Nestled in the massive Madinat Jumeirah resort complex, the Madinat Theatre has established itself as Dubai's default venue for touring theatre productions and mid-size live concerts and corporate events.
The venue was the first of its kind to be built in Dubai, and signified the emirate's ambitions to establish itself as a leading regional centre for the arts, and perhaps more tellingly, as a more appealing destination for touring international theatre productions.
On both counts, venue operator the Jumeirah Group has capitalised on this ambition. Indeed, the venue has welcomed a steady stream of local and international productions, ranging from Christmas pantomimes to ballet performances and international theatre productions of Mamma Mia and more recently Stomp.
Madinat Theatre and Box Office manager Richard Evans claims each of these productions have showcased the technical capabilities of the venue.
"It really is a top-class theatre in terms of its technical specification," he claims. "It has a full-fly floor, great sound and lighting system and the sight lines from an audience perspective are fantastic."
Evans says each production staged at the venue presents its own set of unique challenges regardless of its physical scale.
"In terms of technical complexity, the Christmas pantomimes staged here are more challenging than you might think, particularly in regards to set design and props," he explains.
We prefer to stage productions that are technically challenging, because these shows showcase the qualities of the theatre itself.
Understandably, given the venue's maximum capacity of 432 guests, Evans suggests its relatively compact design lends itself to more intimate productions.
"The configuration of the venue also means that it is one of the few in the world that enables the audience to get so close to the action on stage," he says. "Typically, the audience is separated from the production by an orchestra pit, but in our case they are right there in the thick of the action."
Despite this, the venue has leant itself to more ambitious productions which have stretched its technical limits.
"We faced some issues when we staged a performance by the Russian ballerina Anastasia Volochkova in April last year," explains Evans. "She had never performed at a venue with a capacity of less than 3000 people, let alone 500, but she'd visited Dubai on holidays and wanted to perform in the theatre. She was convinced that it was ideal for what she wanted to achieve in terms of her performance. But she still insisted on the installation of a full rig similar to what she would have had at one of her regular performances."
We ended up literally using every single piece of equipment we had available, and there was some re-plugging going on during the show. We actually ran out of flying bars at one point.
Most of the touring ballet productions that perform here are not used to playing in such an intimate venue. However, we do hold an advantage in that we are the only venue in Dubai that is relatively suited in terms of the equipment we have access to that facilitates these types of productions.
For example, dance productions benefit from the fact the venue boasts a warm-up area to the rear of the stage which includes a mirrored area and ballet bars. It can also be used as a quick-change area.
Indeed, given the financial backing of the Jumeirah Group and the scope of the Madinat Jumeirah resort itself, it is little surprise that the Madinat Theatre is one of the most technically advanced purpose-built facilities in the Middle East.
In addition to a comprehensive list of built-in sound and lighting equipment, venue management also has access to a range of gear used in adjacent Madinat venues, including the massive Trilogy nightclub, 4,500-capacity Madinat Arena and Madinat conference centre.
The Madinat Theatre holds a significant advantage over rival facilities including the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Palace theatre auditorium, in that it boasts a comprehensively equipped flying rig.
"The PA system and flying rig are technically advanced and perfectly suited to the venue's requirements," says Adrian Lindley, Madinat Jumeirah's AV Production manager.
The flying rig includes 25 counterweight flying bars, three LX bars on winches, and front tabs.
Lindley also manages the technical requirements of the ballrooms, conference centre and Trilogy nightclub, which he says enables him to allocate equipment for different events in each venue as required.
"This means we have access to a vast range of equipment at any one point in time," he says. "We rarely have to hire in any additional sound or lighting gear, but if we do it's usually specialised equipment such as Hammond organs."
In terms of built-in audio technology, the Madinat Theatre boasts a range of equipment including a discreetly installed EAW PA system in the proscenium arch, fills under the stage and in the ceiling, and effects fills installed in decorative panels within the main auditorium.
"The PA is controlled via SoundWeb and the whole system has been painstakingly configured," says Lindley. "We run the audio through a 32-channel Soundcraft desk and a Midas desk side-of-stage."
It's a very easy venue to work in; the design has been very well thought out. The load-in area is particularly wide and flat, which allows containers of sets to be brought directly into the venue.
In addition to theatre productions, the venue regularly plays host to a diverse range of corporate events. In November, it hosted the regional media launch of MTV Arabia, which featured performances by hip-hop star Ludacris and R 'n' B singer Akon, while the following month, it was commissioned as the main theatre auditorium for the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF).
"The theatre is transformed into a cinema for DIFF showings, with a 35mm projector installed in the rear of the venue and a screen and 5.1 PA system," explains Lindley.
One of Lindley's prime responsibilities as AV manager is advising the Jumeirah Group on new technology acquisitions and upgrades across the entire Madinat Jumeirah site.
"We recently took delivery of a number of Clay Paky Halos and wireless Shure mics, as well as new smoke machines," he says. "We've also installed new LED lighting fixtures in Trilogy which look fantastic."
The Madinat Jumeirah Resort itself is a showpiece of the latest developments in integrated AV technology. According to Lindley, more than 25km of fibre optic cable goes into creating a high-tech AV network which spans the entire site, providing integrated control of various functions.
The resort's networked ambient music system alone leverages five hard disk players located in various remote locations, with content distribution handled by PV Media Matrix, while the Arena facility boasts its own dedicated broadcast playout facility and power supply.
"The technology is perfectly appropriate for the intended applications across the resort site," says Lindley. "Everything's been really well planned in this respect."
Given the relentless commercial demand for the resort's entertainment facilities, both Lindley and Evans are hugely optimistic about the future of the live events sector in Dubai.
Still, the pair believes that significant logistical challenges stand in the way of the emirate realising its full potential as a global destination for major international touring productions.
"There are sheer geographic issues at play in this regard," says Evans. "In the UK for example, when a show is touring, the technical crew will spend four to six weeks in pre-production ironing out any major issues before they go on the road.
In contrast, we often go into pre-production without access to the required equipment because it's still in transit, which creates additional pressures.
On a practical level, you also often find that visiting performers take full advantage of the holiday environment that Dubai is famous for, which can also create issues.
Like many of his peers, Lindley attributes the rapid growth of the live events sector to the shortfall in the number of properly trained technical staff working in the region.
"This is particularly the case in regards to the live staging production and equipment rental sector," he claims. "There simply aren't enough skilled technicians working here to manage the amount of new technology that is flooding into the rental market, nor to work in a technical capacity at a live event. That's the main reason why so many technicians are brought in from overseas to work on live events in Dubai."
Despite this, Lindley believes standards are improving in other areas of the industry, particularly those related to rigging and safety.
"We [Madinat Jumeirah] have been at the forefront of promoting safety standards for riggers working within Dubai's AV sector," he claims. "We're the safest venue in town. The best thing to come from this however is that other venues in the city are now following our lead in terms of implementing safety standards."
It was a real concern how little rigging equipment was actually certified and tested [in Dubai] before we began insisting on it.
Evans believes these types of initiatives will safeguard the industry's relentless growth well into the future.
"The amount of conference venue space that's being built in the city and huge hospitality projects such as Dubailand's Bawadi precinct is going to have a major bearing on shaping the live events industry in Dubai," he says. "It's also going to require a huge increase in the number of well-trained technical staff working in the emirate. This will be crucial to the industry's future."
6 x EAW KF 695s
6 x EAW SB 600z
Surround and balcony speakers:
8 x EAW UB 42s
10 x EAW JF 100s
All speakers are powered by Crest amplifiers
6 x Martin F 10 floor wedges
6 x Koenig & Meyer speaker stands
3 x BSS FCS-966 graphic EQs
1 x Crest XR-M mixing desk
3 x Canford 8 Ch two-way splitter boxes
Front of house:
1 x Soundcraft Series 2/32 desk
1 x Sennheiser Headphones HD 250
1 x BSS DSP processor
2 x EAW MX8700 speaker processors
2 x DBX 1074 4 Ch noise gates
1 x DBX 1046 4 Ch compressor/limiter
3 x BSS FCS-966 EQs
1 x TC Electronics M-One-XL digital FX
1 x Denon DNT-620 cassette & CD combo
1 x monitor, keyboard and mouse
1 x Stage managers desk
1 x 3-channel mic/line mixer
1 x Cloud CPM - 4 paging mic
1 x Shure run of show mic
12 x Canford communication belt packs
8 x Canford Compact single muff headsets
4 x Canford Compact double muff headsets
1 x Strobe light call indicator
6 x Shure ULXS-24/58 Multi Ch frequency UHF
6 x Shure ULXS-24/58 handheld transmitters
2 x Electrovoice N/D767 mics
4 x Electrovoice N/D267 mics
4 x Electrovoice N/D478 instrument mics
1 x Electrovoice N/D868 kick drum mic
2 x Electrovoice N/D478 snare mics
2 x Electrovoice RE 200 condenser mics
16 x Koenig & Mayer boom stands
4 x Koenig & Mayer duck stands
4 x BSS AR-133 DI boxes
1 x Sony run of show camera
1 x Sanyo PLC - XF41 projector
1 x Da-Lite 5.5m x 7.32m screen
1 x Da-Lite 2.64m x 3.56m screen
1 x Sony SIV ED 949 VHS player
1 x Sony DVP NS575P DVD player
1 x vision mixer
5 x 14-inch colour monitors (Sony)
4 x 8 output rack mount DMX splitters
4 x 6 output truss mount DMX splitters
48 x ETC panels
48 x ETC pars
12 x ETC S4-26 26 degree profiles
12 x ETC S4-219 19 degree profile fixtures
24 x ETC SL - Zoom 25-50 degree zooms
12 x Strand Coda 1000w cycloramas
2 x Clay Paky Shadow 1200w follow spots
16 x Croma Q CQ1-D/Broadway colour changer fixture and gel strings
2 x smoke machines
2 x hazers
1 x Avolites Pearl 2004 channel lighting desk
Vertical on manual fly weights and horizontal on electric motor
Fly bars (three of which are light bars)
24 on fly weights
350kg max loading
3 x hand winch - 500kg
1 x Bar either side of stage with ladder bars
1 x Tab track either side of stage