When sound designer Carlton Guc signed on with the second staging of the teen musical '13' at the Ohio-based Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory (FPAC), he had a bright idea. By involving his own lighting/sound software company, Stage Research, he was able to invite some of the top audio and lighting manufacturers to participate in the production. The benefit proved to be two-fold for both the manufacturers and the show itself. By day, during the show's 3-week run, reps from ADK Pro Audio, d&b audiotechnick, DiGiCo, EV Microphones, and Lectrosonics participated in an open house—where engineers from community theaters, schools and houses of worship were invited to get real hands-on time with some of the most cutting-edge gear available on the market. And nightly, the FPAC production—comprised solely of teens—had the benefit of using Broadway-caliber technology from mics to lights. â€¨
DiGiCo's SD8 digital console handled front of house and monitoring sound, with the SD8 MADI rack onstage. An assortment of 13 Lectrosonic VR digital hybrid mics were employed for the cast, along with d&b audiotechnik D6 amps with E12's for house and E12's for the orchestra with two E15-Subs. Due to the size of the stage, the orchestra was actually located in the basement under the theatre seating. "We had a video camera and video monitors in the room where the band was located so that they could see the action of the performers on stage," Guc explained. "The E12 and E15 were built into the back of the stage set so that the audience would have the feel that the musicians were in the same room, even though they were not. These are some of the obstacles where, with a bit of creativity, we were able to create a fantastic environment for the audience. EV provided the drum mic kit, ADK Pro Audio supplied the show computer, and Stage Research its SFX, LightFactory, RF Guru and ShowBuilder software.â€¨â€¨The show first premiered in February and the production team basically cobbled together whatever equipment they could to get the show up and running. "We made it work," Guc recalled, "just as many small regional theatres do to make what they have work—and sold out nearly every performance. When we were given the option to bring the show back to FPAC, it seemed like a great idea to approach companies like DiGiCo to not only have some high-end quality equipment for a show that deserved it, but also offer the education of a complex system used in the real-world to techs in Cleveland, which has the second highest concentration of theatres in the country outside of New York. It also got me out from behind the computer, programming software that sound designers use, and sit in their seat, to keep fresh on the needs of designers and mix engineers."
"Our production of '13' enabled people to understand the full scope of how this technology can work for them," said Sean Szaller, director of '13'. " Sound and Lighting 411 was able to draw reps, rental companies, houses of worship and others to first see the show and then come to the open house for quality time with the latest gear used for Broadway, Vegas and professional touring used to run the production. Restaging '13' with new equipment, too, has made the clarity of the show unbelievable. We've been able to mix the show suitably for the space."
"This space was originally a church," added Guc. "The venue has been modified to support the school, but, as with most converted venues, the space can be challenging. One of the difficulties with this venue was the stage was very small. We had to extend it out front and locate the orchestra remotely one floor down in a different room. For this, I was able to bring in 9 mic channels for drums, two keys, two guitars, and bass, as well as another 13 for vocal mics. For the first production run, we had to use two different consoles, one that probably dated back to the 1980s. It was great having the DiGiCo for this additional run as it not only gave me the ability to put it all on one desk, but also offered the other items that I didn't have for the first run through: great sounding eqs for each of the actor voices, compressor/limiters that I could put on the channels, and some gentle reverbs for some of the more delicate songs. The difference between the first show and this one was really night and day. We had a number of people say, 'This was a show you'd see in downtown Cleveland… or on Broadway.'"
Although this was Guc's first hands-on DiGiCo experience, he's now a fully-fledged fan. "I'm a pure technician and sound/software designer… being able to sit down in front of a console that feels like a console—but that has the same mindset as a computer—is incredible. From this day on, any opportunity I have if I have with the budget to use a DiGiCo in my show, you bet I'm going to use one."
For the production, we used an ADK Pro Audio computer to record the show, and using the MADI port on the SD8 Guc was able to record all the actors and the orchestra during rehearsals. "Once they were done, I could then go in and listen to every track, dialing in the EQs, gains, compressor/limiter effects on every single voice and sound coming into that board without having to have the actor or musician there. It also gave my board op the ability to hit 'Play' on the playback computer, mix the show, practice the cues, and set all the levels for a particular scene. It was so easy on this system, and that alone made the quality of the show so much better."
Another benefit was the surround configuration using the console. "I had a bunch of the d&b audiotechnik speakers running out of the SD8 thru the AES port to get the digital signal to go right into the amps at the digital level… using my company's SFX audio playback software, we were able to run all the sound effects for the show into the DiGiCo board and they sounded amazing."
Reflecting back on the conclusion of the show's 3-week production run, Guc was pleased that FPAC was able to deliver a high-quality, performance with the added support of the equipment manufacturers participating. "At the end of the day, we proved that '13' was a show not to be missed," he mused, "with a sound system to match the talent on stage."