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Whitworth University

A private university located in Spokane, Washington

Cowles Auditorium holds two stages. The main stage of the auditorium upstairs has 1,100 seats. This auditorium provides a venue for plays, musicals, convocation, concerts, and movies. Stage two is a black box theater in the downstairs area of the building, with seating for 175. This black box hosts improvisational theatre and short plays throughout the school year in addition to providing a space for acting, as well as dance recitals.

Type of Work: Rigging, Lighting, Sound, Drape

Products Used: 

ETC ColorSource PARs

ETC ColorSource Spots

ETC Prodigy FlyPipe

ETC Prodigy P1

ETC QuickTouch®

NEXO GEO M10 line array

NEXO LS18s subbass cabinets

NEXO PS8 compact point-source cabinets

NEXO ID24 speakers

NEXO NXAMP4x2Mk2 amplifiers

Part 1: 2017

Whitworth University boasts a repected theatre program in Spokane, Washington, Maria Sorce, Cowles Auditorum Technical Director and Facility Events Manager, approached PNTA's rentals/events department with an urgent request for help. The venue had been damaged by a previous rigging contractor and no longer had the structural ability to support a load from the roof. In addition, the floor had very limited load capacity due to a basement black box theater. PNTA needed to solve the unique challenge of creating a temporary theatrical lighting and drapery grid for the Cowles Memorial Auditorium that allowed continued use of the auditorium in the near-term. Because the temporary solution needed to be in place for two years, whatever solution was landed upon had to meet local building codes.

Our solution? To quote the PNTA project manager working with Maria, "We can figure this out." PNTA worked extensively with Clark Reder Engineering, Whitworth University’s Project Division, Whitworth University’s General Contractor, and the Engineering Contractor to come up with a freestanding truss structure that would support lighting and draperies in a highly flexible configuration. We had to design and manufacture custom base plates to distribute the load across the existing floor trusses and work with the general contractor to anchor the base plates into the trusses to ensure seismic stability. To mask the truss structure, PNTA's drape shop fabricated and installed custom-built truss borders and legs. PNTA installed the entire temporary truss structure and provided annual inspection services. PNTA also upgraded the lighting in the auditorium to LED fixtures, not only providing a more energy- and cost-efficient lighting system but also reducing the load the temporary truss structure was required to support, The truss structure and new lighting package provided an effective and safe temporary solution to an urgent and pressing need, developed and installed within four months. PNTA's solution allowed the university to continue their theatre program for two years until a complete rebuild of the theater was designed and funded.

Part 2: 2019-2020

Whitworth University had a new funding in place to renovate Cowles Auditorium, where PNTA had previously installed a temporary truss structure as a stop-gap measure. Whitworth University hired PNTA as a design-build firm to develop a rigging solution for Cowles Auditorium, in concert with the University's architect, engineer and staff. PNTA worked with ETC to develop an automated rigging solution that provided both flexibility and ease of use.  Having designed and specified the rigging portion of the project, PNTA then submitted the winning bid to install the new rigging system.

The entire redesign of the auditorium called for not only installing 23 rigging line sets, but also a new drape package in the main auditorium as well as for Stage 2 (a black box theatre located below the main stage), rehanging and focusing the LED lighting purchased in Part 1 of the project, and significantly upgrading the audio in both the main auditorium and in Stage 2..

Our solution? PNTA partnered with ETC’s rigging division to develop an automated rigging solution that would meet the client’s needs. Working as a key member of the theatrical build-design team, with the University’s theatre staff, their projects division, the project architect and the structural engineer, we developed a fully automated fly system. PNTA also built and installed a full drape package for the main auditorium and black box theatre, and designed and installed NEXO sound systems in both spaces, as well as installed a 25' x 15' motorized projection screen in the main auditorium.

The results? This was one of the first projects to use the ETC’s 58' Prodigy FlyPipe self-contained motorized hoist. As one of the first partners to install this longer version of the FlyPipe product, PNTA worked hand in hand with ETC to develop field-tested installation methods that have since become the standard for 58' FlyPipe installations. PNTA installed a total of 23 line sets.


PNTA designed and built a complete drape package for Cowles Auditorium, including a grand drape and valance.  The short proscenium made the design of the valance particularly tricky, but PNTA experts finally landed on a design that looked good in the space. PNTA also provided electrical masking borders and rotating legs that could be locked into position. A mid traveler, rear traveler and cyclorama were all built and then hung from the newly install FlyPipes. The auditorium is now fully equipped with an automated rigging system and complementary drapes, all tailored to the space.


PNTA also replaced the lighting grid in the black box theater with a Unistrut grid, gaining an entire foot of head space in the process. Perimeter drapes were installed on three sides of the room plus a blackout curtain in front of the doorway. To quote Maria Sorce, Facility Events Manager and Auditorium Technical Director, the black box theater went from looking like a classroom to an actual theater with the introduction of the drapes.


PNTA offered a NEXO solution for the venue’s main PA. The hanging and rigging situation was very challenging for the audio; flying positions on the structural steel beams were not in the ideal place. NEXO’s new GEO M10 line array modules came in at half the weight of comparable products, as well as taking up less space, and they also provide exceptional coverage so the theatre didn’t need to install a second set of delays. Solving the weight problem with NEXO ended up saving the customer money because they didn’t have to implement structural alterations.

As we finished work in the main Auditorium, PNTA was also asked to rebuild the audio system inside Stage 2, which was also upgraded with a NEXO system. Speakers were hung in a flexible manner to accommodate multiple configurations of the black box theatre space.

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