Stage Audio Works rounds off Faith Dome with comprehensive AV solution

Faith Broadcasting Network has consolidated a vast following of approximately 264 million viewers worldwide since its inception two decades ago, with satellite, terrestrial and digital broadcasts reaching worshippers all around the world. With headquarters in South Africa, and studios in the USA and the UK, MyFaithTV is the largest religious broadcaster on the African continent.

To accommodate such growth, the Faith Dome – the ministry’s base in East London, South Africa – has been undergoing renovations for many years; a colossal undertaking in what was formerly a wool warehouse, a cavernous space of 120 by 60 metres, with an 18-metre-high ceiling. Other parts of the premises have been refurbished to house different aspects of the ministry’s work: including a number of television studios, humanitarian aid warehouses, activity spaces as well as their main broadcasting studio. In 2015, work commenced on the ceiling to replace it with the iconic dome we see today. Stage Audio Works were called upon to design and integrate a sophisticated audio, lighting and rigging solution for the main arena based on d&b’s A-Series loudspeakers, Cameo and Hog4 lighting with Stage Plus truss.

In early 2021, the ultimate round of renovations to the main broadcast studio was concluded, and the Faith Dome was officially completed. At maximum capacity, the indoor arena holds a staggering 10,500 live attendees, making it the largest in the Eastern Cape.

SAW’s brief was to provide the Faith Dome with audio and lighting solutions to support their existing broadcasting channels, as well as live events. SAW have been involved since 2013, although it was only in the last 18 months that the plan accelerated towards the client’s 360° vision, which places the stage and the PA system in the centre of the large arena. Clarifying the motivation behind this, Dr Andre Robert, founder and CEO of the River Group, comments: “It was important for us to have a central stage in the Faith Dome as it truly places the focus of worship in the midst of our congregation. It’s more democratic than a traditional front-to-back organisation and allows everyone to remain connected and involved with the worship experience.”

Although this makes sense in terms of presenting a grand visual spectacle for live production, it posed a considerable challenge to the AV integration for a number of reasons. “From an acoustic perspective, the sheer size of the space is a factor to be reckoned with, in particular the extreme height of the room which necessitates a PA system that provides comprehensive vertical coverage,” observes Nathan Ihlenfeldt, CTO of SAW. “We ruled out a traditional line array, as the number of speakers required would have interfered with the client’s broadcasting setup and stretched the budget. For this installation, d&b’s A-Series augmented array technology was the perfect fit in terms of directivity control, sonic quality and price range. Notably, this project marks the first A-Series installation in Africa.”

d&b’s augmented array technology with its wide dispersion and variable splay angles is a highly flexible solution that combines the versatility of point source with the controllability of a line array. Fewer cabinets are required to cover the same area, making it perfect for this application where sight lines were an issue.  SAW opted for eight augmented arrays of 3 x AL60s flown from a custom-built square truss, itself flown from the ceiling at an impressive height of 13m. To handle low end, four hangs of 4 x V-SUBs are flown from a second square truss inside the first. In order to reduce cable runs, the amplifiers for the subs and the main PA are neatly housed in custom amp racks situated on top of their respective trusses. “It’s an unusual solution, but given the constraints we were working with, keeping everything together solved a number of issues,” admits Ihlenfeldt.

“One of the most crucial elements of our brief was to ensure that the PA would not impinge on camera sightlines,” he explains. “Consequently, the system is 13m above the floor. In fact, the bottom of the PA is higher than the top of the screens!” Four large screens are housed in a custom-built cuboid truss structure flown over the centre of the stage. The sub array is flown directly above that. “The height was a defining factor in our choice of A-Series as our priority was vertical coverage over long throw. Just three cabinets per array gave us the coverage we needed for the first two rows,” continues Ihlenfeldt. “The rest of the arena is covered by sixteen high performance 10S point source loudspeakers flown at strategic locations throughout the space, along with several more for front fills on the central stage.”

A further consideration was routing flexibility. “The design enables parts of the system to be muted or switched off completely to keep the sound focussed where it’s needed and not playing out to empty parts of the building which would cause unnecessary reflections,” says Ihlenfeldt. “It also means we can manage signal output in relation to the band so they aren’t hearing themselves through the arrays directly facing them.”

Additionally, SAW was responsible for the integration of the lighting system designed by Cape Town-based creative production company, Bad Weather. A Cameo solution illuminates the main arena, supported by interspersed Zenit floodlights, chosen for their wide-angle beams. In terms of lighting control, especially on such a large scale, ETC’s Hog 4 Console was an obvious choice. Its tools are designed for efficiency, and it is beloved by programmers for its intuitive interface.

Finally, truss design was an important part of this project: SAW designed and manufactured a trussing solution comprising two concentric squares and an outer rectangle to house the PA and the lighting, plus the central cuboid structure to accommodate the screens, based on their Stage Plus OV truss – an innovative engineering solution manufactured under license to Total Solutions Group. The OV truss range offers sleek, lightweight, modular trussing solutions in sizes common throughout the entertainment, events and corporate markets.

“Even though this was a tricky project to execute, we are proud of the outcome,” concludes Ihlenfeldt. “It stands as a testament to our team’s ability to improvise and adapt within the constraints of a specific brief and budget. Our industry expertise and wide experience in the worship market means that we are well positioned to provide solutions to ministries of all sizes. We look forward to when restrictions ease and people are able to experience the magnitude of the Faith Dome first-hand.”

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