Fame: The baptism by fire for a new venue

Kallio Upper Secondary School – a high school in Helsinki with special task for performing arts, media and creativing writing – is currently showing Fame the musical. The venue for the show is school’s own main hall, which has been upgraded with new electric, lighting, sound and mechanic systems.

Even though there have already been many different productions during the year, Fame is the ultimate baptism by fire for the venue. The technics are put to their limits. I will briefly go through the solutions made for the sound and the band.

Loppukumarrusten ja viimeisen Fame-bisiin harjoittelua
Rehearsing the curtain call and the last Fame song. Photo by author.
Langattomien mikrofonien vastaanottimet ja iDR-32-lavaräkki.
The receivers for the wireless mics and the iDR-32 stage rack.

There are 35 actor-dancer-singers in the musical. Of these 17 are wearing a wireless microphone. Six microphones are swopped between actors and scenes. In addition to these three onstage instruments have a wireless transmitter.

To supplement school’s own wireless systems we managed to borrow equipment from the city school board and Sibelius-lukio, a nearby secondary school with a special task in music. The connectors in the old lavalier mics (AKG CK77 and C417) were changed in order to make them compatible with new transmitters. Thus they got a new life. We also managed to acquire skin-coloured, unobtrusive mics – either lavs or headsets – for almost all the actors.

The four installed receivers are connected to external antennas via antenna splitter. All the other receivers use their own, integrated antennas. That has worked surprisingly well despite of a few situations where actors move off the stage and outside the immediate coverage of the receivers. The building is very old and challenging in terms of positioning the equipment.

The venue’s mixing system is Allen&Heath iLive-T112 with stage rack iDR-32. In the iLive system the “brains” or the DSP engine is situated in the stage rack and the mixer is only a controller for the mixrack. Data travels through a pre-installed CAT5 cable. The 32 mic channels are in use to the last one.

Allen Heathin T-112 -mikserijärjestelmä on osoittautunut todella käteväksi musikaaliympäristössä.
Allen Heathin T-112 -mixing system has proven to be very handy in a musical environment.
Tarvittavat DCA:t ja muut kanavat voi sijoittaa haluamiinsa feidereihin kappale- ja tilannekohtaisesti.
DCA’s and other channels can be assigned to any fader according to the scene and situation.

iLive has proven to be very handy in a musical production. The surface is relatively wide and 28 faders make it easy to handle big choir and band situations. Also the flexible nature of the channel strips – each channel strip can be assigned to any channel – has made the job easier. There are forty scenes programmed for the musical, even though different mixing situations count much more. Scenes are used mainly for channel mutes and some channel levels, but especially in singing scenes they are used to copy DCA groups and individual channels (e.g. background vocals and a soloist) onto the topmost channel layer. In that way it’s easy to find the most wanted channels instantly without the need to dig them from the other layers. It’s taken a lot of time to figure out the logics of the iLive environment and the different configurations of the scene programming, but the console has proven to be quite flexible.

The band leader/guitarist has a laptop in the “orchestra pit”. The laptop works as a secondary controller for the mixrack and with the iLive Editor the band can make their own monitor mixes. Each musician wears headphones and has an own monitor mix. This keeps the stage volume as low as possible and makes it possible for the band leader and drummer to use their talkback microphones to count-in the songs to the musicians’ headphones without the audience noticing. It’s also possible to talk to the musicians from the FOH and use this feature to – let’s say – thank them during the show after a good performance of a song!

“The pit” is located on the stage behind a black gauze. Notice the Yamaha DX7 on the keyboard stand; this is an 80’s musical after all! The drummer is safely locked behind a plexiglass.

The vocal monitoring is realised with three sidefills. They are used to feed a little bit of bass, guitar and keyboards for the singers. Also the vocal mics are very carefully fed to the monitors, but to avoid feedback the levels are low. Surprisingly nobody has yet ordered any more of their singing into the monitors, and let that be so. There are naturally quite hard EQ’s on feedback frequencies, but the feedback is not many desibels away especially when all the 17 mics are on at the same time. So far I haven’t managed to create any feedback apart from one time in the end of a song, but that started from the front speakers. Let’s hope the sonic scape will stay clean throughout the show week.

Laulajille on monitoreina kolme sidefilliä.
There are sidefills for the singers.
Kommunikaatio etupään ja lavateknikon välillä hoituu radioilla.
Walkie talkies are used for communication between FOH and stage technician.

On the stage end there is one student working mainly with the wireless microphones, but he is also ready to fix technical problems when needed. There is a Clear-Com intercom system installed in the hall, bu as the stage technician needs to move a lot and the intercom is not wireless, we decided to use separete PMR walkie-talkies with headphones to communicate during the show.

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