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Behind Audio Operations with Wicked, Part 2

Sep 12, 2011 5:16 PM, with Bennett Liles

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Now I heard you also had a chance to tour the Sennheiser plant in Albuquerque. So what all did you see there?
What we saw there was the making of Sennheiser’s…some of the wireless mics that they make there, some of the handheld microphones, circuitry boards that were being made and it was actually…it was quite interesting seeing the amount of circuitry boards that could be made within a certain amount of time and there’s just a machine that’s doing all this stuff precisely. And it’s one of those things I had never seen before and you sort of take things like that for granted because you…you think it’s just someone sitting there just doing these things and it’s like…it’s an actual machine but at the Sennheiser factory they were very serious about keeping the outside environments outside and not letting that come inside the building because that can destroy and compromise the Sennheiser product so they were very serious about static electricity and humidity and all sorts of things and it was very impressive seeing that everyone that was working at the factory had on lab coats and safety goggles. It was quite impressive for me and I thought, “All right this is really cool.” [Timestamp: 8:49]

Yeah I can imagine. There’s some things you should never see being made but surely a wireless mic system isn’t one of those and it would tend to change your attitude every time you used that equipment after you’ve actually seen it all put together.
Correct. Correct.

So what other types of signal processing do you use on a big show like that? I know it can be a real challenge for mixing.
We currently have a combination of digital and analog pieces of equipment on this tour. We have two Cadac J-type analog consoles that are doing the FOH mixing for the show. One console handles principle actors and ensemble actors and the other console handles all of the orchestra inputs, sound effects, miscellaneous inputs for playback, when we’re doing a system check, when we’re listening to the speakers. We may have an iPod input or a CD player input, announcement mics, percussion, and drums so those two consoles and then we also have a smaller console that handles percussion and drums all on one console and then we just take those inputs and bring them onto the bigger console. We’re also using a system called Stagetec mixes audio routing. In short, it has eliminated us carrying a lot of copper on the tour. When the general managers and the producers decided to put out a second North American tour "Wicked," their first thing was everyone needs to cut back because we want this particular tour to not only be out—they want this tour to be out for at least for 10 years but also to play big and small venues all across the U.S. and Canada and we’ve proven that…this tour has fit into some of the smallest theaters throughout the U.S. and some of the biggest theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada. So allowing us to carry a fiber optics system, which is the Stagetec system, I would say it cut back on maybe four cable cases of copper for orchestra inputs, RF mic inputs, and miscellaneous inputs. It’s all been cut down to fiber optic cables and it really sounds great. [Timestamp: 10:58]

You’ve got to use every technological advance that you can to make the job easier on this.
Oh yeah and cutting back on cable was the main thing as I…we all have to cut back on everything because the other tour that’s out started in 2005 and they’re still using some analog pieces on there but they’re carrying a lot more cable than we are and when this tour started it came down from the top, “This has to be smaller. We want to cut back a little bit on some of the technical things and if we can do that that would be great but we don’t want to compromise on the quality of the show.” So if you were to look at the first North American tour of "Wicked" and the second North American tour of "Wicked" you really won’t see that much of a difference—maybe a scenic element here and there but cast wise we’re the same. We’ve actually played some of the same venues and I think we have maybe two less trucks than the other tour does but with us cutting back on the cable that was really important so the Stagetec’s Nexus system has really helped us. It sounds really good. We love it. It’s very flexible so the guys out in…out in Germany at Stagetec have really put together a great system that we love. [Timestamp: 12:1]

Yeah we’ve talked to them on the podcast too and they do have a wonderful system in the Nexus networking set up.
Oh yeah, yeah and it’s a lot…granted we’re talking on the phone…this is great but to actually see it—it would be even better to see it in person to see the actual set up of everything and to get an idea and also they wanted to cut our footprint down for backstage a little bit so there have been times when we’ve gotten to theaters and it’s just…the sound department for backstage—we might have a small room that we have to cram everything into so we either decide to leave everything in their surround cases or we take them out to increase the room that’s in there. So those are tough decisions and also we don’t want to expose the equipment to a harsh environment—if there’s a flood in the building, you don’t want any of that equipment to get damaged. You don’t want it to get damaged by someone walking by and they kick it by accident and destroy a piece of cable, a piece of equipment. It’s a lot of decisions that have to be made and we also have to do…we’re given a specific area in each city, “This is the area that you’re in.” It’s up to us to make it work and for us to make it fit within this square sometimes a triangle. In an ideal situation we would love to stretch out and put stuff everywhere. But there are some cities where we just can’t do that because of the limitations of that theater we have to work within that triangle sometimes to make everything fit. [Timestamp: 13:4]

Well, all part of handling a very big show and it’s great to get a close look at how you do it and what goes into it and I sure appreciate you being here to tell us about it—Anthony Jones with the Broadway show "Wicked" now on tour. Anybody listening to this and then seeing the show will have a much better idea of what goes into it.
Glad to be here. Hope you guys enjoy and get out to see it sometimes.

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