One of my favorite things to do in live sound is a musical. I think it’s one of the toughest assignments in all of audio. Getting consistent sound from night to night, dealing with hundreds of cues, wireless issues, and an orchestra is a real challenge!
I fairly regularly do sound for high school shows which I also really enjoy. It can be a challenge, though, working with a drama teacher or even a volunteer director who doesn’t regularly deal with a “real” sound designer.
Here are a few tips for directors that will go a long way toward preventing sound related problems with the show.
The biggest issue I run into is a director who doesn’t work the technical aspects of a show far enough ahead of time. Quality sound for your show takes time. That means time before technical rehearsals, during rehearsals, and before doors open for each show.
Let’s break it all down.
Long before the show moves into technical rehearsal, the sound designer begins work. As soon as casting is complete, and the director has a feel for blocking and set design, I want to see a As soon as possible, the sound guy needs a clean and complete photocopy of the script.
Complete means every single cut, line change or other change you’ve make. Clean means a good copy. Be nice and go ahead and 3 hole punch it for a binder. One page of the script to a page. Don’t use both sides of the paper. We make lots of notes, and highlight, and things will fade through the pages. I like the script flush to the left hand side of the page. That way my notes can go down the right column.
In the alternative, you could scan the script with each page becoming a .jpg image. I have done books in a spreadsheet using this technique. I makes for a very nice book, and it’s great for long runs.
Once your sound designer has the book, he or she will go through the show, line by line and scene by scene. The object of this exercise is to find every sound effect or piece of music needed, and to determine who needs a body mic, and when. As a director, you may be used to doing this yourself. Feel free to give you sound person input and preferences. That’s always helpful. If they’re good, your sound designer will likely be able to show you how to do the show with more efficient, fewer and more appropriate mic pack swaps.
Speaking of swaps, there is nothing wrong with using a wireless unit for multiple characters. But remember this! ONLY the transmitter moves. The microphones stay with the actor. It’s difficult enough to keep the mics in the right places on actors to avoid bad sound without trying to move them around.
In theater mic placement is critical. In a more traditional show, we want to keep the mics as invisible as possible. Mics are often placed over the ear, or in the hairline using elastic loops. Occasionally, they may be concealed in clothing, but this is tough. Mic elements are not draped over the ear and taped in the middle of the cheek.
Wherever the mic is placed, the key is consistency from performance to performance. For that reason, I like using an ear clip rig like the one shown here. Telex makes them, and they are a real help. A piece of heat shrink tube or some tape to mount the mic element, and you simply don’t have to worry about placement issues. They stay in place all night long!
One final note. If you’re using wireless microphones for a musical, then every character who has a line should be amplified. It just doesn’t work to have some actors on a mic, and others without. It’s distracting the the audience, and when the un-mic’d lines come up… it looks like the sound guy made a mistake.
But even with all of your actors on a wireless microphone, don’t make the mistake of thinking the sound system will solve every projection issue! They won’t. We’ll look at what a director needs to remember during casting and rehearsal tomorrow!
Photo by Omega Man