42 TECHNOLOGY FEATURE: THEATRE SOUND
Another opening, another show A growing trend in theatre sound has seen visiting productions choosing their own touring systems over the in-house solution. What impact is this having on the systems theatre venues are looking to install, asks Duncan Proctor?
t one time it was considered a necessity for a theatre to have its own high-end sound system, but the last few years have seen touring productions increasingly opting to use application-speciﬁc rental sound systems. This shift has left venues with a question to ponder: is it still essential to have a high-end permanently installed sound system? The alternatives include specifying a signiﬁcantly reduced system that is there to mostly support the incoming touring system; or installing a ﬂexible solution that can be packed away or hidden from view when the next production starts. “For theatre venues that most often host and cater to touring hit musical theatre productions carrying their own sound systems, an over-investment in the type of highly capable and costly system that can serve the needs of a general purpose performing arts centre would be imprudent,” states David Scheirman, Bose Professional’s director, global concert & rental business.
Similarly for Alex Penn, SSE Audio sales director, a permanently installed system has a number of advantages over a touring system. “It will have been speciﬁed for the particular venue, taking into account balconies, circles and other parts of the theatre that a touring system may not reach,” he comments. “House systems can take into account the décor of the theatre and be painted to blend in with the surroundings with accurate colour matching. Units can be mounted to be unobtrusive, maximising sightlines and reduce the need to take out valuable seats. Subs can often be mounted under the stage, with discreet grills installed and control/line equipment can be kept in an equipment room well out of the way.
‘The bottom line is that the house system needs to be credible and attractive to the touring production’ Alex Penn SSE Audio
Rental or permanent? However, there are drawbacks from having a multitude of different systems as opposed to one powerful in-house solution. “The result is less than ideal in that every new production means a different temporary system that must be setup and taken down, which can be time consuming and problematic for a venue with a tight turnaround,” says Daniele Mochi, product specialist at K-array.
“The house system can be fully ‘tuned’ to the venue, with both software and listening, so every seat experiences the same audio. This is particularly important for the spoken word, where audibility is critical. The bottom line is that the house system needs to be credible and
Key Points Touring systems often do not blend in with a theatre’s aesthetics or acoustic subtleties, which can have an adverse effect on performance Alternatives to a permanently installed high-end system include a reduced system that handles general operations and supports the incoming rental system, or a flexible solution that can be hidden away before the next production starts Despite the market shifting, the number of new venues around the world should ensure integrators still have plenty of opportunities attractive to the touring production.” Bose’s Scheirman suggests another shift has occurred, with touring systems overtaking in-house systems in terms of complexity. “Today, the specialised, application-specific rental systems carried to support popular theatrical productions are typically more complex than most general-purpose in-house systems,” states Scheirman. “This naturally leads to a situation wherein a theatre that serves mostly touring shows will ensure that sufficient space and suspension facilities are available to support a touring show’s temporary sound system. Such venues typically do not over-invest in a sound system