- by Thomas S. Friedman
in Theater Sound
In 1996, an original rock musical by a little-known composer opened on Broadway, where it ran for 5,123 performances and forever changed the landscape of American theater. A re-imagining of Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out.
Twenty years later, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning masterpiece is still selling out theaters around the country and around the world. The 20th anniversary edition of the show began its run last September and continues thrilling theatergoers in cities throughout the U.S. Acclaimed sound designer Keith Caggiano — whose recent projects also include 2016 productions of Cabaret, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and Holiday Inn, as well as Motown the Musical, Elf the Musical, Bare, Rock of Ages, Glory Days and many others — turned to Masque Sound to supply the audio.
According to associate sound designer Mike Tracey, the touring sound system for Rent comprises two main left/right towers of 11 L-Acoustics Kara enclosures per side, as well as two SB18 subwoofers per side, arrayed in a cardioid configuration. Discreet coaxial 5XT speakers provide front fill, while two X12 coaxials provide down fill. Everything is powered by six L-Acoustics LA8 amplified controllers in an LA-RAK and controlled via an LA Network Manager.
“Rent is a rock musical, and it really needs a rock touring sound system, and that’s what Kara gives us,” says Tracey, who has also worked on other successful touring and Broadway productions, including Book of Mormon, Cabaret and War Paint The Musical. “The Kara is a compact, lightweight box, but it can really pump out the sound. And the 5XT boxes are amazing — I don’t know why anyone would use anything else for front fills.”
Tracey drew up the system design in L-Acoustics’ Soundvision 3D modeling software program using his team’s knowledge of the theaters that are on the tour itinerary. “We have a good understanding of the baseline of the venues we’re going to, and Soundvision let us design a system that would work for all of them and was also as lightweight to carry as possible, which makes a big difference in costs,” he explains. “The Kara boxes are about 50 pounds each and put out a huge amount of power for their size and weight. And they’re very easy to fly.”
Mike Rukstad, the show’s FOH engineer and head of audio, says the Kara system puts Rent into the category of a rock concert as well as a theatrical show. “We’re playing some pretty big houses — three and four thousand seats — and no matter how big the theater or how it’s configured, Kara can fill it,” he says, speaking from the 2,700-seat Hollywood Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, one of Rent’s tour stops. “I can always get the vocals above the band, and we have a pretty loud drummer!”
Rukstad, who has also mixed Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story and Bullets Over Broadway on tour, says the L-Acoustics system is a high-fidelity experience for theatergoers. “It’s really all about the power and the clarity,” he says. “There’s no distortion, nothing that distracts from the music.”
Faithful to the Original
For the actors’ microphones, Masque Sound provided DPA d:fine 4066 omnidirectional headset microphones. “Rent was one of the first shows to use headset mics on the cast, as opposed to lavaliers, so that’s a heritage thing with the show that we wanted to make sure we honored,” explains Caggiano. “It’s about getting the microphone as close to the mouth as possible to get as much gain out of the actors as we can, and the d:fine 4066s that Masque Sound supplied did an excellent job.”
In addition to providing the custom audio package for the show, Masque Sound also supplied frequency coordination for the show’s 30 channels of wireless. Masque Sound’s expert team provided the touring crew with the information and equipment they needed to ensure that all of the wireless signals would remain clear and interference-free.
Keeping it Digital
Another interesting component to the sound design was the use of digital audio. “I’ve been trying more and more to use digital audio directly from the actor’s microphones straight through the console and back out through the speakers,” says Caggiano. “Typically, that’s difficult to achieve, as most people are still using analog out of their receivers. But my goal was to avoid that and stay digital through the entire path. One unique thing we used were Focusrite AES Dante devices that allowed us to come directly out of the Sennheiser 3732 receivers and directly into the console’s digital signal path.”
Masque Sound also provided a Yamaha CL5 digital mixing console, which was selected for its ease of use, abundance of features, small footprint and ability to tour very easily.
A Team Effort
“I’ve had a wonderful relationship with Masque Sound over the years, and working with them is always a great experience,” adds Caggiano. “We always get the equipment we want, and it’s always prepped well and in great working condition. In addition to Masque Sound, Michael Tracey did a wonderful job on the production. I was pretty tied up during a lot of the prep, and Michael was very hands-on with Masque Sound and helped me put it all together. As a result, the show looks and sounds great.”
The Rent 20th Anniversary Tour runs through July, 2017 and hits all of the major U.S. markets.
Rent 20th Anniversary Tour
- Sound Company: Masque Sound
- Sound Designer: Keith Caggiano
- Associate Sound Designer: Michael Tracey
- FOH Mixer/Audio Head: Mike Rukstad
- P. A. System: (11) L-Acoustics Kara in L/R hangs
- Subwoofers: (4) L-Acoustics SB18 — two per side
- Fills: L-Acoustics 5XT (front fills); (2) X12 down fills
- Amplification: (6) L-Acoustics LA8 controllers in LA-RAK
- Drive Control: LA Network Manager.
- FOH Console: Yamaha CL5
- Wireless: Sennheiser 3732
- Headset Mics: DPA d:fine 4066’s