Compact Yet Comprehensive Mixing Solution Powers Historic Performance Space

Overlooking the venue’s DiGiCo S31 desk during a recent Dan Wilson show.
(Image credit: DiGiCo)

The Assembly Theatre at The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, which first opened in February of 1928, has hosted lectures and shows from an incredibly broad range of speakers and performers, including everyone from Helen Keller, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Garrison Keillor to Henry Rollins, Amanda Palmer, and The Jayhawks. The nonprofit organization’s six-story mansion overlooks Loring Park has a 630-seat venue. While it has had many historic performances, it also had an aging sound system which was brought new life by DiGiCo

For the past two years, Rip Nordhougen, technical director for The Woman’s Club, has been working with the goal of “bringing back to life a wonderful theater that was originally used for vaudeville,” he said. “The Assembly has basically been unused for several years, so finding a new console to replace our old one installed in 2008 was definitely the first step. We needed a reliable, easy-to-use desk that would suit us well for the next 10 years or more. With a wide variety of mix engineers planning to come through this space, it was important to have a console with an intuitive workflow to best help them get up-and-running very quickly.”

Working in tandem with Twin Cities-based concert promotor Sue McLean & Associates, Nordhougen turned to local pro audio rep firm Wiklander & Associates and dealer Windy Shores Sound looking for a recommendation to revitalize and modernize the room’s mix. “They immediately suggested the DiGiCo S31 for its flexibility, user-friendliness, sound quality, and price point,” he said. “Having 24 local inputs for our current I/O infrastructure, a full 10x8 matrix processor, three touch screens with 31 faders, and built-in dynamic EQ and multiband compression on any channel were all key. Getting that much flexibility at a price point that nicely fit our budget really sealed the deal.”

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Windy Shores Sound’s Brent Naylor at The Woman’s Club’s DiGiCo S31.

(Image credit: DiGiCo)

In addition to The Assembly Theatre at The Woman’s Club, Nordhougen also works with three larger venues in downtown Minneapolis, all of which have converted to DiGiCo within in the past three years, so he was quite familiar with the brand’s reputation and real-world performance. “It was critically important to choose a desk with great manufacturer support, and it’s no secret among audio professionals that DiGiCo’s customer service is second-to-none,” he said.

Installed by Windy Shores Sound, the theater’s new S-Series console quickly proved to be the right choice. “We chose the S31, in part, because we often switch between running monitors from FOH and from an iPad side-stage,” he explained. “The Flexi Aux/Group Bus option allows us the flexibility to choose on a show-by-show basis how we use the console. Whether it’s monitor sends, effects sends, or turning some into groups for bus processing, we always have plenty of options.”

A few months ago, The Assembly Theatre hosted The English Beat—a technically demanding production, but one that the S31 handled with ease, Nordhougen reported. “The show’s channel count was approximately 24 inputs, but it was a seven-piece band in a very live space with a lot going on to keep track of. We weren’t maxing out the capabilities of the desk, but we had to be prepared for a lot of moving parts on a tight schedule. The S31’s flexibility and ease-of-use made it a snap to set up the show and get running very quickly. And, of course, the console helped make a legendary band sound great.

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“We also had a recent show with Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Dan Wilson, best known as the front man for Semisonic. His engineer had never mixed on an S31. After setting up his show files and experiencing the sound quality he was able to output, he was extremely pleased, and so were our patrons in attendance for Dan’s two sold-out shows.”

Having put the S31 through its paces, The Assembly Theatre’s audio techs are particularly appreciating its three touchscreens and intuitive workflow. “You can walk up to the desk having never seen it and know more-or-less how to operate it. We’re planning to soon also upgrade our loudspeaker system, but since our current PA is older and lacks accessible system processing, having a full matrix that we can use to drive the main PA—as well as record feeds and additional sends—has been great. And the onboard UB MADI port for quick multi-track recording has been fantastic as well. The more we dive into this console, the more there is to appreciate.”

And it’s not just the audiophiles that are noticing the step up in sound. “Kevin Winge, who is the executive director for The Woman’s Club, has repeatedly told me that the quality and clarity of the sound here has improved beyond his expectations,” Nordhougen concluded. “He says that he now feels completely comfortable bringing any level of performer into the venue without having to worry. That peace of mind is just another one of the many benefits that having a DiGiCo brings.”

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