This week I worked on a two day production of 12 new pieces of dance called 10 Minute Max. Most of the pieces were modern dance and were limited to 10 minutes. My responsibilities were all of 1) Push Play and 2) Watch good looking women dance. Sometimes you’re hanging sound systems in the heat for 12 hours and sometimes… Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. There were a few instances of actual sound reinforcement, but what was more notable about the whole event was this theatre. The Boyd Vance Theatre at The George Washington Carver Cultural Center is a proscenium stage with stadium seating to fit 134 patrons. Most interesting for me were two things that I had recently been suggesting for The Palace in Georgetown.
A center speaker for vocal clarity
When should a theatre use a stereo system (MainA+MainB)? I am always a little confused when I see people using stereo systems. And as you can imagine, I’m confused a lot, cause they are everywhere! I can’t stop having a conversation in my head with the person who installed it asking, “What were your goals with this setup?” It couldn’t have been to create a stereo field, because there is only a small triangle of people near the center that are in it. It couldn’t have been for coverage because one speaker is basically playing into the wall and then you have a whole balcony without coverage. Whoa, rant alert!
I’ve worked on plays where sound designers have wanted a stereo system for actor location (following them around stage) or stereo FX. Those were special cases. The focus on vocal clarity comes way before FX. Here is a photo of the central cluster at The Boyd Vance Theatre. You can’t really see anything. It is covered with some acoustically transparent fabric that blends in with the ceiling. I appreciate that they are covering the room from a central location, probably with a point-source array, and close to the audience. Stereo FX can be created by auxiliary speakers stacked on stage that the theatre keeps in reserve.
Acoustic absorption on the walls.
In the case of The Boyd Vance Theatre they have broad-band acoustic panels covering almost every wall. These make the space quiet, less reflective, and serve to hide lighting instruments. I don’t have a photo yet, but will update this post soon. One more amazing part of the the installation there that I need to report on is the fact that the entire sound system can be turned on with a single button at FOH. No system startup instructions or running around backstage to find amplifiers. There is a little micro-controller that turns everything on in the right order. Hurray!