Friday, April 26, 2013

Small Theatre Install

I did an install for a tiny local theatre the other day and brought some pictures back to share. As you can see it's a pretty tiny place. The stage is no more than sixteen feet square and there are seating areas smaller than that on three sides. So everything is really tight, but it's easy for an actor to be facing the wrong way and have one or two of the seating areas totally miss out on their performance. 

You can see across the stage to the opposite seating area here.
I know, how could you possibly not hear someone on a stage the size of a kitchen table. A lot of what this company does is musical theatre. So when they're doing Shakespeare they don't need any help, but for a lot of shows they need playback of sound effects and music and once in a while they even feature live musicians. That's a little more to compete with.

Because they wanted stereo playback to each seating area the solution was to go with powered speakers. This solves a lot of problems. No bulky amps with loud fans, no figuring out impedances or overloading amp channels and overall a pretty economical price point. Here's the spec list that I was originally given.

  • Mixer capable of 12 mic and 2 stereo inputs
  • Stereo speakers to each of three seating units
  • CD player
  • Hand held wireless mic
  • Whatever else you tell us we need (a 2x31 graphic EQ)
The budget for this had to be kept under two grand so right off the bat this was going to be a tough figure. Then it hit me to take a look at what budget active studio monitors were available. As it turns out, half a dozen Presonus E5 would do nicely. Small, light package with eighty watts of power. Six of those came in at about $900 which left plenty of room for the rest of the package. For the mix I got a little Soundcraft which unlike many other so-called twelve channel mixers actually has twelve mic pres in it. Here's a shot of the package after unboxing.

A sweet little Soundcraft and half a dozen cheap-o monitors
For mounting I picked up some really affordable mounts from On-Stage. The speakers only weigh about eight pounds so I had no worries about the weight. The seating areas have walls on each side that aren't full height so I was able to screw those down tight to the top plate and have a secure anchor to pan and tilt the boxes just where I needed them.

The cheapest speaker mounts I've ever seen but they worked great!

I wound up mounting them about even with the first row of seats. I had to be careful because an actor wearing a mic can get really close to the knees of the people in the front. By tilting the boxes in and down slightly, even in the center seat in the front row you can clearly hear both of them and there's very little direct bleed on stage.

A shot of one blending into the surroundings. Ultra-hip blue power LED in full effect.

With all the speakers mounted it was just a matter of running power out to them which was accomplished with some black extension cords from our local home center. For signal I had ordered a spool of mic cable that's intended for installs. The jacket is plastic instead of rubber so it's a lower profile. It's not as durable but it's cheaper and when the cables are running through the ceiling it's no big deal. With a box of connectors and my trusty soldering iron I had sound coming out in about two hours.

All three left speakers and all three rights are fed from the back of the EQ which is located in an elevated tech area behind one of the seating areas. Sometimes the console will live up there and sometimes down in the back row of seats.
Looking down at the top of the wall where the cables run. Speaker just above the light glow.

When fired up there was a surprising amount of volume available and it was surprisingly clear. The speakers sounded fine up close but I was a little worried about reflections with so many going in such a small space. The result was that you could tell there was some sound bouncing around the room but the image from the two speakers in the area where you were standing was in firm command. It took very little EQ to get things sounding natural and only just a bit more to make sure mics won't feed back.

The project came in on time and on budget so the clients were pretty happy to begin with. Hearing some playback in the space made them even happier. The first performance is this weekend so I imagine I could get a call at the last minute or possibly afterward to make a few more adjustments

1 comment:

  1. Ha it's funny I was asked to do put together a system for something very similar today. Small theater, long auditorium. So long that you actually need to delay the back speakers to not get an annoying wash of sound. I also had the "studio monitor" idea, but wasn't sure if they were directional enough to avoid feedback. What I can't quite figure out is what mics to use. PZMs worked really well in a temporary "try out" situation, but getting a couple of them is going to carve a serious hole in the budget. Plus I might ask for them to be flush-mounted underneath the stage. Ceiling mics didnt work well at all. I think I'll visit some local theaters for inspiration, too. Any ideas how to do all of this with no budget? :)


You're the Scotty to our Kirk