Sound In A Small Room

Just an earSo this is my opening post for the In a Small Room category.  I’m not sure exactly where this is going to lead but I have a strong feeling that talking about the challenges and joy of designing sound for a small space is going to be fun.  And I’m hoping that there are a few other folks out there that are interested and willing to add to the conversation.  Time will tell.

My small room is the MMAS Black Box Theatre located in Mansfield, MA.

The space itself seats 80 people in an L-shaped configuration.  The stage full is roughly 50ft wide and varies in depth from 15 to 17 feet.  The use of the stage varies dramatically (sorry) from show to show.  For musicals, the space is normally shared with the band.  And for certain shows that require a lot of backstage movement, a false wall is put up which can significantly reduce the depth of the stage.  One of the special aspects of this space (and many black boxes) is the physical intimacy between the audience and the actors.

We stage both musical theatre productions as well as plays of all styles.  I re-started my theatre sound work doing musicals with the traditional focus on wireless microphones for actors and working from Front-Of-House to create a good mix with the orchestra.  In the black-box environment, there are at least as many plays as musicals.  And many of these require a focus on sound design – often including the creation of a series of soundscapes/ambiences to create an aural environment as well as sound effects to complement the action on stage.

We have a fairly basic sound setup.  Overhead speakers at the rear of the space + speakers on each side + monitor speakers for the stage.   This configuration provides a surprisingly good starting point.  I bring in extra speakers to help with localization of sounds or to move the sound focus down onto the stage, in front of the audience.

Normally we use a basic Tascam analog mixer for mixing sound effects, vocals and the occasional keyboard into the house system.  When multi-channel audio is required, I bring in my Metric Halo 2882  firewire interface.

I use QLab running on a MacBook Pro for sound cues – this has proved to be one of my favorite tools.

Before I started in this space, it was rare for them to use microphones for musicals.  Talking to several music directors, they just felt that this kept things simple.  But of course there was the constant struggle to be heard over the band.  This changed quite a bit during the 2012/13 season.  The first show was Next To Normal, which is a rock show.  The director and music director felt that due to the style of the show and the amount of singing, they wanted to try microphones on all 6 actors.  This proved to be a great choice – more on this later.  But based on the success of this approach, I was asked to use mics for Cabaret later that season.  The wonderful outcome was that audience loved the improvements and everyone saw that mic’ing doesn’t necessarily mean loud.  It really means more control.

That’s it for the moment.  Welcome and please leave comments/suggestions.

I will try to keep fresh content flowing based on my experiences – looking back and looking forward.

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