Way back in 1932, Merrie England was the first production to be staged at the Scarborough Open Air Theatre. Back then performances took place on a stage that was located on an island in the middle of the lake. Much has changed since then and following a £3.5m investment from Scarborough Council in 2010 the venue is now a major player in the global touring calendar, attracting artists from The Beach Boys to Little Mix.
Built on the site of Scarborough’s Hodgson’s Slack, the theatre takes advantage of a natural amphitheatre and features 5,454 permanent fixed seats. Understanding its potential for growth, the council owned venue teamed up with Cuffe & Taylor, one of the UK’s fastest-growing promoters,in 2016 to help the venue flourish.
Stuart Clark, Open Air Theatre’s Venue Manager, explained: “We started working with Cuffe & Taylor in this current relationship in 2016 and they’ve brought in acts we had talked to in the past but hadn’t been able to bring here because we didn’t have the production capabilities or they were out of our budget.
“Over the last few years we’ve taken the venue to a level that we wouldn’t have been able to on our own. I had a conversation with Peter Taylor, of Cuffe & Taylor who said they would be interested in booking the acts for the venue, which for us was a sensible thing to do because we were limited in what we could do, and Cuffe & Taylor had a much bigger reach. This summer we’ve increased the number of events in the concert series to 14 shows, and they’ve also helped us take the bold move to put the decking over the lake, enabling us to increase the capacity with flat seating and bring the artists and audience closer.
“We worked a couple of times with Status Quo and while they raved about the venue they did mention the gap between them and the fans and that’s where the decking has made all the difference.”
It’s not just the decking that has helped enhance the venue, with some of the events industry’s most prestigious suppliers on board the production offering to incoming artists is now better than ever. One such supplier is Symphotech, which began working with the venue in 2017 to help ensure the premises licence conditions were adhered to and give the local council confidence that organisers were ensuring minimum disruption to local residents.
Clark continued: “One of the conditions of the venue licence is carrying out noise monitoring. We’ve always carried it out in the past but the difference this year is that in January we went to Planning and Licensing as we wanted to extend the number of shows. Previously this venue had only held 12 shows a year and for us that was quite restrictive as we wanted to take the venue forward, so we put in an application to extend the number of shows to 30. We can now have 20 in the main part of the season, between April and September, and then 10 out of season. One of the conditions of being granted permission to do that was to carry out more noise monitoring to protect the local residents, and we called in Symphotech to handle that for us.
“Symphotech have worked with Cuffe & Taylor before as well as working with a number of outdoor venues including York Racecourse. The working relationship with Cuffe & Taylor was important because when we spoke to Symphotech’s Julian Spear he knew a lot of the FOH guys already, so it was a logical step to take.”
A team of two noise consultants attended each event, with one stationed at the FOH and one based at a number of monitoring locations around the local area, where the levels were monitored. The reports were fed back to Adlib’s Sound Engineer, Mario Leal, who took action if the levels were looking like they were going to be exceeded.
Symphotech’s Event Safety and Noise Consultant Ian Taylor explained: “We were contracted by Scarborough Borough Council as the event organiser for the Open Air Theatre, and have worked very closely with the licensing team and the environmental protection team, specifically the environmental health officers, who look to deal with public nuisance from noise, and thus far we’ve had a very successful year with no complaints to either the environmental health team and to the venue themselves.
“We monitor three locations outside the site, all within half a mile radius of the venue and then we take an order of priority for monitoring to ensure that the most sensitive location for each event is the one we focus the attention on most. As the site is a natural bowl, the sound is projected across the top of the audience and because its concrete, it does offer some resonance which sends the sound back in the opposite direction and amplifies it upwards as it leaves the amphitheatre which is where some of the noise sensitive locations we are looking at are.
“This week for the series of five events we’re trialling a system in partnership with NTI Audio UK, whereby we are implementing a system of remote monitoring where we have a metre at a fixed location continuously recording sound levels, both ambient background and concert levels, which feeds back via a data server to any internet-enabled device. So as well as monitoring it ourselves, we can provide a link to anybody who needs it such as the event organisers, the promoters, the sound team. We’re also using two NTI XL 2 sound level metres which we use at the FOH and sensitive locations around the perimeter of the site.
“In line with the noise council code of practice Taylor works generically to an LAEQ 15 minute reading, which is a loudness level A weighted, and equalised over 15 minutes that gives him an average of that period. “We can then with the NTI XL 2m, we can have full oversight of any other measurements we want to take such as 5 seconds readings, 10 minute. This enables us to analyse the frequencies to identify which ones might cause problems,” concluded Taylor.
Symphotech worked closely with Adlib, who installed a clever PA design to give the sound engineers lots of control over the system. The team flew line arrays above the audience which offered the ability to reduce sound levels on individual array boxes rather than having to take the whole level down.
Adlib’s FOH System Tech and Audio Crew Chief, Mario Leal, commented: “We’ve loved providing the audio for Scarborough Open Air Theatre. We have an in-house rig, which consists of 9 L-Acoustics KARA +4 SB18’s flown each side, and we have brought loads more KARA boxes to stack up to reinforce the system. The main ground stack is 6 L-Acoustics KARA each side, with 4 extra ARCS. The side stacks consist of two SB28’s, one SB18 and four KARA each side. We also have four L-Acoustics KIVAs for front fills, which are in-house, and 12 L-Acoustics amps LA12X and LA8’s.
“We supply and install the PA and bring our in-house console for supports,” commented Leal. “We look after all the support acts, so I will be mixing these from FOH, however we also bring microphones, consoles to spec, and if they require any outboard we bring this in as well. This week we have DiGiCo SD10 at FOH, that’s the in-house console and the console that both UB40 and George Benson requested. We have a Yamaha CL5 for monitors, we also have a small console which is like a shout system used to run extra lines such as house music, presenter microphones and for the FOH system we’re using a Lake control rack with two LM44’s and two LM26’s.
“The guys at Symphotech have been great and really easy to work with. It takes some pressure off our shoulders having someone who can speak directly to the FOH and the fact their team is completely independent and knowledgeable is fantastic. They’re doing a great job.”
In 2015, Cuffe & Taylor signed a five-year agreement to host 12 shows a year at the North Yorkshire Theatre, which was previously run in-house by the local council. With its help, and with the help from prestigious incoming suppliers, the venue is flourishing and this year witnessed over 70,000 sales for the season, with 55% of tickets being purchased by people from outside the area.
Jason Cotillard, Commercial Director of Cuffe & Taylor commented: “Over the last few years Scarborough Open Air Theatre has become a place where people are excited to play, it’s a great venue for bands to add onto their touring schedule. With the calibre of artists that we’re now attracting, it’s a concert series that offers something for everyone, which allows as many people as possible to experience the wonders of the venue.”
Clark continued: “I’ve lived here all my life and can remember when they were holding small shows here and when the seats were just wooden boards. It’s totally different now and is a great venue and a real bonus for Scarborough… we genuinely cannot wait to see what the next few years bring.”
This July, it was announced that Live Nation is to take over the operation of Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre from its subsidiary, Cuffe & Taylor, and build on the success of the venue. This partnership will help the venue to flourish further with Live Nation requesting to work with the council on providing a permanent standing area in front of the stage, which would increase the theatre’s capacity and enable it to benefit from increased revenue and prestigious acts.
Photos: Plaster Communications