Orchestras often perform the majority of their concerts in a main concert hall and the balance of concerts in the community or on tour. When a venue is being considered for a performance by an orchestra, the first step is for the Orchestra Operations department to conduct a site visit. For the site visit, the Operations Manager (or equivalent) should bring a stage manager or the person most knowledgeable about setting up the orchestra and ask to meet with someone at the venue familiar with the facility layout.
Before the site visit, I find it very helpful to develop a checklist of questions to ask. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Where is the loading dock entrance? What size trucks can be accommodated?
- Is the pathway from the loading dock to the stage all on the same level? Or are stairs/elevators required on the path? What is the width of the narrowest doorway?
- What are the dimensions of the stage area? **Some venues have technical packets with drawings. Ask for a copy on your site visit.
- What kind of lighting is available over the stage?
- Do you have a sound system and someone to run it for our concert?
- How much control do you have over the temperature in the theater? *Most orchestras want the temperature to be stable and draft free at 68-72F onstage.
- Where are the closest bathrooms to the stage? Can they be restricted to use only by the musicians/staff of the orchestra?
- What large classrooms or dressing rooms are available for the orchestra? Do you have small offices or star dressing rooms for conductor and soloist near the stage?
- Can you reserve free parking onsite for the orchestra? (i.e. We expect to need room for a 56 passenger bus and 25 personal cars)
- Who will be our main contact on site for the concert day that can help troubleshoot any unanticipated issues?
It is important to remember that not all venues are used to the needs of an orchestra, so try to help them imagine the scope of 80+ musicians and instruments on site and the potential limitations of the schedule. Bring a digital camera on your site visit so you can refer back to the pictures.
In my experience, modern theaters are well equipped for a symphony orchestra. School gymnasiums are usually pretty accessible for all of the equipment as long as the load-in area is wide enough for timpani cases and harps. Stable climate control is going to be a real challenge in high capacity venues (like Royal Albert Hall, indoor stadiums, ice arenas). Churches are beautiful spaces but often not well equipped for a symphony orchestra. If you are working to building a stage in a church, be sure to have meetings that include the church talking with the stage company. Some marbles or stone materials are not resilient to stage risers being built on top. Church services schedules are also sometimes complicated to work around, especially if you intend to load-in a stage and leave it for a few days. Be sure to discuss your schedule hour by hour with a church, including what equipment will be where for the duration of the orchestra’s stay in a church. You don’t want to experience schedule conflicts with choir practices, noon time services and weddings only a few weeks in advance.
All in all, some of my favorite concerts have been outside the home concert hall because of the challenges and rewards of bringing music to a new space. Site visits should be done as soon as a venue is being considered because the site visit could rule out the possibility of going. Keep a record of the venue facts in a database so that you can refer back to it with the pictures you took. Err on the side of respectfully over-explaining the details to the host venue, especially if it’s a first time visit for an orchestra. In the end, enjoy the tangible reward of hearing the orchestra in a new venue and knowing you had a hand in making it possible.