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Behind Audio Operations with Wicked, Part 1

Aug 23, 2011 1:59 PM, with Bennett Liles

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So a lot of tricks used to camouflage those mics and to keep them in position with all this running around. How many people have you got backstage working on all this?
On the tour we travel with two sound people in the department. There's a department head and the assistant which I'm the assistant on the show, and we have one local person from each city that we will train the backstage of a local crew member to learn our cues backstage…our sound cues so we do that so that in case there's a problem elsewhere…if there's something going on in the orchestra pit or if the ClearCom shuts off or something like that we can…the road person can go and take care of that problem and if there's microphone swaps and cues like that a local person can go and do that. We never like to interrupt the performance for a small technical problem. [Timestamp: 7:27]

Do you actually attach the mics to the performers after they're outfitted with their costumes or are those mics and transmitter in any way built in? Do they wear something underneath that's designed to hold transmitters in special pockets or anything?
A lot of the cast members in the show will have these little elastic microphone pouches…a transmitter pouch. It's almost like a pouch that a cell phone would fit into but little transmitters will fit inside this elastic pouch and it has a snap button on there that will hold it in place and most of the guys will have that—some guys because they have different costumes that fit differently in certain areas of the body, they will actually wear an elastic harness that has these microphone pouches built into them so most of the time the guys and the girls in this show—the transmitters will be worn in the small of their back right above their waist line so it doesn't get in the way of costumes and things like that but other people they wear them a little higher, like in the middle of their back because of costumes fitting in a different way. Once we pass the microphones out to the actors they put the microphones on themselves. The principal actors will actually put the microphones on themselves or they will have someone from the hair department to actually put the microphone on them, pin it in place and do their hair all at the same time and that is sort of standard practice. There are times when we are required to go in there and mic the actor or the actress during that time—most of the time it's someone from the hair department will take care of it for us and then we go behind later on…just to make sure that it's in the right position and if it needs to get moved or something like that we let them know and they do it for us. [Timestamp: 9:14]

Now that could be acoustically a little tricky I would think when the actors are all in tight groups on stage. Do you have any acoustic situations where you're picking up people on multiple mics?
Yeah there are times when a guy or a girl will–they could be in a big dance number, they could all be facing downstage singing toward the audience and two actors may turn to each other and you'll pick those two people up louder than everyone else in the cast especially if it's in the ensemble. When they're all grouped together like that it's hard to chase those kinds of things—sometimes those are just unavoidable–sometimes you can talk to the dance department and just say, "Is it possible that they can not turn as much or they can do the blocking different so that we don't get these two actors three times as loud as everyone else?" But yeah, there are times when we do that we do pick up more than one person in another person's microphone especially if it's the ensemble. If it's principals, principals are on different faders so we have individual control of them to the point of if two people are singing and they turn and they face each other we can just use one microphone as oppose to…getting phasing and those two people being louder but ensemble groups, large groups, they're a little bit difficult to do that because it's a lot of…you've got 18 ensemble members that you would have to…to chase—and then you would also have to watch the stage…watch the faders and so that would be a lot to do. [Timestamp: 10:4]

Yeah that's a very big job as it is.
Yeah it's a big job to do that.

Well, it's a tremendous job to keep up with all that and as you said it's live so you're pretty well hanging out in the wind on it. I'm sure that it has to be very well rehearsed and you have to know the script very well. In Part 2 we're going to get into some of the tools you used to make the job more manageable—Sennheiser's wireless systems managers and some frequency coordination and some others things. It's Anthony Jones with the Broadway show "Wicked" now on tour. Thanks for being here Anthony and we'll see you again in Part 2.

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