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Spring Awakening Rises with Shure

FOH Staff • News • July 2, 2008

NEW YORK — Hailed by critics as the most explosive Broadway musical since Rent, Spring Awakening is a tale of passage from youth to adulthood told in a groundbreaking style taking full advantage of the primal force of rock ‘n’ roll. The winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2007, the show also relies on 20 channels of Shure UHF-R wireless.

"Historically, you don't think of handheld microphones as being go-to devices on Broadway," says Audio Engineer Francis Elers, rightly underscoring that lavalier mics have generally held sway on The Great White Way almost since the time of their invention, thanks to their ability to be easily concealed in a performer's hair or wardrobe. "But as the nature and scope of the shows change, so do our needs for mics. There are four or five full-on rock songs in Spring Awakening that haven't been diluted one bit for theatre sensibilities. To meet the needs of these numbers, both in look and performance, handheld mics were the only choice."

Spring Awakening Sound Designer Brian Ronan's first choice for handheld mics fell flat on two counts. Problems calling for the use of foam wind/pop filters on each unit couldn't be resolved because the look wasn't right and the filters denied free access to the devices during segments when the performers had to quickly take the mics from out of their pockets.

"We might have lived with those issues, but there were others too," Elers explains. "This is a very rambunctious show. The first mics we chose weren't up to the task of taking hard knocks. We needed something that could be punished regularly, and that's one of the reasons the switch was made to Shure UHF-R."

Spring Awakening's
20 channels of UHF-R are supported by an equal number of KSM9-equipped transmitters. Supplied by East Rutherford, N.J.-based Masque Sound as part of a comprehensive system installed for the show, the KSM9 handheld transmitters have supplied Elers with the sonic quality and performance he needs for the rock-and-roll numbers as well as the strength to survive an endless stream of pummelings.

"The KSM9s ask for little and give a lot in return," Elers adds. "With the high level of activity demanded of the performers on this show, mic technique ranks low on their concerns. Regardless of what they do, however, the KSM9s have soldiered on without pause, giving us the sound quality we need."

One evening, during a performance of an exceptionally raucous number called "The Bitch of Life," one performer accidentally let loose of his KSM9 during a dramatic mid-air leap. The mic hurtled across the stage and smashed a cello in the orchestra into kindling.

"It was a spectacular, unintentional shot," Elers says, laughing about the incident today. "The cello player was forced to sit out the rest of the evening, but the performer simply ran over, picked up his mic, and his portion of the show went on like nothing happened. That's a pretty good analog of how the wireless has performed on this show since its first night here. We turned it on and have had no problems since."


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