The Creation of the Star
Every Sunday, New Creation Church transforms one of South East Asia’s latest venues into a cutting-edge house of worship. Richard Lawn reports
Founded by a small group of young pioneer leaders, including Joseph Prince, in 1983, Singapore’s New Creation Church (NCC) has charted remarkable growth over three decades. The first Sunday services welcomed around 25 people, and had grown by the time Pastor Prince was appointed as the senior pastor of the church in 1990 to about 150 members. That’s hardly mega-church numbers, but New Creation nevertheless continued to draw in ever-increasing attendance and was ultimately forced to relocate to new worship venues to accommodate the growth. Along the way it called many places home, including a hall in the Young Women's Christian Association, several hotel ballrooms and the unique Rock Auditorium in the Suntec City Mall. However, when the church’s membership rose above the 20,000 person mark, the NCC realised that it needed a larger, if not more unconventional place to call home.
So it was that in late 2012, the church moved into a new auditorium named The Star Performing Arts Centre (The Star PAC) in Buona Vista. In doing so the church has made a home for itself in what is arguably now Singapore’s highest profile new development.
The Star PAC is part of a futuristic 15-story complex called The Star, which was planned by Rock Productions Pte Ltd, the business arm of the church, together with CapitaMalls Asia Limited. The Star comprises two zones. The retail and entertainment zone with restaurants and shops is known as The Star Vista, and is owned and managed by CapitaMalls.
The civic and cultural zone, The Star PAC, comprises the 5,118-seat Star Theatre, a multi-purpose hall, outdoor amphitheatre, special function rooms and other facilities. Rock Productions owns and manages this zone, built at a cost of S$500 million and equipped with a vast array of leading audiovisual technologies.
Daniel Loh joined The Star PAC team as a technical director in October 2010, when The Star was still only three storeys in height. Formerly working at the nearby University Cultural Centre at NUS, Mr Loh enthuses: ‘I jumped at the opportunity when it was presented to me.’
From Monday to Saturday, any part of The Star PAC can be hired out by international performers, or for weddings, corporate events and more. On each Sunday, however, New Creation Church (NCC) arrives and takes over for 24 hours, offering charismatic services with a standard of technical production so high that it rivals any of the non-religious events taking place during the week.
Meanwhile, for those worshippers who are not able to attend services at The Star PAC, there is instead the equally impactful opportunity to experience the spectacle at Marina Bay Sands, which acts as an overflow, receiving an audiovisual feed via the broadcast suite. Few churches benefit from such striking facilities. Additionally, adjacent to the recording studio, editing suites connected by the fibre network are used by the church and artists alike for their own requirements.
But as impressive as the arrangement is, it does create a unique set of challenges for the New Creation Church technical team, especially when non-religious events take place at Star PAC on a Saturday.
‘It can be hectic if an artist is performing on a Saturday night,’ discloses Mr Loh. ‘But 90 per cent of the acts that do book the venue perform on a Saturday night! Their entire production needs to be out by 2am on Sunday morning, so it has to be quick.’
In order to facilitate precisely this requirement, the Star PAC is equipped with two 3.2m height lifts measuring 2.5m wide by 6m and 7m deep, positioned between the awaiting trucks and the stage. ‘No matter whether it’s sets, cars, PA systems, rigging – you name it, taking it in and out of here is a breeze,’ explains Mr Loh. Indeed, the nature of the venue demanded this high level of flexibility and production awareness in the original design. ‘The Star PAC’s production team oversaw and assisted the church staff and volunteers setting up before the first service,’ Mr Loh continues. ‘To date, the changeover has been very smooth. We have listened to the church on a regular basis and adjusted each room to their specific requirement.’
The changeover has been honed to a finely-tuned procedure. Each Sunday morning at approximately 5am, the first of New Creation Church’s volunteers and staff arrive at The Star PAC to make preparations for the first of the four services, beginning at 8.30am, that will be delivered over the course of the day. It’s an early start to a very busy Sunday – every facility on every floor of The Star PAC is utilised, including the enormous main theatre and the 770-seat function hall, which is converted into classrooms for the children’s ministry. To many it would seem daunting, but for New Creation Church it is simply another way to serve. Crucially, technology plays an important role in ensuring the handover is as streamlined as possible.
Firstly, Crestron Control unites the many and various user-interfaces within the venue, providing the technical team with the ability to access limited functions such as dimming the house lights and deploying the motorised projectors and screens. The touch-panels convert to NCC touch-control pages instantly.
‘Following rehearsals, we found that the Crestron control panels needed to be reprogrammed,’ explains Mr Loh. ‘It’s a complex interface and some of the settings were not right, so the engineers streamlined it to make it more reliable and easier to use. To be flexible, the Star PAC Crestron system has more nodes and hubs than any other system in the region, but this made it more complex.’
Elsewhere in the venue, more than 80 LCD screens are located throughout the Star PAC, operating as an X2O digital signage system, and at the stroke of midnight they automatically switch from non-religious content to instead deliver information for New Creation Church services. Similarly, the venue’s Christie projectors are lowered into position and turned on along with Panasonic plasma displays according to pre-programmed settings together with the Stewart screens.
Adding a further degree of separation is the lighting rig, which differs from that which usually serves The Star Theatre during week days. As a bespoke solution for New Creation Church, the dedicated rig requires hoisting to the correct height above the stage while the house system is not used. As a result, re-rigging of the regular system is not necessary once the 35 1-ton and 1.5-ton chain hoists have been lowered into position. The concept is bold but extraordinarily valuable to the church technical team, saving an estimated two or three hours during set-up that can therefore be used more efficiently.
The New Creation lighting rig is itself an impressive display of technology. Included within it are 40 Varilite 3000 and 3500 moving heads together with 14 Alpha 700 spots and washes, all used for effect lighting across the stage and audience. The system is operated by an MA Lighting MA2 console.
‘The moving heads are very quiet overhead, which is vital during the quieter parts of the service,’ furthers Mr Loh. ‘In addition, the LED wall is fan-less, and is therefore silent.’
A key part of the reason for the careful positioning of the lighting rig is the comprehensive broadcasting infrastructure that is built into the venue and used by New Creation Church to deliver its message far beyond its own walls.
Lighting consultant Eugene Seah Hong Gim explains more: ‘In television lighting, the ideal vertical angle for portraiture should be between 20- to 30-degrees. From the structural drawing, I found that the height of the catwalk was at 21m, but if I was to rig the light there then the key light angle would be more than 60-degrees. At that steep angle, the portraiture would be unacceptable – the faces of the people on stage would look haggard.
‘In order to rig the light at a good angle, I had to request a motorised hoist so that the lights could be lowered to an optimum angle. I planned a total of nine hoists to be suspended from catwalk one to catwalk four, which would be used as key lights for lighting the pastor, seven singers and the choir situated at the left and right sides of the stage.
‘The key lights for the pastor were very far away at 17m. I could lower the hoist to a minimum of 10.5m from the ground so that the audience on the second level would not have their sight-lines of the stage blocked. This height was good enough as I could achieve a good vertical angle of 32-degrees and therefore produce good portraiture.’
For the video production, five Sony P1 HD cameras fitted with Canon lenses on telemetric robotic heads are deployed in the main theatre and patched onto a pre-set Miranda routing system. There also seven Sony HDC 2400 cameras that are manned. The manned and robotic cameras can be patched to anywhere within the venue’s technical infrastructure via the Sony MVS 7000 switching and routing system and the Miranda Nvision routing system.
There is also a 15m camera track in use allowing for more creative direction. The resulting video signals are routed as multiple location feeds via the fibre network to any room desired. The LED wall is a 17.7m wide by 4.7m tall 6mm pixel pitch Daktronics wall which is fed by a Barco Encore system.
The audio system is equally cutting-edge. A Stagetec Nexus Star fibre-optic backbone is utilised for the digital audio network and routing systems, controlling the audio sources and distributing them accordingly. Fully redundant, the saved audio setting for the NCC is broadcast quality and can be distributed for live, recording, streaming and archiving purposes. The system accommodates up to 16 boards each with 256 inputs and 256 outputs, which in turn allows for routing a maximum of 4,096 inputs to 4,096 outputs, resulting in more than 16 million cross points. It’s certainly more than enough for the NCC’s requirements.
Additionally, Mackie 1402 mixers and Shure UHF-R and ULX-D wireless systems are deployed into The Star Gallery, which is sub-divided into four smaller rooms, four galleries, seven studios and the loft, welcoming a combined congregation of 1,500 children and volunteers. To date, only the outdoor amphitheatre remains unutilised, as this area in the flyer near to the turnstiles serves as a meeting point.
Strikingly, no fewer than 10 DiGiCo digital mixing consoles grace The Star PAC including three SD7s in the main theatre serving front of house, monitors and the sound control room. An SD5, two SD8s, two SD9s and two compact SD11 desks are located elsewhere in the venue. The SD7 consoles are linked to the two SD racks in the communications rack room via a fibre link. All analogue signals from the stage are sent to the communications rack room where they are spilt between the SD racks and the Nexus star via 15 XTA DS8000 splitters.
From here, the patched signals together with those emitting from the Nexus routers are fed to the amplification and loudspeaker systems. Furman PS-Pro series power conditioners have been installed into the racks for easy power on and power off sequencing, though even these are due to be updated to the latest Furman Blue Bolt 3500 processors which are currently used at the amplifier racks located on the catwalks above the stage.
Providing front of house sound reinforcement, meanwhile, is an L-Acoustics K1 system, configured in an L-C-R design. The left and right arrays both comprise 12 K1 three-way, quad-amplified enclosures per-side augmented in the lower hangs by a further five Kara cabinets, whilst a central cluster of 14 Kara cabinets covers the central seats in the theatre stalls and two balconies. The Kara cabinets are completely compatible with the K1 line sources.
The lower frequencies of what is a four-way system can extend down to 25Hz and these are provided by 16 SB28 dual 18-inch bass-reflex tuned subwoofers, placed eight per side in cardioid fashion (six front facing and two rear facing). The control and amplification of the FOH system is managed by the LA8 platform with DSP filtering that includes crossover functions, system EQ, and L-Drive thermal and over-excursion protection.
The distance from the stage lip to the last seat on the second circle is 56m, but simulations provided by proprietary Soundvision software ensured that fills were required. The under-balcony fills in the rear stalls seating area is thus covered by ceiling suspended 8XTi Architectural Series point source coaxial loudspeakers. The seats in Circles one and two required increased SPL and this is provided by 12-inch coaxial 12XTi speakers, producing 100-degree axi-symmetric directivity output. Finally, seven 8XTi speakers provide front-fill dispersion. For monitoring on stage, a selection of 115XTHiQ, 12XT and 8XT speakers can be deployed via various microphone points.
Planning to attend the church’s Sunday morning services at The Star PAC is similar to booking a concert ticket at the same venue. Using a system known as NCC’s Online Access Hub (NOAH), each church member registers an access media, similar to the cards used in mass transportation systems. Once seats have been confirmed online, the details are stored onto the cards, which members then tap onto the venue’s innovative and unmanned turnstiles to gain access. As a result, access is quick and simple as there are no ushers and no paper tickets, although some church volunteers are on hand to assist anyone in difficulty. Walk-in queues are also available as a supplement to the online booking system, and seat booking is currently not required for the afternoon services.
The 8.30am and 11.30am services are led by Senior Pastor Prince. Some 2,000 to 3,000 worshippers prefer to assemble at Marina Bay Sands for these services, where a live broadcast is fed via a Singtel open fibre-optic network. The recording and editing suites at The Star PAC (using EditShare and Final Cut Pro) are put to full use during both morning services. The recorded programmes are later broadcast to more than 150 countries on cable television and satellite networks, including Australia, the UK and the USA. Pastor Prince’s television ministry also offers viewers the opportunity to watch the church's broadcast programme online via the internet and podcasts.
It is a remarkable demonstration of a church using the best of technology to deliver its message in a groundbreaking venue. It is also a dramatic achievement for a church that began with just 25 members, not so long ago.
‘The church has been very supportive, making decisions on the ground when required,’ comments Mr Loh, reflecting on the unique venue and the challenges that have been overcome in creating it. ‘There is excellent collaboration and teamwork between The Star PAC and New Creation Church.’ It has been a huge leap of faith, but it has raised New Creation Church up to a level that is unsurpassed in South East Asia.