Sound Reinforcement

Most not for profit theatre in Canada goes acoustic, they don’t amplify the actors on stage. In larger theatres and most commercial theatres they will amplify everyone, and in musicals the standard is to amplify everyone and everything.

Sadly, little work is done on the acoustics of a room to lessen the needs for amplification. Actors have to fight HVAC, loud lighting, projectors, street noise, noisy seating and rooms where the echo/reverb make it a struggle for clarity regardless. I’ve spent time tracking noises down in theatres, mostly to be told there is nothing that can be done. Projector is always loud, the dimmer packs can’t be masked or some other systematic problem that should have been dealt with can’t.

The standard ways of amplifying actors are one of two mic’ing techniques, either shotguns or wireless. Shotguns are fixed mics that have a very narrow focus. For Dash Arts and Luminato’s 1001 Nights, we used shotguns in a false ceiling and around the edge of the stage, riding mics depending on actors blocking. This works fairly well at lower levels if you can get enough coverage and either program each change in blocking or have a sound mixer who can follow the show on the fly. You’ll never get anything sounding very close, since the mics are typically 3-6 metres away from the actors, but it helps.

Sometimes sound design also means just helping out the sound, so its also meant quietly enhancing actors with wireless for Mirvish’s Cloud Nine, enhancing actors and setting up the sound system and mix for Luminato’s 1001 Nights, helping mix a 5 piece band with live actors in an acoustic nightmare of a room. Or sometimes its finding a way to fool the acoustics of the room for people. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Shaw, we had actors offstage calling and supposed to be sounding far away, so we had to rig up mics sending reverb to speakers backstage to fool people out front that they were far away.

In these cases the title of sound designer carry different roles, from designing the sound system, cabling and com systems as well as wireless mic positioning, colouring, radio frequency mapping and even speaker delay timings. While I am capable in smaller setups, the larger system designs for musicals are a special skill set best left to a complete different class of sound designers.