Study Hall

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Bringing It Home: The Final Chapter In The Ongoing Series On Doing Theatre Sound On A Budget

Using what's available to the maximum benefit of the sound design, with the author detailing that process in a recent production.
The mix position at the Diego Rivera Theatre for “Mamma Mia.” Key components include a Waves eMotion LV1 mix system and Behringer X32 digital console.

“Mamma Mia” had a unit set, which is a setting that’s affixed to the stage and doesn’t move (at least very much) during the show. The unit set for this show included a taverna, a boat dock and rock walls located upstage, with the band further upstage of that – positioning that diminished their sound and impact.

To add a bit more punch and presence, I positioned a mid/side (M/S) microphone on the upstage side of the unit set, mounted about nine feet above the stage. Placing the mic there helped with picking up the band nicely, and it provided me with added control over volume and stereo image. Further, the principles of the M/S configuration offered more control over the balance between the singers and the music. I blended the band sound in with the singers during each song and then adjusted the mix to taste.

The M/S microphone configuration flown on the upstage side of the unit set to effectively capture the sound of the band.

The way that the production was staged, much of the background singing needed to be done from backstage, requiring another M/S mic for those singers. This sound was also mixed with that of the vocalists on stage. Backstage, where they sang their cues, they could see the conductor and could stand similarly for each performance. I found that using the backstage M/S mic and mixing it appropriately produced an additional air of “sparkle” that helped recreate the magic of the vocals of ABBA.

We also deployed both floor and shotgun mics on the stage. Five Crown boundary mics were located on the downstage edge to help pick up the voices of singers on stage that were not wearing wireless mics, and two Sennheiser shotguns in about the same location helped better capture the singers positioned upstage.

A look at the boundary and shotgun mics deployed along the front of the stage.

These mics were also helpful with monitoring. Because of the unit set, the conductor and band couldn’t clearly hear the singers, so I did a send from the mics to monitors in their region, which helped all of the musicians stay synchronized. Many actors and singers could also hear the show backstage so that they could cue their entrances and know what part of the show was happening.

Dialing It In

There were very few sound effects for this production; the small amount we did use was from my recordings captured in the field and edited together. I was fortunate to have an assistant sound operator for this production who played the sound effects and turned the wireless mics on and off on cue. I went through the script thoroughly to mark when each wireless mic was to be turned on and off. The stage manager then copied them into their book for cues during the show.

I’ve discovered over the years that calling mic cues in this manner takes much of the cuing pressure off the entire crew. The stage manager is following the script anyway, so the sound cues are just integrated much like the lighting and any additional cues. I like to letter the sound cues so that they can be distinguished from other cues, especially lighting which are usually numbered.

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