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Lights…Curtain…Sound!

by FOH Staff • in
  • Editor's Note
  • March 2019
• Created: March 6, 2019

For years, prognosticators have foretold the demise of live theater, only to be proven wrong, time and time again. Certainly, one can see how other media — from videogames to social media to television and cinema — have all faced challenges and stepped up to survive and thrive. But theater, especially given its live performance format — continues to win out against all odds.

Perhaps the best-known recent example of this is Hamilton: An American Musical, which opened four years ago and continues its sold-out Broadway run to this day, while garnering 11 Tony Awards in the process and sending out numerous touring productions — both domestic and overseas. The show’s premise itself — based on the life of American statesman and founding father Alexander Hamilton — seems an unlikely choice for creating a Broadway hit, but the humanity of the story, combined with infectious songs and music, struck the hearts of both critics and audiences alike.

‡‡         Bring on the Spectacle!

Theatrical spectacle also comes in other forms, whether it’s seeing Peter Pan fly overhead or massive set pieces in King Kong or Miss Saigon. Really, did any patron ever look upon the onstage helicopter in the latter and not be amazed by the apparent sorcery they had just witnessed?

But, even going back to the days of ancient Greece or Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, live theater has always been about recreating some kind of magic. Of course, these days, technology plays an important part of maintaining the illusion we see before us — and sound is an essential part of that.

Sound design has come a long way from the simple rolling of a thunder sheet backstage to denote an impending storm or having an onstage telephone ring. Wireless microphones are available in ever-diminishing packages, and particularly in musicals, audiences have grown accustomed to seeing actors in headset mics — something that was largely taboo a few decades ago. And a rise in productions incorporating immersive audio techniques can add an extra thrill for audiences.

Besides providing perks such as a near-unlimited number of output buses, automation, scene recall, onboard effects and the ability to remotely control mixes and operations via tablet or iPad, modern consoles offer enough power to accomplish almost anything in the sound designer’s wish list. And even the smallest theaters with limited budgets can get into the action with the new generation of rack-mount digital mixers (spotlighted in the Buyers Guide on page 34). Meanwhile, a small-footprint (or no-footprint) console makes a substantial reduction in the need for valuable seating real estate — an added plus in any theater application.

‡‡         Enter USITT

For anyone in a stage production frame of mind, the upcoming USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) expo — in Louisville, KY from March 20-23 — is an ideal opportunity to check out many of these cool gizmos firsthand. With that in mind, our New Products section on page 18 has a slant toward audio gear debuts for the theater market. The event also features hundreds of seminars, classes and educational programs to help keep theater professionals up on the latest technologies and techniques. For more details on USITT, visit usittshow.com.

Keeping with our theater focus, on page 28, Bryan Reesman checks out the sound design employed for the current Broadway production of Network, the hit play based on the 1976 film of the same title. And on page 12, sound designer Peter Hylenski talks about his creative use of plug-in effects on Disney’s Frozen the Musical. We also spotlight recent audio system upgrades at four performing arts venues on page 26 — each with a different approach, but all successful in their quest toward audio perfection.

‡‡         Moving Forward

We have a few changes around here as well. Vince Lepore, who has helmed our “Sound Sanctuary” column for the past few years, is departing that regular slot — but don’t worry, he will be contributing occasional tech pieces in upcoming issues. Meanwhile, educator John McJunkin (who many of you know from his excellent product reviews in FOH) will take over that space, and continue writing “Road Tests” on interesting new gear releases. This month, we also welcome acoustics authority David Kennedy, who comes onboard kicking off a multi-part series on modeling and prediction software. Check that out on page 30.

There’s a lot more in this issue, whether you read it in print, online or iPad edition. But wherever you go, whatever you do… DON’T PISS OFF THE SOUND GUY!

For George Petersen’s video introduction to the March 2019 issue of FRONT of HOUSE magazine, CLICK HERE.

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