National School of Art – Cell Block Theater — CX Network

In its current location for 100 years, the National Art School (NAS) Sydney occupies the site of the former Darlinghurst Gaol. Literally carved out of the prison’s former women’s wing, the Cell Block Theater at NAS boasts 10-meter-tall, 200-year-old sandstone walls clad in reminders of its former life. Heritage-listed and quite unique, the Theater fulfills the functions of conference hall, concert space and high-end reception venue all at the same time.

NW Group was no stranger to the Cell Block Theatre, having worked on the production of many corporate events in space. When funding became available through the NSW Government Arts Maintenance and Upgrade Scheme, NAS approached NW to undertake consultancy and design work for a total refresh of the theatre’s audio visual capabilities.

“NAS had very specific goals for The Cell Block,” says NW Group’s Andrew Hasler, who became project manager for the renovation. “The first was to meet the school’s internal needs for lectures. The second was to provide audiovisuals for school and community performances, including arts and multimedia. The next was bands renting the space that required a higher level of production, and the last was providing infrastructure for companies like NW when we came in with full production.

The biggest challenge in designing an AV system for theater was the diversity of its users. “We had to design a system to suit all different levels of technical experience,” continues Andrew. “This meant that a complicated system that typically had four technicians to operate it had to be automated with the push of a single button. A speaker walks in, wakes the room, lights come on, and two touchscreen presses bring up the light stage, lectern, mics, video conferencing and projection.At the other end, when a production company comes along, they need to be able to switch everything instantly into full production mode.

NW Group developed a design in conjunction with TAG as automation experts, Show Technology for lighting and Michael Diener of Pollard Productions as rigging consultant. NW’s Ian Shapcott handled the audio design, along with NW staff handling the video, with NW’s George Blackley serving as site manager. The work was tendered and NW Group was awarded the contract in August 2021. Working under prime contractor FDC and around Sydney’s major lockdown, work began in November and was handed over in February 2022.

The work on site was tricky due to the overlapping heritage. This meant not only taking care of the floors and walls, but some parts of the building are designated as “archaeological”, so they must continue to display historical elements such as old wooden slots, prison architecture, etc. . Penetrations in the sandstone walls were prohibited, but the Northwest was permitted to drill into the mortar joints. Fittingly, what became the operations corner was historically a padded cell!



Adrian Riddell, Systems Design Engineer at TAG, was approached by NW Group and suggested that QSC’s Q-SYS would be the optimal platform to automate the entire AV system. Adrian’s initial design was with NW Group, and their site manager loved learning the platform, handling Dante audio integration, lighting control, video automation, and switching. of camera.

Q-SYS triggers simple preset home lighting settings, AV presets including ‘reading’ or ‘cinema’ mode, and can switch the entire rig into expert ‘production’ mode. Q-SYS automatically detects video inputs throughout the space and sends them to the projector. A Barco PDS4k switcher is located in the operational position, taking inputs from the HDMI wall plates on either side of the stage and lectern. For video conferencing, Q-SYS connects external microphones and cameras.


The Theater is a 25 meter long hall with sandstone walls and a wooden floor. Keeping acoustic energy tamed was the goal of acoustic design. Ian Shapcott’s solution was four elements of L-Acoustics A10 per side with two elements suspended as delays. The speakers are aimed from the walls and hung low enough not to spray aimless energy into the cathedral-like space. Two L-Acoustics KS21 subs handle the low end, and there are two L-Acoustics X8s tuned as front fill. Six additional X8s are available as a fallback.

At operations, a Yamaha QL1 mixing console takes the signal from a Yamaha RIO 3224-D2 stage box via Dante. Eight channels of Shure ULXD4 wireless mics are internal, along with eight handheld transmitters and eight bodypack transmitters.


With the previous projection system consisting of a disappointing 2000 lumens projector on a small screen, it was high time for an upgrade. A Barco UDM-4k22 is now connected via fiber and covers a Screen Technics 250″ 16:9 roll-up electronic screen approximately 6.5m wide.

Q-SYS NV-32-H video encoders on the lectern and operations allow users to connect directly to the system, in addition to other HDMI inputs around the room.

A Panasonic PT-RZ120BE is currently installed to project images onto the curved wall behind the stage.


The lighting system is controlled via a compact Grand MA3 on an Art-Net network through ELC

switches and nodes. Each lighting trellis has its own ELC node. The main lighting fixtures are Martin ERA400 and Clay Paky Mini-B LED engines. The lighting design focuses on providing full theater stage lighting with two rows of front lights and one row of backlights for film or orchestra needs. The home lights are an RGBAL fixture with variable color temperature from 2800k to 6500K in 15 channel mode to allow maximum integration into the event lighting design.

Prolights EclCyc 100 and 050 luminaires wash the walls of the Cell Block Theatre, with Fusion Q XV bars illuminating the ceiling. The ELC showSTORE controls the house lights from its preset, four dimming levels, via the Q-SYS touchscreen located at the main entrance. House lights can be controlled via the GrandMA3 in production mode, giving full control of all color and color temperature settings


Given the low capacity of roof trusses dating back to the 1950s, NW Group was well aware of the limits of what they could hang. There was also the question of the school’s ability to operate the system without the presence of qualified riggers. Consulting with Pollard Productions, NW was pointed towards a Kinesys Vector console, which allows limits to be set for loads, points and group trusses, and can automate settings for anything a rigger would be required to check. A multi-level user hierarchy provides access to skill- and qualification-based control.

A mother truss hung from the roof beams, with pick-up points as needed. All cabling resides in trays above the mother truss, where it is distributed to speakers, stage boxes and stage plates. “There are no fixtures or accessories that you would typically use in an installation due to the heritage layering,” observes Andrew. “So the technology we used to install the systems is a bit more of a ‘temporary event style’ rather than an ‘installation style’.”

29 permanent motors support the farm. Libra load cells actively monitor load weights and stop motion if points or trusses are overloaded, underloaded or become out of level by more than 50mm. Each truss has a “home” and “work” height adjustment, while the projector and screen trusses have a “show” height. There are four additional lifting positions located in the center of each module and one on stage. These have been installed with a Libra load cell to facilitate stage elements or aerial performance and are usable through the Vector console.

Video equipment

Screen projector – Barco UDM-4k22

Screen – Screen Technics 250″ 16:9 electronic roll down (6m wide)

Rear wall projector – Panasonic PT-RZ120BE

Camera – QSC PTZ 12°x 72°

Switch – Barco PDS4k

Video encoders – 2 x Q-SYS NV-32-H

HDMI input – 2 Visionary Solutions Duet HDMI wall plates (switched from Barco PDS4k)

audio equipment

Control desk – Yamaha QL1

Floor inputs – Yamaha RIO 3224-D2

Network – Dante


– 10 x L-Acoustics A10 (4 x line array)

– 4 x L-Acoustics KS21 Sub

– 2 x L-Acoustics X8 front filling

Amps – 6 x L-Acoustics LA4X

Collapsible – 6 x L-Acoustics X8

DJ set

– 1 x DJM900 Mk2

– 2 CDJ3000

– L-Acoustics 108p (fallback)

Lighting equipment

Control desk – Grand MA3 Compact (operating in MA2 mode)

Network, reading and protocol

– 2 x ShowSTORE ELC

– 1 x ELCGBX10 Switch

– 2 x ELC5 Switch

– 7 x ELC3 node

– 1 x ELCGBX8 node

– DMX512, Art-Net, RS232 (Q-SYS to showSTORE)

Dimmers – 2 x LSC UniTOUR36 (total 180a 3p)

Lightening devices

– 21 Martin ERA400 CLD

– 30 x Clay Paky Mini-B

– 18 x Prolights Cycl100

– 8 x Cyc050 Prolights

– 12 x Q XV fusion bar

– 31 x LED house light

Atmospheric – 2 x Unique Hazer 2

Rigging equipment

Control desk – Vector Console

Motor control – 5 x Digi hoists

Hoists – 29 x Stageket 500kg BGV D8

Load Cell – 33x Kinesys Libracel

Kayleen C. Rice