Photo: Tobin Center’s Erik Montoya (left) and Sean Jenkins at the DiGiCo SD5 console
San Antonio, already the seventh-largest city in Texas, is poised to become its fifth largest, as a pending 66-square-mile expansion that could add more than 200,000 people to its population over the next six years nears likely approval. Now, this growing metropolis has a performing arts center to befit its enhanced status, The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
Named after San Antonio arts patron and philanthropist Robert Tobin and valued at $203 million, the Tobin Center opened on September 4, 2014 and has already hosted every type of arts performance imaginable, from Paul McCartney to the musical Jekyll & Hyde to the San Antonio Ballet’s version of Romeo and Juliet, and nearly all of those performances were mixed through the center’s new DiGiCo digital consoles.
The H-E-B Performance Hall, the Tobin’s 1,759-to-2,100-seat live-performance venue—with both its seating arrangements and acoustics able to be variably configured—is fitted with a DiGiCo SD5 console. And in the Tobin’s 250-seat Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater, which is used for a wide range of performance arts and other functions, a DiGiCo SD9T—with software specifically developed for theatrical audio applications—handles mixing duties. The portable SD9T is also used to mix live shows for the Tobin Center’s outdoor River Walk Plaza venue, which seats 600 spectators, and can be moved into the H-E-B Hall when necessary.
“We go from rock to musical theater to comedy and everything in between here, and we needed consoles like the DiGiCos to do that,” says Sean Jenkins, technical director at the Tobin Center, which was built on the former San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. “They’re flexible, reliable and sound great no matter what kinds of program material we’re running through them,” noting recent shows by Lisa Lampanelli, Chris Tucker and John Mellencamp, as well as a real-estate seminar (in H-E-B Hall), and children’s programs and repertory theater productions in the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater. “I would put these consoles up against any others you could name.”
The DiGiCo consoles are part of what makes the Tobin Center a world-class venue, says Eric Montoya, audio coordinator. “I looked at other console tutorials online, I read the reviews, and with each one I became more convinced that the DiGiCos were the way to go,” he says. “There weren’t any DiGiCos in San Antonio, and I realized that we could make a name for the venue with these consoles.”
True to plan, nearly all performances taking place in both the studio hall and performance hall—including some of the biggest-name concerts—use the DiGiCo house consoles, which show up on practically every touring technical rider.
This is becoming especially the case for theatrical applications, which the SD9T was literally made for. For instance, the Players function allows the engineer to quickly deal with cast changes on stage. What was once a process of recalling the proper preset for each is now simply a matter of selecting the actor performing that role; the show is then automatically updated with all the settings for that actor. The kind of functionality that theater audio professionals need for every show, the DiGiCo “T” software, is also available on the SD7T and SD10T, and it delivers.
The DiGiCo consoles’ flexibility has also been a boon to the Tobin Center. For instance, the SD5 sits in the mid-rear of the H-E-B Performance Hall when used as the venue’s FOH console. However, the venue’s configurable seating system allows the “flat-floor” area used for routine FOH positioning to be flipped and have additional rows of seating put in place, creating additional revenue opportunities for the Center. When that happens, thanks to the desk’s small footprint, Montoya can simply wheel the SD5 further back in the venue and under the balcony, connecting the console to the stage box via one of several pre-wired BNC connection points. “With two cables the console is connected,” he says simply. “Now, when the box office calls and asks if they can get a few more seats, I always tell them, ‘yes, you can.’”
Montoya says he’s constantly amazed at how robust the DiGiCo desks are. “I have not been in a situation yet where the console can’t do what I want it to—and then some,” he states. “There are almost unlimited auxiliaries and matrixes, and the soft patching is amazingly fast.”
Then there’s the sound. “We really do love the way they sound and the way they make our lives easier,” says Jenkins. Adds Montoya, “They both sound amazing—the DiGiCo mic pres are incredible. Even for a comedy show, I wanted the DiGiCo consoles because they make spoken word sound better. We wanted this venue to be set part from others like it, and the DiGiCo consoles are part of what let us do that.”