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Intercom / Monitoring Solution in HS

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by GHSStageManager, Dec 28, 2008.

  1. GHSStageManager

    GHSStageManager Member

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    Hello all!

    For my first question, I'd like to propose my solution to a problem that I have as Stage Manager and get your opinions on my idea.

    First off: monitoring. For as long as anyone involved can remember, the SM has never called the show past the scene / set cues. Lx and sound always had their own scripts and ran their business by themselves. For this upcoming production, I've gotten approval to call the entire show. This is both a) very exciting and b) rather troublesome. Normally, when I need to call a prop / scene cue during BO - I walk out a bit on stage (still hidden by curtain) and make sure all is set. But if I'm calling a lx cue to end the BO, I can't do that.

    I have an idea to mount a CCTV camera on top of our dead-hung electric and then push the feed into a monitor in the L or R wing (wherever I am). I know CCTV cameras have the ability to see in the dark (IR), but what about getting washed out from followspots?

    Also, in an effort to cut down on the # of actors wandering aimlessly backstage an act before their cue - I'd like to push that feed into the actor's dressing room (which is right next to the stage). Also, I'd like to hang a mic from that same electric and pipe that into a speaker system in said dressing room. Has this idea been implemented in a HS that you know of? How did it go?

    Problem 2: Intercoms. We are using 2-way radios for our comms, which does work a lot of the time. However, we have been having problems with dropped signals recently, going from the wings to lx op. I'd like to attempt to convince the director (she controls the budget) to purchase a clear com system. One for L + R wing, lx op, sd op, and followspot 2 (opposite side of auditorium). The problem that this presents is that I would most likely be on the side of the stage opposite the base station. ONE of my questions: How hard would it be to run cable that would allow me to control the comms (w/ the base station) on the side opposite where all the other power-needy (PA, RF recievers, etc.) is?

    Also: How hard would it be to run wires through the walls and create XLR drops at the L + R wings, lx, sd, and followspot two?

    I know I am asking a lot, but I sorely need advice.

    Thank you
     
  2. rwhealey

    rwhealey Active Member

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    Occupation:
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    We have both a "backstage monitoring system" for audio that was installed with the original theater. It's a 70v system that's totally separate from the main PA with speakers in the green room, dressing rooms, manager's office, and light booth. This uses two old EV shotgun mics below the first catwalk. It works pretty well. Nobody knows how or why, even me, the sound guy. I just leave it alone.

    Then, we have a poorly designed video information system installed about eight years ago. I'm currently working on re-doing the whole thing.As far as sound goes, it takes audio off an aux output from our PA (I think that's better than the shotguns, as we can control the level of body packs/send a pre-fade signal if an actor needs to talk to somebody in the light booth).

    We have a Sony pan/tilt camera in the light booth which feeds into our video matrix switcher. We send that signal to the pit, stage right, and the fly rail. It could also go to any classroom in the school (including the green room) until last year, when the IT guys "upgraded" the school's video servers.

    I am now ripping out all the old coax video cabling and replacing it with Cat5e + Bulans because that will be upgradeable in the future (think high-definition), takes up less space, and is cheaper than Coax. They also put in some kind of infrared controllers in place that takes up a lot of cable, but has never been used and is now soundly broken.

    Here's what I would do:
    -Pick a camera in your budget range with a built in microphone. Regular light works for us, as anything we need to see will be lit anyway. Just make sure to manually focus, as a camera will lose its autofocus in the dark
    -Get composite video splitter like this one
    -Get two pairs of something like this (depending on what type of connector the camera has)
    -Run Cat 5e cable (you can probably get some from your school's IT/computer people, if not it's not too expensive) to two televisions, then use the other side of the converter to hook up the audio and video. Running cable is not fun, as I have found in my ongoing video project. Multiply all time estimates by ten.

    It might not sound or look good, but that's really not needed for getting the cues right.


    As far as the clear-com issue, we have an installed Telex with its own conduit. Try to find blueprints showing where audio conduits run, but I doubt that they'll be optimally located or open.

    If I were you, I would contact a pro installer and talk about how much such a system would cost to get professionally installed.
     
  3. 1kfresnel

    1kfresnel Member

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    I am currently working on a proposal to upgrade our monitoring system, but currently we have two audio feeds into the music suite area adjacent to the stage -- a split from the main house feed, and two overhead mics. I'm not sure what kind the mics are, but they are of very superb quality. They were installed years ago by the former Music Department chair and hung from an inaccessible location on the walks). Generally for productions I run the house feed into the dressing rooms, where the mics are used more for recording of band / orchestra / choral performances.

    We have two cameras that feed into the music suite also, but we do not have a split of the feed in any of our control areas (currently -- I'm trying to rework this). There is a pan-tilt-zoom unit under the second catwalk, and there's a "conductor camera" (with zoom) on the back wall, which for all effective purposes, is worthless to anyone other than the instrumental groups since it is covered by drops.

    I'm looking to replace all the music department's hodge-poge "stereo" systems with proper in-ceiling monitors (some rooms are drop ceiling, some rooms are open beam). The video feed they have is fine, but I'd like to implement a few of our own shots with IR for the control areas.

    I intend to zone all the audio monitoring systems, and they'll most likely be run @ 70v for distance requirements. At the same time I want to install another zone in our atrium. The PA system is inaccessible to us, though, ironically, the building was built with a pipe directly from the control booth to the PA pull box. We even have video distribution feeds...somehow we were supposed to fit a TV studio in our space.

    I would support the installation of Cat5e/Cat6 cable because it provides an excellent upgrade path for the future, is very easy to install and terminate. After determining your pathways, lay out a reasonable distribution system and home run everything to a central location with a patch panel. This might be the booth, or a midpoint backstage where you can patch booth lines into others with great flexibility. Pull as much cable as you can afford to (it's cheap and sometimes even free if your school/district has it sitting around), or get your conduits/pathways sized to facilitate easy pulling in the future. DMX, Audio, Video, etc are all starting gaining popularity over this type of cable. Consult a professional to verify your requirements (plenum rated in air spaces, etc). Keep in mind the nominal run is 100m total (90-95m "horizontal" (plate to plate) with 5-10m left for "drop" (patch) cables at either end). Some things can push this specification (eg DMX), but for it to be multi-purpose use it is best to stick with the standards.

    rwhealey, running cable can be quite the challenge. It's almost a puzzle of sorts, between physical access, code requirements, etc. Professionals have all sorts of tricks up their sleeve. Pick there minds if you ever get the opportunity. I worked professionally in data communications for 4 years at a large university, and the lessons I learned from senior cablers all the way through the senior communication engineers were invaluable. I've seen a pair of veteran electricians with two decades of experience with the campus bill over 40-man hours on a SINGLE run before. Sometimes the going is tough. I still would prefer to cable in a commercial setting than a residential any day (new builds excluded).

    Hope this all provides a tad bit of insight and good luck!
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2008
  4. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    At my school, I'm not the SM but I am the Lighting Designer and am very active in calling lighting/spot cues during our shows. Like you, our SM only calls set, curtain, and begin/end scene cues for the most part. Usually, the light board op would just sit with a script and follow along, but when the board op isn't the LD, then that becomes difficult.

    I also work extensively with a local community theatre, where I am some combination of LD, TD, SM, or whatever else they need. For the last show I was the SM and the LD, so while I was calling every cue to the board op, it wasn't too difficult. For backstage audio monitors, we just set up a microphone on a stand in the pit CS, and ran a cable to two speakers set up backstage, as well as one speaker in the green room. Not the ideal situation and certainly not permanent, but it worked in a pinch. The theatre has cable running from the booth direct to the green room, which we used to show the stage (unfortunately, it was just a normal camcorder, so no IR or anything). Near my SM's desk on SL, we had that video duplicated, and also a closeup of the conductor, taken from about 5 feet in front of him in the pit. The conductor cam was necessary because I tend to cue in line with the music (many bump cues with music) and seeing the conductor's beat was crucial to good cue timing. Depending on the cues in your show, you may want to set this up - it's fairly simple to set up and run a cable to backstage.

    To make up for not being able to see in the dark, I did exactly what you did - walk up right to the edge of the stage and wait for everything to be set. I coordinated with the board op such that I would call the standby right at the start of the blackout, and then I just said "Go" to signal the next cue, rather than restating the cue number. This meant that I could say it quietly and quickly without the audience noticing or needing to be on book or needing to remember the cue number.

    I know exactly how you feel about using walkie talkies for comms - we use these at my school and we used them for this show. Once you use a Clear-Com for the first time, going back to walkie-talkies is horrific. For the most part, we've been lucky in that walkie-talkies generally work for us, although in our fall show we did notice a larger number of problems than in the past, so Clear-Com might be in the near future. If you are unable to reliably communicate with people on your crew via walkie-talkies, then you need to work something out immediately. The ideal situation would obviously be to get a Clear-Com system, but in the meantime you cannot allow your show to suffer. If it's cutting out to the spots, maybe give the spots a separate channel and have the Light Board Op relay information to them when necessary. If you cant reliably reach the board op, thats a serious problem. If you're feeling adventurous you can try to rig up a system of cue lights for the board op, but I would not recommend this. Maybe have a day where you walk all around the stage and find the spots where it works and where it doesnt, and attempt to find a spot where you can call the show where it always works.

    This doesn't exactly answer your question, but I know that getting anything done in a high school takes a lot of time and effort, and you will have to figure out some way to make what you have work. Having a faulty communications system or monitor system is not an excuse for a sloppy show. Hopefully this will help you to develop some temporary fixes to your problems until more permanent solutions can occur.
     
  5. 1kfresnel

    1kfresnel Member

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    This is similar to what we do. We use walkies between the booth, SL, and SR. I, as TD/responsible adult, also carry one in case a situation arises. The mic runners and a sound board op utilize a different frequency for their communication.

    We use a dying telex system between the light op and spot ops. It has a tendency to short out which I haven't been able to identify. The spot ops are pretty good with their cues, and also have a custom monitor feed off an aux on the FOH console. Worst case in our setup, when the telex fails, the light board op goes over and opens the door.

    Our next upgrade is better walkies. Generally they're fine until someone goes on VOX(!?!?!). I don't think we could go back to a wired system, and wireless telex/clearcom is out of the budget.
     
  6. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    Andrew's post reminded me of one more thing about walkie-talkies. While they are very annoying and have many issues that make them less-that-desirable for theatre use, they do have some good points. For one they are cheap, so you can have a lot of them, enough to give one to your entire crew. On my shows I always put spots on their own channel so the head spot can help coordinate cues and such. Each spot has two radios, one on the general channel and one on their private spot channel, and I as the SM am also on both channels. But most importantly, walkie-talkies are small and portable - you can take them all over the stage. But with a wired Clear-Com system (since wireless will likely be out of your price range), you are restricted to a small area of movement.

    Depending on your backstage organization, this could be just a small change or a major drawback. This means you'll have to have one ASM per side of the stage whos only job is to listen to cues and relay the information to the stagehands, who actually do the labor. On the fly rail, you might need a person off-headset to execute the cues. If a scene change calls for all the techs on SL for example, you will have problems since everyone on headset is tied to their position. And you as the SM will not be able to move around to get a better view of the stage, which I always do. if you have a large, well-trained crew, this will probably just result in a slight change in backstage organization, since the stagehands will have to be given their standbys by the ASMs, after hearing it from you. If however you have a somewhat small number of techs or you do not have a well-disciplined crew, this could cause serious problems. The people actually doing the work will not actually get to hear the standby, but will instead be reminded by someone who is on headset. And the people on headset, who are actually hearing the cues, cannot ever go on stage or go somewhere else to execute a cue.
     
  7. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Spot ops on radios seems like a bad idea to me, especially two! It usualy requires two hands to run followspot, sometimes three if a color change and iris is to happen simultaneously. Exactly how is one supposed to key the mic? Plus, spots aren't moving anywhere, a wired full-duplex headset is always desirable.
     
  8. aminorking

    aminorking Member

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    You should not need to run a cable to control the base station as it should be set up and ready by the tech. You just need a beltpack for yourself which you could gaffa to your desk. If you are running two circuit this will probably have to be a dual circuit beltpack unless the base station has dual circuit headset outputs (XLR-4 i belive)

    If your "space" has false ceilings this can be very easy those streches, just feed the cables above the tiles. Also, as comms runs on XLR-3 then you could just use the XLR conncetions in the walls (if you have some) which the soundies use to get comms to the booth etc

    Hope that helps
     
  9. 1kfresnel

    1kfresnel Member

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    False ceilings are great depending on how much mechanical "junk" is up there. Never lay cables directly on a false ceiling. Always use J-hooks, bridal rings, or some other fastening device (zip-ties to the ceiling grid supports if your in a bind). Also keep in mind many false ceilings function as air return plenums, in which case the wire should be properly rated for that type of installation, or installed in conduit.

    Oh and never, ever ever attach cabling to any fire suppression apparatus. They WILL find you...or really, more likely, cut your cable without notice.

    If you need to get a chase from SL to SR, bridal rings also help when you have exposed beams to clamp to.


    Referring back to the original post, anyone has recommendations on affordable camera hardware for a SM setup? Thoughts on positioning?
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2008
  10. wfor

    wfor Member

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    If you have a preexisting sound system, you should be able to run intercom through a mic send. You may have to use some male to male/female to female adapters on the XLR though.

    Intercoms are wonderful and lightyears better than radios. They have excellent sound quality, and are intelligible even for a whisper. Being wired, they never drop out.

    The only time I've seen a CC camera used is on the balcony rail. It works great for the SM, who uses a desk SR to see the show. It wouldn't work to allow you to see behind curtians though. If you had an intercom, you could use an ASM to check completion of transitions, that can report to you in the booth. Hmmm... I don't know about that CC camera on the electric- I'm worried it won't be wide enough for you to see the whole stage, and I'm not sure about the illumination. I seems to me a 4 unit Production Intercom would be cheaper than the video system. But I don't know...

    Keep trying to get that intercom!

    And I'm very impressed at a stage manager that knows their technical stuffs
     
  11. GHSStageManager

    GHSStageManager Member

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    Thank you all for the advice. I still have some looking around to do, I'll be talking to the Music Dept. chair and the theatre program director to see what they're willing to do and how far we can take it.

    @rochem, it's nice to know I'm not the only one who does that stuff ;)

    So far as walkie dead-spots go, I haven't been able to pin them down but now that ya'll have brought it up, I will take a small crew with me to the theatre and try and pin them down. Also, I understand the concerns about wired headsets causing organizational issues. Some members of the crew are not as focused as needed, and having to act on their own might be an issue. Something to consider when I make the crew selections, eh?
     
  12. aminorking

    aminorking Member

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    Video monitoring wise, the SM at my school uses an off the shelf security camera system which is two B/W cameras with IR leds for seeing in Black outs which connect to a monitor on his desk which has an auto switching mode. I think it is made by a company called Swann.
    Spec wise the cams have two RCA/Phono connectors for audio and video and a power connection that all go into the monitor
     
  13. Spiceboy

    Spiceboy Member

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    A few quick questions about teh intercom

    What do you want to control from the base station that you need the cable for? ChannelA/B switching or something more sophisticated?

    Are you looking to use your exsiting radio or are you looking for a new radio system?

    Budget?
     

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