Indiana Integrator Helps Bring 1920s Tivoli Theatre Back to Life

June 5, 2014

It’s rare when a custom integration company has the chance to work on a project with historical significance and one that literally brings a town together for a common purpose. But that, in a nutshell, is what happened to Bloomington, Indiana’s Experience Technology when the eight-year- old company participated in the massive renovation of the Tivoli Theatre in nearby Spencer, IN, first as a consultant and then as a paid contractor.

Spencer, Indiana’s Tivoli Theatre (above and below), post-renovation
The result of the project was the resurrection of a beloved 1920s cinema/playhouse that had fallen in such disrepair that pigeons were roosting backstage and daylight shone through the roof down to the waterlogged floor.

For Experience Technology, it was a family connection from one of its key employees, Tyson Jordan, that brought company president/system designer Eric Stiening into the mix. First, Stiening offered his help as a technology advisor after the Cook philanthropy group agreed to fund the project, and later took the lead on choosing a commercial-grade projector, screen, and audio combination even though the vast majority of his previous work had been residential. It was the day when the renovation board asked for a recommendation on a movie screen for the theater that Stiening said he was hooked.

“First and foremost they wanted it to be the best movie theater that it could be, then a live performance space second,” he said. “That would mean finding a really big screen that could be removed somehow.”

The first thought was to go with a motorized screen, but Stiening didn’t want to risk mechanical failure or wrinkles in the screen. Moving to the idea of a fixed, permanently tensioned screen, Stiening suggested a meeting with Stewart Filmscreen to see how such a product could be lifted into the “fly area” above the stage when not in use.

“To call Stewart and say I had an opportunity for a 300-inch, four-way motorized masking that was going to fly was a tough nut to crack because I’m a resi guy usually selling 110- and 120-inch screens,” Stiening recalled.”

A meeting at CEDIA EXPO, however, followed by many conversations with Stewart commercial sales manager Hideki Okamoto, got a plan in place that began to take shape.

The end result was a 144-inch x 256.25-inch (294-inch diagonal at 1.78:1 aspect ratio) Stewart perforated fixed-frame Screenwall four-way Electrimask with attached JBL 3732 three-way bi-amplified ScreenArray cinema loudspeakers for LCRs, and two JBL ASB6128 high power dual 18- inch subwoofers, all designed to fly into the rafters of the stage when not in use.

The beloved 1920s cinema/playhouse had fallen into such disrepair that pigeons were roosting backstage and daylight shone through the roof down to the waterlogged floor.
“The screen never touches the floor,” Stiening said. “It’s suspended about an inch and a half up to maintain the proper tension (when deployed).”

The JBL 3732 don’t usually fly with a screen, so a rig had to be custom fabricated by Beck Studios to hold about 2,000 pounds of gear. Fortunately, the dual 18-inch subs already had rigging points integrated into them from the factory.

The screen is by no means IMAX size, but it is properly sized for the auditorium. “The modern cineplex would have a larger, wider screen,” Stiening said, “but this theater was designed in a time when we weren’t dealing with big screens, so we just took the perimeters we were given and maximized the size in the space and then have the ability to press a button backstage and the entire system raises 12.5 feet off the ground.”

With no intention of screening 3D movies, Stiening and Okamoto chose a Studiotek 130 CinePerf screen surface that matched up with the very bright Christie CP2220 projector, a commercial offering that was a first-time selection for the residential integrators. The whole renovation group visited the nearby Indiana University Cinema to sample both 4K and 2K with the same screen size needed for the Tivoli. All agreed that 2K would be more than sufficient for the screen size. Plus it was a better fit for the budget.

Experience Technology installed a 144-inch x 156.25-inch Stewart Filmscreen perforated fixed-frame Screenwall four-way Electrimask with attached JBL 3732 three-way bi-amplified ScreenArray cinema loudspeakers for LCRs, and two JBL ASB6128 high power dual 18-inch subwoofers, all designed to fly into the rafters of the stage when not in use.
“Our overall goal was to make it as appropriate as possible without going overboard just because we had Cook [financing] us,” Stiening noted. “When we sat front row at the IU Cinema and looked at a 2K image, it was fabulous.”

Besides a great picture, another benefit of the Christie projector is its ability to work with a JNIOR automation controller that enabled the designers to build macros to initiate house light dimming through a Kneisley automated three-stage dimmer, screen masking changes, and audio cues. Movies arrive from a distributor on a hard drive that loads into Christie’s IMB-S2 integrated media block digital cinema server. For church, library, and birthday groups that rent the facility, an Integra DBS-50.3 Blu-ray disc player is also available.

The rest of the system includes 10 Klipsch KL-6504-THX in-wall loudspeakers for surround channels, which were selected because they blended into the ornate décor better than the commercial-quality JBL surrounds. Seven Crown CDi1000 amplifiers provide discrete channels for each surround speaker, as well as each (mid-range and tweeter portion (hi-mid pack) on the JBL 3732s. Two Crown CDi2000 amplifiers provide discrete power for each JBL 3732 low-frequency enclosure as well, and a Crown I-T5000HD provides a discrete amp channel for each JBL ASB6128.

When the screen “flies” into the rafters of the stage for live-theater performances, it is completely hidden from view.

When the theater re-opened last spring, the town of Spencer couldn’t have been happier. Since then, movie- and theater-goers have come from miles around every weekend to experience the Tivoli, and children love to examine the night-time sky ceiling with fiber-optic stars, which replicates the exact constellation above the Tivoli from the night it first opened, December 31, 1928, at 9 p.m.

“There was a lot of surprise and emotion,” Jordan recalled of the second opening night, in May 2013. “I still get a lot of comments from people who grew up here, like I did, saying that it never looked like this, at least in our lifetime.”

One of the original projectionists from the 1930s, who is old enough to recall what the original Tivoli looked like, has returned to give his endorsement as well. “This is what I remember,” he said. “This is what the Tivoli looked like.”

Jeremy J. Glowacki is the editorial director of Residential Systems and SCN.

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