Backstage Intercom Best Solution

DSmith

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Aug 30, 2019
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BC Canada
I have been doing some research on a backstage communication system and I was hoping to get some feedback.

We are a small high school auditorium. We have recently purchased a Clear-Com wireless system (the Dx-210). This is good for the sound and lighting techs to to talk to the stage crew but we still don’t have a system for communication between actors backstage in the green room and dressing room to the booth.

To solve this I was looking at a couple different options.

We could get some clear com wall stations and mount them in the green room and dressing room. This way an actor could walk up to it and push the talk button and go through the clear com wireless. The only thing with this is that we would not be able to call a specific area backstage and have someone talk. Also everyone on the clear com would hear the conversation.

My second idea, although I’m not sure how common it is, was to install a Cisco PBX phone system for use as an intercom. It would consist mostly older gear bought cheaply off eBay. We could have a phone in the booth and a couple backstage. Someone could walk up to a phone and dial an extension and the other end could pick up.

For a couple hundred bucks more I could get some wireless access points. We could get some wireless Cisco phones and connect them to the access points. That way a couple of the techs could always be reached.

We are also looking at a backstage monitor system. I was looking at some sip paging interfaces to be able to page backstage from any of the phones.

Which makes more sense to you? What do you use in your theatre? Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks
 

macsound

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Jun 15, 2018
Location
San Francisco, CA
In some theatres I've worked in with poorly designed Clear Com systems, there would be wall panels in the dressing rooms but nothing in the hallways, bathrooms, kitchen area, shop or stairwells.
To resolve this we put in a 70v sound system and a PTT microphone in the booth. Also piped a mic hung over the audience into it.
 

RonHebbard

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Jun 12, 2004
Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
I have been doing some research on a backstage communication system and I was hoping to get some feedback.

We are a small high school auditorium. We have recently purchased a Clear-Com wireless system (the Dx-210). This is good for the sound and lighting techs to to talk to the stage crew but we still don’t have a system for communication between actors backstage in the green room and dressing room to the booth.

To solve this I was looking at a couple different options.

We could get some clear com wall stations and mount them in the green room and dressing room. This way an actor could walk up to it and push the talk button and go through the clear com wireless. The only thing with this is that we would not be able to call a specific area backstage and have someone talk. Also everyone on the clear com would hear the conversation.

My second idea, although I’m not sure how common it is, was to install a Cisco PBX phone system for use as an intercom. It would consist mostly older gear bought cheaply off eBay. We could have a phone in the booth and a couple backstage. Someone could walk up to a phone and dial an extension and the other end could pick up.

For a couple hundred bucks more I could get some wireless access points. We could get some wireless Cisco phones and connect them to the access points. That way a couple of the techs could always be reached.

We are also looking at a backstage monitor system. I was looking at some sip paging interfaces to be able to page backstage from any of the phones.

Which makes more sense to you? What do you use in your theatre? Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks
@DSmith Hello; Two thoughts:
1; Keep the actors OFF the production's intercommunication system where they'll often talk between an AM's "Standby" and "Go!"
2; Casual banter between cues often includes negative comments regarding various performers' performances during any particular performance; some comments will be less than flattering and SHOULD definitely NOT be heard by those with sensitive personalities between scenes on stage in front of paying patrons.

Indeed, there are many valid reasons to keep your performers OFF your production intercom system.

I STRONGLY support having a 70 volt distributed speaker system covering everywhere / anywhere backstage personnel; acting, technical, care taking, security and management are likely to be during load ins, outs, cueing sessions, rehearsals and performances. Such systems should NOT be audible to patrons during performances but should cover: Stage door, green room, ALL backstage corridors, offices, shops, washrooms, storerooms, stairwells, maintenance shops, boiler rooms, EVERY WHERE any where any / all personnel are likely to be when performances are about to begin, entrances are missed, fires erupt, yada, yada.
All speakers should carry performance monitoring audio at levels adjustable locally by DURABLE 70 volt stepped, (as opposed to continuously variable) attenuators. Said attenuators should / must include by-pass relays momentarily by-passing ALL local attenuators whenever a Stage Manager activates their paging microphone's momentary 'press to page' switch. ALL pages will be heard at full level in ALL locations regardless of settings of any / local attenuators. including any attenuators dialed down to reduce, and / or totally turn off, performance monitoring audio.
Them's my thoughts and I stand by them. Kevlar undies securely in place: All comments welcomed.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 
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microstar

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Jan 19, 2014
Location
Lawton, OK
Ron has succinctly explained the standard method, although implemented in many instances without the added cost of the over-ride paging relay. Such a system does not address your need of the dressing rooms talking back to the SM. This portion is often done via a separate Clearcom channel to the SM so as to keep the actors out of the production channel(s).
 

RonHebbard

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Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
Ron has succinctly explained the standard method, although implemented in many instances without the added cost of the over-ride paging relay. Such a system does not address your need of the dressing rooms talking back to the SM. This portion is often done via a separate Clearcom channel to the SM so as to keep the actors out of the production channel(s).
@DSmith and @microstar
Here's a link to a stepped, rotary, 70 volt attenuator with a DC operated momentary bypass relay. Durable rotary stepped 70 volt attenuators used to be more plentiful from several reliable, established, manufacturers. In more recent years, cheap 'n cheerful imposters have flooded the market; they're a fraction of the cost but, trust me, THEY'RE NOT worth your time to install them.
Prior to my retirement, the fellow I was free-lancing with purchased a sealed box of 100 70v rotary stepped attenuators with bypass relays and they were GARBAGE. We'd install and test them and everything tested flawlessly. We neatly applied masking tape to protect them from the spray painters. When we came back once the paint was dry, we removed the masking tape and everything was still operating flawlessly UNTIL we held an engraved, single gang, stainless cover in place and gently tightened the two, stainless, oval-head 6-32 machine screws to secure the pristine stainless cover in place.
Oh silly us! Gently installing the single gang stainless cover was all it took to deflect the cheap 'n cheerful flexible molded plastic attenuators just enough to make them either intermittent or cease working completely. DO NOT waste your time and money purchasing and installing any of the cheap 'n cheerful plastic 70 volt stepped attenuators, with bypass relays or not. They're GARBAGE, don't do it; be kind to yourself and those following in your wake.

Here's that link I mentioned 'way back up at the top.
These attenuators are almost as well built as the older units, attenuators that routinely survived 20 years or more in decently busy road houses being cranked by all manner of end users and frequently being bashed by the enclosed and castered rolling costume crates being hastily rolled into dressing rooms by IA crew in a hurry to load in and / or out.
The 35 watt model with bypass relay is very popular and well built.
https://www.atlasied.com/volume-controls-and-cables-accessories-volume-controls-commercial
Consider the AT35-PA. Old school looks, with tried and true performance.
@MNicolai Would you care to comment PLEASE!
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 

gafftaper

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The DX210 is a two channel system. If the base station is in the booth you can get a two channel wired belt pack for the stage manager and then setup a wired point somewhere backstage on channel two. That way there is a way for backstage to communicate with the booth but only the stage manager will hear the calls so there won't be interruptions to everything. I installed a system like this in a previous theater. I used a Pro Intercom HH10B in the greenroom (It's like an old telephone). It needs to plug into a belt pack. This was all screwed onto a wall making it easy for someone to contact the booth. And for the Stage manager, I have used the Pro Intercom BP 2 a 2 channel beltpack. Note: Pro Intercom gear is fully compatible with Clear Com gear, generally cheaper and better built. I have a Clear Com system that came with my theater but when I need new headsets or belt packs I buy Pro Intercom. If you have any questions about Pro Intercom, start a private conversation with @Diana Mullis .

And yes... a 70Volt system to send a copy of the audio backstage with a god mic from the booth to make general announcements. I like the AKG DST99 for this purpose.
 

DSmith

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Aug 30, 2019
Location
BC Canada
Thanks for the replies so far everyone.

I defiantly like the idea of a 70v system in all the backstage areas. The attenuator with a momentary bypass relay is also a great idea. I will defiantly do some more research into a system like this.

I defiantly agree that there needs to be separate Clear Com channels for the communication from the dressing rooms to the booth. Is Clear Com the only way that communication between back stage and the booth is normally achieved? Have you ever seen something like a phone system used?
 

microstar

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Joined
Jan 19, 2014
Location
Lawton, OK
Thanks for the replies so far everyone.

I defiantly like the idea of a 70v system in all the backstage areas. The attenuator with a momentary bypass relay is also a great idea. I will defiantly do some more research into a system like this.

I defiantly agree that there needs to be separate Clear Com channels for the communication from the dressing rooms to the booth. Is Clear Com the only way that communication between back stage and the booth is normally achieved? Have you ever seen something like a phone system used?
I've seen a phone extensions between the booth and backstage before, especially in educational environments where they are part of the campus phone system, but they are not used for production communications and, you have to make sure the ringers are off during a show.
 

RonHebbard

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Jun 12, 2004
Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
Thanks for the replies so far everyone.

I definitely like the idea of a 70v system in all the backstage areas. The attenuator with a momentary bypass relay is also a great idea. I will definitely do some more research into a system like this.

I definitely agree that there needs to be separate Clear Com channels for the communication from the dressing rooms to the booth. Is Clear Com the only way that communication between back stage and the booth is normally achieved? Have you ever seen something like a phone system used?
@DSmith and @microstar
I too have seen wall phones installed as redundant backups for all essential production locations including the FOH manager's office, stage door and green room.
In the case of this particular installation (Stratford Shakespearean Festival's Main Stage) the wall mounted phone system was the ONLY intercom system to the Stage Door, Box Office and FOH Manager's Office. The four production intercom channels ( Cueing, LX, Sound and SM Private ) Did NOT appear in any non-production areas; Cueing and Sound were both available for the orchestra conductor in the orchestra loft, Cueing was in ALL production locations and the LX channel was duplicated in all production locations as a redundant backup for the Cueing channel.
The SM Private channel was strictly limited to SM locations: SM booth, SM office, ASM back stage right, the two portable rehearsal table locations in the auditorium, one near the stage for preliminary rehearsals and the second further back for final rehearsals where a steady stream of calls would bother the cast and directors.
The SM channel also appeared in the one and only rehearsal hall in those days.
Stratford's wall phones DID NOT have ringers; instead, each phone was accompanied by two (redundant) wall mounted call lights, not quite Blaze-Ons but their 1960's telco equivalents.

That was 1977.

In more recent times, since the advent of ClearCom, ClearCom's HS6 handsets (with self-muting grip to speak momentary switches within their hand-grips) have become popular in FOH and non production locations. The HS6's are typically hung from convenient wall hanger mounts and connected via a 90 degree XLR4 to an MR102 or MR104 (forgive me if I'm mis-remembering the model numbers of the wall stations) ClearCom's HS6's were available in black, white and red with wall mounts to match. Ms. Mullis offers Pro Intercom's FULLY ClearCom compatible equivalents at appreciably more affordable prices.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 

RonHebbard

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Waterdown, ON, CA
I like the 70V override thing, Ron, but I've *never* seen it, anywhere...
@Jay Ashworth Did you see the link to a range of durable 70 volt stepped attenuators with bypass relays CURRENTLY manufactured and marketed on your side of the walls? This evening I'll post another chapter touting the DURABILITY of attenuators from the early seventies and the less than desirable molded plastic offerings of today.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 

RonHebbard

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Waterdown, ON, CA
I like the 70V override thing, Ron, but I've *never* seen it, anywhere...
@Jay Ashworth @DSmith and @microstar
Herewith, a chapter on the durability and quality of U.S. designed and manufactured 70 volt stepped attenuators with bypass relays from the early 1970's in comparison to the off-shore excrement of the past decade.

In 1973, the City of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada built Hamilton Place housing its Great Hall and Studio Theatre. The structure began as a hole in the ground in 1972 and opened in September of 1973. The 70 volt attenuators would have been installed in July or August, 1973.

The Great Hall housed 5 star dressing rooms, 14 dressing rooms for four to six performers plus two medium size rooms for 6 to 10 occupants and two larger rooms for 12 to 16 or 18 choristers and supernumeraries each. There were also two quick change rooms, four meeting rooms (two for meetings of a dozen or so seated and catered as required and two larger for meetings of forty or more each.) There were also a laundry room, carp's shop, props office and shop, LX office and shop, LX and SFX booths, an open mix position in the middle of the orchestra level seating, a sound rack room and repair shop under the house mixing position, a follow spot and projection suite of six more rooms plus a separate washroom for the spot op's and projectionists. Add stage door, coat check, FOH Manager's office, a First Aid room, a musician's room and several more store rooms and you had a fairly large 70 volt monitor / page system with stepped 70 volt by-passed attenuators in every room plus inside the loading docks and in the vending machine room.
Over the decades, partitions were added, new little offices created, cheap 'n cheerful home hi-fi attenuators added and slowly what began as a top drawer installation had fallen into a sad state of well intentioned improvements.

Fast forward to the mid 1990's. A local IA AV contractor was contracted to overhaul the entire system, undo the "improvements", repair / replace all of the substandard wiring and replace any equipment that had out lived its usefulness. Greg Cross and I invested more than two weeks discovering and documenting all of the "improvements", listed all items in need of replacement, then less than a week reassembling and upgrading. In the end, our boss chose to replace every stepped attenuator in the building. Greg and I saved at least six of the original attenuators which were virtually new (all six from rooms where they'd received very little use) along with approximately six more of the originals still in extremely serviceable condition.

Cutting to the chase: The best six of the 1973 original attenuators are still performing flawlessly in The Players' Guild Of Hamilton's 2.5 story plus basement plus addition at 80 Queen St. South in Hamilton, Ontario. The Players' Guild is an amateur group which began in the late 1800's and are still housed in the building in which they've been since the days of gas lighting in the early 1900's.

Honest! Six of the original 1973 attenuators are still working flawlessly to this day.

I don't believe any of the cheap 'n cheerful plastic jobbies from Taiwan and / or the Phillipines, which my boss installed in two other local venues in the early and mid 90's, are even in situ any longer, let alone still working to any degree whatsoever.

To a large degree 'Buy once, Cry once' applies when it comes to stepped 70 volt attenuators, with bypass relays or not.
The attenuators previously linked to a few postings back in this thread are about as good as stepped 70 volt attenuators get in terms of makes and models still being manufactured.
I rest my case. @MNicolai @Fme @Ancient Engineer and @TimMc Care to comment?
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 

BillConnerFASTC

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Location
Clayton NY 13624
Priority page use to be the term but now all Google turns up is internet "page" stuff. I see them frequently and actually designed and installed one many years ago - 1980? - with switches so the SM could select which rooms his page was heard in.
 
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dmx

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Virginia
We often send a video feed backstage and place TV's wherever they are needed. The benefits of this include individual volume control per room / location and the added benefit of being able to see where we are in the show. Audio is fed from an open hanging mic onstage, and you could easily mix in a PTT from the SM to layer on top of the feed. Coax is about $65 per 1000 ft and super easy to install. A $25 RF modulator takes a feed from your stage camera and whatever audio you want to send.
 

RonHebbard

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Priority page use to be the term but now all Google turns up is internet "page" stuff. I see them frequently and actually designed and installed one many years ago - 1980? - with switches so the SM could select which rooms his page was heard in.
Priority Paging systems are commonly heard in hospitals and airports.
In hospitals; Pages on wards are often subservient to / over ridden by floor-wide pages which in turn are subservient to / over ridden by hospital wide pages for fire, power outages, missing patients, natural disasters, et al.
In airports; Pages for a given boarding lounge / flight gate are often subservient to / over ridden by terminal wide pages which are often subservient to / over ridden by airport wide pages for missing persons, lost and found children, extreme weather, power outages, security threats, et al.

Seventy volt attenuators with override relays
merely ensure pages come through at full level in spite of whatever level the attenuator has been dialed down to, including if / when turned down to zero output.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 
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TimMc

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We had an opera client at our PAC when I was A1 for their show. Several complaints about "talent" not hearing pages. I kept turning up the green room/dressing room feed until it was audible on stage (yikes!!) from the adjacent green room.

I went down to back stage and found that the complaining "talent" had turned down their dressing room monitors and missed their call pages. I turned them back up, re-set the feed level to a more nominal setting. Next rehearsal, the same complaints. Told the SM over coms that if I came down and found the Alleged Talent had turned them down again that I'd charge the company $50 for each one I turned back up. It was BS, I had no authority to charge them anything - but it got the message across that if I had to leave the booth because the "talent was singing to their sphincters" I was gonna be an even crankier old guy. She sent the ASM to the dressing rooms and she turned the knobs back up.

I am now an absolute believer in overriding the DR volume controls with pages. I'm also a believer that opera singers should have their fingers amputated if they touch anything technical, but that's for another post.
 

RonHebbard

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Waterdown, ON, CA
We had an opera client at our PAC when I was A1 for their show. Several complaints about "talent" not hearing pages. I kept turning up the green room/dressing room feed until it was audible on stage (yikes!!) from the adjacent green room.

I went down to back stage and found that the complaining "talent" had turned down their dressing room monitors and missed their call pages. I turned them back up, re-set the feed level to a more nominal setting. Next rehearsal, the same complaints. Told the SM over coms that if I came down and found the Alleged Talent had turned them down again that I'd charge the company $50 for each one I turned back up. It was BS, I had no authority to charge them anything - but it got the message across that if I had to leave the booth because the "talent was singing to their sphincters" I was gonna be an even crankier old guy. She sent the ASM to the dressing rooms and she turned the knobs back up.

I am now an absolute believer in overriding the DR volume controls with pages. I'm also a believer that opera singers should have their fingers amputated if they touch anything technical, but that's for another post.
Durable STEPPED 70.7 volt attenuators with bypass relays are THE ONLY way to fly. I concur with your amputation thoughts.

In larger installations with multiple venues sharing a common bank of dressing rooms, there's a need to be able to prioritize pages by occupants.
If / when the residents of a given dressing room are in the cast of a studio production, they should only hear facility wide pages and pages related to their own production. Similarly if the occupants are in a main-stage production, they should only hear facility wide pages and pages related to main-stage productions. If / when a facility houses three or four venues, similar guidelines apply. If the producing organization is spread across town with several buildings each housing multiple performance and rehearsal spaces, the system just keeps on growing and growing. (Durable stepped attenuators, each equipped with bypass relays are STILL the ONLY way to fly.)
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 

macsound

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Jun 15, 2018
Location
San Francisco, CA
Something I learned from situations like Tim's is buildout.
One dressing room had a single clearcom station on the wall with volume control.
Second dressing room had 2 overhead 70v speakers.

Dressing room 1 always missed their cue because the wall panel was always turned down. Dressing room 2 never did because they didn't have volume control.

But the issue wasn't that the actors were stupid, its that in order for the back of Dressing room 1 to hear any cues, the two actors doing their makeup in front of the wall panel had to go deaf. This led the actors in the back of the room to turn it up the panel and the front of the room turn it down because they couldn't hear themselves think.

Dressing room 2 had well placed speakers that were able to be run at reasonable volumes but everyone could still hear the music and the pages.