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Designing sound for The Pajama Game

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by amonthofsundays, Feb 14, 2009.

  1. amonthofsundays

    amonthofsundays Member

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    I just got brought on to do the sound design of a local high school's production of The Pajama Game. I’m going to be running about 20 RF mics with a Shure ULX radio system and B6 mic elements. They also informed me of an aspect of their set design that has me bothered. Because the theater doesn’t have a "real" orchestra pit and the "pit area" they have is very close to the audience, they have complained that in past shows the orchestra has always created serious balance problems for the first 10 or so rows. Before I was even brought on they decided to fix this problem by moving the orchestra onstage all the way upstage behind a skrim and to let the orchestra be seen in certain scenes. I am starting to think this is going to become a nightmare for me because every time they play a song its going to the bleeding into everyone’s mic all at different times. Is this setup even doable? I had planned to do forehead mounts but that seems out of the question now. I’m thinking the only way to salvage the situation is to ear mount as far down the cheek as possible to give me enough gain to avoid picking up much of the orchestra. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.
     
  2. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Occupation:
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    I think the situation is workable, just not ideal. What is the pit like for the show? If they are using a lot of electronic instruments, you have luck on your side because of ease of volume control. For the non amplified instruments, I would suggest some sort of sound absorbing material to help along like curtains adjacent to the pit area, and carpeting the pit.

    Work closely with the musical director to see how they can help the situation (having the drummer use reed bundles instead of traditional sticks, working with the horn players to play quieter, position horns differently, etc.).

    The director can help with blocking of problem scenes so that singers are further away from the pit. Every little bit helps.


    ~Dave
     
  3. hsaunier

    hsaunier Active Member

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    Moving the pit may be a true blessing. I would stick with the forehead placement of the mics. Most of the time the actors will be facing down stage. Thus their head acts as a barrier to the ambient sound of the pit. As I ponder this you likely would have more problems with the pit off stage near the audience because the mics would be line of sight to the ambient sound of the pit.

    Are you using any DS wedges? These may cause more issues then the pit itself.
     
  4. gpforet

    gpforet Active Member

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    I have done a few shows with the orchestra far upstage. My experience is that the result has been far better then when trying to balance the volume from onstage actors and pit volume.

    Here's what has worked for me:

    Make sure the orchestra is miced properly. Even for ensembles I sometimes consume 20 channels or so. Next, I subgroup them. I then calculate the acoustic delay between the actual orchestra location and the FOH speakers. I use the ballpark of 1ms per ft. Then I use the channel insert of the orchestra subgroup and insert a delay (in my case the orchestra was 30 ft upstage resulting in a 30ms delay). This time alignes the orchestra's acoustic signature with the amplified signal. This more than anything has tighened up the sound of the miced orchestra, especially with piano and drum.

    I also provide the downstage acting areas with some wedges giving them a bit of piano and drum for key, pitch, and timing.

    The music director gets a monitor feed of the wireless from the actors.

    I also provide the music director with an infrared camera feed of the stage, allowing her to see in the dark and gives her confidence in the SM's cues.

    With proper gating, the bleed from the orchestra to the actor's mics should be easily manageable.

    Of course, nothing will really help if the actors are whispering to each other and not projecting. This is been my biggest problem with miced actors. They quit projecting, thinking that the mic will make up for their lack of projecting skills. I've also experienced this with live bands. The more monitor you give them, the softer they sing, not realizing that their mix and the audience mix are entirely different. This is less true of experienced actors and musicians.

    Personally, I like having the live music upstage. For me the key to making this work has been to time align the orchestra (it's just like time aligning a backline), soft gating the actor's mics, and tweaking the monitor locations and levels to encourage the actors to speak (or sing) up.

     
  5. Dillon

    Dillon Active Member

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    I agree with a lot of what's already been said -- you aren't in as bad of a situation as you seem to think.

    *Stick with the forehead mounts -- what you'll lose in GBF, you'll make up in a more consistent sound quality and clarity.
    *A live band upstage will pull the image of the music upstage a bit, even though it's mixed into the main PA. Pulling this image up, will help make your vocals pop out of the mix, since they are imaged a bit further downstage (being only in the main PA), in "front" of the music's image.
    *Think isolation in the pit. Turn guitar amps upstage. Put up dividers/absorbers wherever you can get away with it.
    *You may be lucky enough to get away without having any sort of on stage monitors for the cast if your band is playing together well enough, reducing your stage volume significantly.
     
  6. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    A high school or two by my used to do this:

    got a few video feeds of the stage, ran it to a room adjacent the stage, mic'd the orchestra, used a few sound shields for reinforcement - ran it to an auxiliary mixer and had one board op mix the orchestra, and have one output feed to the main foh board, and have the main board op mix the mics/orchestra together.

    however, I like the orchestra on stage. That idea works a lot better in my opinion.
     
  7. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
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    At my high school we used a sound shell to create a little bowl (the top part was set straight up - not angled) around the pit orchestra. (No pit, no auditorium, just a gym.) It didn't look to bad and it didn't work too bad, either. It forced the sound up over everything and into the audience. We just ran an audio monitor and fed the vocals through to the director.
     
  8. amonthofsundays

    amonthofsundays Member

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    Wow guys thanks for all the great responses. I'll stick with my original plan and update you along the way.

    -Chris
     
  9. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    If you can get them to raise the orchestra up on a platform (like 12 feet high) that will be an additional improvement. I've seen two professional shows where they did this and the results were excellent. Not only was the sound clearly isolated between band and actors, but you also had a nice subtle silhouette view of the band.
     

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