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As the Roman Colosseum Is Rebuilt to Host Concert and Theater, Standards Bring Performances to the Masses


Nearly 2,000 years ago, ancient Romans gathered at the Colosseum for the leading entertainment in their day: gladiator fights, wild animal hunts, and even public executions. With construction that began in 72 CE, the elaborately designed building featured a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the wooden, sand-covered floor. Humans and animals would traverse through the tunnels to emerge from underground into the arena, while staging areas, ramps, pulleys, ropes, and an underground elevator supported the surprising, suspenseful shows seen by the spectators aboveground.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum served different purposes over the years–a quarry, a fortress, and a convent–and fell into disrepair. In modern times, these underground structures are a tourist attraction, visited by millions each year with the underground structures now exposed to the open air amphitheater with a new, retractable floor that features replicas of trapdoors, lifts, and other elements from the Colosseum’s former glory. The restored arena will be used for concerts and theater productions.

While the Colosseum may be the ultimate concert or theater destination for many, standards bring music and performances to more accessible destinations for people all over the world. Many large arenas make use of bleachers, grandstands, and telescopic seating to accommodate large crowds and offer an unobstructed view for all.

ICC 300-2017, Standard for Bleachers, Folding, and Telescopic Seating and Grandstands establishes minimum requirements for the safe construction and use of these types of seating, including their structural strength, means of egress, stability, and safety. This American National Standard (ANS) was developed by the International Code Council (ICC), a member and accredited standards developer of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

When it comes to designing a space for musical performances, acoustics are a crucial consideration. Concert halls must be carefully engineered to avoid acoustic issues such as echoes and focusing, while supporting a uniform delivery of sound to all audience sections. ANSI member and accredited standards developer the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) has published many standards to guide the field of acoustics in areas ranging from musical venues to public warning devices to electric tools. One such standard is ANSI/ASA S1.1-2013 (R2020), Acoustical Terminology, which provides definitions for terms used in acoustics and electroacoustics. This ANS includes general terms from the fields of architectural acoustics, engineering acoustics, physical acoustics, physiological and psychological acoustics, sonics and ultrasonics, underwater sound, and music, as well as terms that apply to all branches of acoustics.

For theatrical performances, visuals matter just as much as audio, so appropriate lighting is essential. IES DG-20-09, Stage Lighting: A Guide to the Planning of Theatres and Auditoriums, guides the specialized instruments used for illuminating a stage. The standard, developed by ANSI member and accredited standards developer the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), offers specifications for the mounting positions, circuiting, and dimming system of the lighting apparatuses – typically tungsten-halogen lamps and flexible control equipment.

The ramps and pulleys systems of the ancient Colosseum were a sophisticated feat of engineering. Manually-operated systems to control theater equipment are still in use today, and their many advancements over the years are now guided by standards. ANSI E1.4-1-2016, Entertainment Technology – Manual Counterweight Rigging Systems, is a suite of documents that includes all permanently installed, manually operated systems of stage rigging hardware for the raising, lowering, and suspension of scenery, lighting, and similar loads, as well as variations of counterweight rigging. This ANS was developed by the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA), an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.

Read about the restoration plans for the Colosseum on the Smithsonian Magazine website, and learn more about the fascinating engineering and shocking performances of original structure in an earlier Smithsonian Magazine article.


Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


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Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


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