Phoenix-based Valley Youth Theatre (VYT), a community theatre dedicated to working with young people in the performing arts, recently implemented almost 50 channels of Sennheiser 6000 wireless microphone technology that’s quickly become an important part of the organization production process.
Jack Karlen of Clearwing Systems Integration (Phoenix), an alumnus of VYT who participated in the organization’s productions as a teenager, has stayed involved with the theater as an adult volunteer over the last 15 years. “It’s my time to get out of the office and play,” he says.” It was during one of Karlen’s volunteer stints that he pointed out to the theater’s Artistic Director Bobb Cooper that some of his wireless transmitters would soon fall out of FCC compliance due to the 600 MHz band transition.
“I happened to be glancing at some of the gear in their rack and gave Bobb a heads-up that they would need to address these compliance issues,” Karlen explains. “That started the conversation about upgrading the system.”
The two saw an opportunity to design a new wireless system for VYT that would meet the theater’s needs for years to come. After briefly reviewing a range of wireless options, they decided on the Sennheiser Digital 6000 platform.
“Our standards are very high in the work that we produce and the gear that we use,” says Cooper. “We really liked what the Sennheiser Digital 6000 was offering feature-wise. It checked all the boxes.” Cooper applied for and received a grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust that facilitated the new system’s acquisition while Karlen began work specifying it.
Clearwing Systems Integration recommended 48 channels of wireless to facilitate the theatre’s performance vision. “There were some unique parameters we had to consider,” says Karlen, including frequency selection and assignment. “VYT produces six professional-level productions a year—four at their own space and two at the larger Herberger Theater Center. Both VYT’s main space and the Herberger are located right in downtown Phoenix, across the street from convention centers, hotels, stadiums, and the like, so it’s a crowded RF environment. The Digital 6000’s ability to park digital frequencies so close together without any compromise in transmission power or risk of intermodulation is critical.”
VYT’s Digital 6000 system includes 50 SK 6212 bodypacks. “Unlike some other youth theaters, we don’t have kids playing multiple parts in our large-cast shows, so we absolutely utilize all 48 channels of wireless and need enough bodypacks to support that,” says Cooper.
With up to 48 bodypacks in circulation simultaneously, the SK 6212’s rechargeable batteries offer an efficient approach to power. “Sometimes they do two shows a day, so we’ve provided them with 96 batteries and a separate charging rack with 12 of Sennheiser’s L 6000 charging stations,” says Karlen. “They’re fast and easy to use. It’s a huge improvement over the mess of double As and various charging units and cables they used to have, and now they’re even able to track individual battery performance via the network.”
Digital 6000 is compact enough to fit into the available rack space at VYT’s smaller 202-seat theater. “There’s really limited rack space at their home space, and I needed to get as much in there as I could,” Karlen explains. “Fitting the 24 EM 6000 receivers into only 24 rack spaces left me enough space for the signal and power distribution gear we needed.”
Karlen has taken advantage of the EM 6000’s Dante connectivity for digital transmission to front of house. “A key goal in redesigning VYT’s wireless was specifying a system that would be as future-proof as possible, so Dante integration was key,” Karlen explains. “At VYT’s space I’ve got them fully operational with Dante already. The Herberger isn’t set up for Dante just yet, so we’ll utilize the EM 6000s analog outputs there for now. But they’ll be transitioning to Dante soon as well, and VYT will be ready to go.”
Despite the onset of the pandemic, the team has wasted no time in putting its new Digital 6000 into play. Karlen: “They’ve been hosting live streaming events using their D6000,” he says. The theater’s 9.5 hour ‘VYTal Affair-athon’ in August of 2020 was done using the D6000 system. Musical performances were pre-recorded in compliance with social distancing and CDC recommendations.” In this recent example, the hosts, storytellers and A/V mixing all happened live.
He adds that to help create revenue and assist the community, VYT partnered with a local video production company, who sourced its facilities and equipment for other live streaming events. While they acknowledge it has been a difficult year, they’re eager to begin using the new Sennheiser Digital 6000 system on a more routine basis: “We so look forward to using this amazing system as soon as we’re able to produce theater again,” Cooper concludes.