Highlights: Shure’s future of theatre audio panel at PLASA 2019

Theatre sound has evolved significantly over the past 20 years. From the increasing availability of wireless microphones, to the development of discreet lavalier mics designed explicitly for theatre – new technology continues to push the industry forward. In partnership with Curtain Call, Shure put together a panel of industry experts at this 2019’s PLASA Show in London to explore the future of audio for theatre and how it continues to influence the very nature of theatre performance.

Transcribed below are some comment highlights from the panel, hosted by John Schwab of Curtain Call:

Q – “I would like to start with Zoe, it seems like there has been a huge shift in technology getting smaller and lighter. Can you give a snapshot of how audio has involved in the last 5 to 10 years? How do you see the shift?”

A – Zoe Milton (sound engineer) – In the last five years, I have noticed a lot more manufacturers are interested in what we are doing in theatre and providing solutions for us. There is a lot more technology that has clearly been thought about. There is a lot of interest in looking after our freelancers and professionals.”

Q – “Site specific has become a major part of our industry which opens up design, mixing and performing issues. How much have you come across that and how much does technology add to this?”

A – Scott Arnold (managing director, Autograph) – “From our point of view, boundaries are constantly being pushed, everyone wants something different, every show has to be something different otherwise it doesn’t last. When a sound designer goes into a show they must think outside the box, they must add something different. There are not enough theatres in London, they are all full up. Companies like Troubadour are building theatres to accommodate the amount of shows that are coming in. Trying to fit a full-scale musical into a 900 seater play house is another challenge.”

Q – “From Shure’s side of things, is this a challenge for you guys too and does this mean you have to come up with new innovations?”

A – Stuart Moots (associate director Pro Audio, Shure UK)“Of course, it is thanks to these guys we are where we are today. With the advent of digital wireless and the Axient Digital system, we had to listen. We had to go out and speak to people like our colleagues here to get where we needed to be today. The trade-off is it takes a lot of time to develop, we have to look into other things too like it being very congested in London. When putting huge channel counts into that space, we really need to know what is happening spectrum wise, not only locally but globally and then tie that into a product which gives something for everybody.”

Q – “I’d like to dig into performing and mixing, can you guys tell us about a challenge in design and tell us how you have come over hurdles to make sure everything is heard, no one wants to see a mic now do they?”

A – Richard Brooker (sound designer) – “I think that there has been a lot of pressure from suddenly having all frequencies reduced so everyone has to be extremely clever in developing technologies to fix that, which they have so we now have the same amount of radio mics we always did. For me, on the principal character, I always like to place two mics because as we know, sweat can temporarily dull down a microphone and we have to switch over to B packs so we don’t lose any quality and clarity in the sound. Mic packs used to be larger and we used to get a lot of hassle from wardrobe, costume designers, set designers and performers, so there has been a lot of pressures on this side of things and manufacturers have helped by reducing the size of the transmitters. In Shure’s case changing the shape of the pack as well so they are more ergonomically beautiful and easier to fit into the small of the back etc. That is helpful for us and has been a challenge for us, you can get an actor sounding absolutely beautiful in a mic position where you cannot really see the mic and then they go off stage and come back on wearing an enormous metre wide sombrero which completely changes the sound and then the director asks why they sound funny and obviously, we need to address that by doing something clever.”

Video highlights from the panel discussion at PLASA 2019 can be viewed below: