I’m about to finish a production run of an old classic ballet called “Merry Widow” which premiered in 1975. It’s a fun show and beautiful to watch. Enough about the ballet though.
A few audio facts right off the bat here.
The only playback involved (besides rehearsal music) are some glass breaking cues when the dancers toss their champagne glass offstage that I recorded in a warehouse. The production benefits from having an orchestra in the pit. The house PA system is severe overkill for a production like this but there is still a need for a well thought out small PA to cover announcement duties, provide broken glass sound to the majority of the house and to provide a touch of orchestra enhancement for seats not near the pit.
In order to make sure those near the front of the theater (nearest the stage) have a quality experience, I located a “practical” speaker offstage near where the champagne glasses are supposed to be crashing. For those who are further out in the venue, the “practical” won’t translate correctly so I’ve also added a bit of the same glass breaking sound to the house left speakers being careful to avoid having too much in the house. House audio engineer Doug Kirk, IA sound engineer Paul Strong & myself spent a good deal of time balancing out the glass sounds between the practical and the house left PA to make sure everyone could still believe the glasses were actually breaking offstage.
Speaking of the house PA, I have been flying (4) QSC KW122 speakers. (2) per side as lower and upper pairs. The upper pair is meant to provide coverage to the upper balconies. The lower pair covers from the pit edge and up to about the 4th level balcony. Realistically there is probably too much overlap but if I splay things out vertically any more, I will either wash the pit or wash the ceiling. The first time I tried this PA concept I flew (3) pairs as lower, middle, high but it was obvious that the middle pair wasn’t needed and only made things worse.
This time around I considered whether only (1) pair can cover the entire venue but decided that while it may work, it doesn’t allow for any error or flexibility. For instance, if the upper balc needs more volume, there is no way to provide it. Logically if the far balcony is twice as far away from the pit as the orchestra seating, in order to maintain a consistent level, the upper pair of speakers needs to be louder.
The seats closest to the pit are getting direct orchestra sound. As you move back in the house on the orchestra level, you lose direct view of the orchestra and so you lose direct sound. Consequently as you move away from the pit, the high frequencies are blocked by the pit wall and so we need to add some sizzle back to the orchestra. This is accomplished by micing the orchestra which is primarily done to provide fold back (stage monitors) for the dancers. Those same mics are used to enhance what is missing. Not to make things louder but to make things intelligible. As you move upward in the venue, you begin to see the entire orchestra again at which time you don’t need the same enhancement as you do on the orchestra level. Now the issue is the matter of balance between the brass and percussion sections and the wood and string sections. When the brass and percussion are playing loudly there is no chance the woodwind and string players can compete and they are buried. The upper speaker pair needs to avoid adding any brass or percussion but enhance the strings and woodwinds a bit.
(3) zones with (3) distinct needs.
Zone 1 is covered by the live orchestra but still requires coverage for announcements and sound effects.
Zone 2 relies on the lower speaker pair to add the top back onto the orchestra (due to the physical obstruction). Zone 3 relies on the upper speaker pair to balance out the strings and woods with the direct sound of the brass and percussion section.
So we’re stuck using (2) pairs of speakers doing different things but overlapping a bit somewhere between the 2nd level box seats and the 4th level balc.