Friday, when they’re all put together and an acoustical designer adjusts the fit.

Whenever the massive sections are swung into place for concerts, they’ll create an unbroken, room-like enclosure – like the shell many concertgoers have seen in the Halton Theater at Central Piedmont Community College. Between concerts, the ceiling sections will hoist out of view above the stage. The sides will nest in an alcove at the stage’s rear.

The shell comes from the Wenger Corp., a Minnesota manufacturer that has outfitted arts centers, school auditoriums and other venues nationwide for decades. Blumenthal had the company dress up its Diva model with wood veneer that “visually and acoustically is warmer,” Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard said. Decorative details will tie in with the design of the auditorium.

The shell’s main user will be the Charlotte Symphony, which relies on the theater’s acoustics – not amplification – for its impact on audiences. But the shell will boost any music or theater group that performs unplugged, Gabbard said.

The original specifications for the theater called for a shell to be installed at the outset. The money that built the theater and the rest of Levine Center for the Arts – mainly tax money – would have paid for it. But it fell victim to cost-cutting during the planning.

Blumenthal now will pay the shell’s price tag of about $600,000, Gabbard said. While the shell’s most obvious benefits are visual and sonic, he added, there’s a financial payoff, too. The Charlotte Symphony will move some concerts to the Knight from the larger Belk Theater, making an opening for more Broadway Lights shows.

“This frees up time in the Belk so we can move Broadway shows from Ovens (Auditorium), where our costs run a minimum of $25,000 per week higher,” Gabbard said. “We’re putting that savings into buying the shell.”

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