Theater Design Team Dynamics

October 7, 2011

Defining and Maintaining the Roles on a Project Team

Sam Cavitt ( is president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, Hawaii, and Carlsbad, California.

The creation of a great private theater is similar to team sports in that it takes a collective effort to succeed, and each member of the team has an impact on the success of every other.

To go about being an effective member of a successful private theater design team, first you must identify what the overall project scope represents. For the sake of this example we will talk about a dedicated private theater being constructed, either in a new construction project or in a home’s new addition. This type of project would represent the full complement of potential “players” as the tasks to be accomplished are extensive. These tasks include:

• Building architecture, including structural, electrical, and mechanical engineering

„„• Interior design including concept creation, lighting design, and finish selection

• Theater performance design and engineering, including acoustical engineering, video system engineering, and documentation of the theater’s functional construction

„„• Theater room design, including concept integration with function and interior construction documentation

„„• General construction, including plan check and permitting, project management, and all subcontract work.

• Specialty construction, including isolation construction, subsystem and lowvoltage wiring and rough-in, and specialty interior construction and interior finishes

„„• System contracting, including design and engineering, system procurement, installation, programming, and testing and final calibration

It is our responsibility to identify our own skills, bring the right teammates to the game and deliver on the promise of a great private theater experience.

Once the scope of the project is established and the project teams are selected, a “game plan” needs to be developed. The scope of a dedicated theater is outlined in the sidebar on this page. The players for such a project should include a client, architect, interior designer, theater designer, integrator, general contractor, and specialty subcontractors. In some cases one player executes several of these tasks. However, each task represents specific skill sets or core competencies and should be looked upon as such. So, if one player is wearing several hats, that player needs to truly deliver those services at the top level.

The project team needs to use the right person for each task. For instance, many architects can create a theater layout that fits in well with the rest of the home’s design. However, many of the intricacies, such as acoustical listening positions, isolation construction, and appropriate sight lines are better provided by a theater designer. Additionally, while input from other team members is valuable, each player must respect the other. The general principal is that to provide the best results for a winning theater, each member of the team should constrain their work to their core competency. A team member who is operating outside of their specialty is diminishing the team’s results as well as their individual effectiveness. A team member that is inappropriately influencing another’s work, outside of their core competency, is interfering with the team’s dynamics.

Each team member also must “own” their job. If I, as the theater designer, have been tasked with providing optimized seating positions based on acoustical analysis, I need to undertake all the requisite analysis and provide understandable and useable documentation for the rest of the team. If I fumble, then the whole team takes the loss.

Another issue that arises is the question of redundancy. Many clients have the perception that an ESC or integrator should be able to provide all the needed home theater advice, at little or no cost, or that the interior designer can handle all of the design integration of an interior concept within the functional parameters of the room. By diligently planning the demarcation between tasks, each team member will add irreplaceable value, and the results would be diminished without each member’s contribution.

As an industry, let’s be the leaders of a winning team. It is our responsibility to identify our own skills, bring the right teammates to the game and deliver on the promise of a great private theater experience.

Skill Sets for the Job

To accomplish this list of tasks listed at the beginning of this article, the following skill sets are required:









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