Pantomime (Theatre) Sound

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by Codemonkey, Apr 8, 2009.

  1. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Figured it makes sense to post it in Live sound, as that's what it is. Sorry for the post length, but it's better than adding drips and drabs of information in later posts.

    Every year our church runs a pantomime (do they have these in the US? :oops: basically it's a comedy play). There's only four 2 hour shows per year (and a technical/dress rehearsal) and we make maybe £1k from it, which goes back to church funds. So big expenses for it are almost out of the question.

    Every year we have a problem with sound (vis a vis my presence here) which is to do with people being inaudible on stage. Yelling at them to be louder works to a slight degree but not enough to keep the audience of almost 200 - mostly old women - happy.

    The hall itself is roughly 20m long x 9m wide x 5m high with a pointy roof. The stage is behind a wall (yes, there's a gap in it) at one end of the hall with a raised floor and is about 4m deep. The opening is about 6m wide and just over 2m high - there's a wooden panel across the top which hides lights that reduces the height.

    The past 2 years, we've slapped 3 cardoid dynamics spaced across this wooden area, pointing down - along with another pair strung from the rear lighting beam.


    Basically we have a large hall (20m long, almost 200 people) and a stage with poor forward acoustical projection and quiet actors.
    There's usually a piano off to the right of the stage, at the front of the hall (this doesn't need to be mic'd).

    Our 3x dynamic setup at the front (and 2 further back) causes feedback.

    The speakers are a pair of 300W cabs placed just wider than the stage front. They're also used to provide SFX/music.

    MS Paint image of the hall: panto-normal.gif.

    Can you please give thoughts or suggestions on how to improve the setup - to get better gain-before-feedback and also to

    I reckon that heavy compression on each of the front mics, with a low threshold - so the louder voices don't push more volume and so the quieter voices can be heard. I know this'll sound dull but if it's needed, it's needed. This means spending a couple of hundred on compressors - which I can use for other things.

    Three other schemes I can think of are:

    (1) Move the speakers:
    Move the main speakers to the orange boxes further down, and add a 3rd speaker front-and-centre. This new speaker would only push sound effects, the mic signals would come out of the moved boxes and would be about 5-10 rows back. I could probably put them only a few rows back and not need the centre speaker - but there's a fire exit to contend with on the left side. Also, I'll need to run a cable

    (2) Different mics:
    Use 2 mics with a reasonable pickup pattern, at the blue crosses. Some sort of tight pattern condenser comes to mind. Cheap would be nice, and I'd like to be able to use them at other times - unless we rent, in which case, quality is key. The problem is, it's hard to get mics up there and there's no way to place stands, without the curtains getting in the way.

    (3) Radio mics:
    Apart from the potential problems from people swapping units, and the large cost... there's also cream pies and shaving foam gets thrown around on stage sometimes. Perhaps a radio mic on a few select people would work... along with the dynamic mics. Yay, additional work.

    Other information:

    - I'm prepared to do a bit of fader riding. Hell, it's in the job description: "fader pusher".
    - When the curtains are opened/closed, there's LOTS of LF rumble gets into any mics which are up on the front panel. Does this rule out condensers?
    - The place I put mics, the curtains don't touch them but there's stage lights along it - very few places I can actually suspend them.
    - We have 2 large cabs (mains) and 2 smaller cabs, one of which has a broken tweeter. One of the smaller cabs HAS to go backstage for foldback. Is another monitor in order?
    - The sound desk will be at the bottom left.
    - Audiences go back about 17m from the stage, and tend to surpass 200 on busy nights.

    Thanks a bunch for reading this.
  2. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Codemonkey, you come up with the STRANGEST scenarios! I'm tempted to ask what denomination your church is, but maybe I don't really want to know...LOL!!!
    Based on the previous scenarios you have posted, I don't know why you haven't looked at a few "boundary" mics. Those are the ones that look like a computer mouse. These are great in theatrical environments, because when they are properly placed, they pick up performers onstage, and they minimize phase issues, which helps keep feedback at bay. I've used a pair of Crown PZM's with great results in situations like yours (church talent shows and plays).
  3. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Thanks moonbaby. Can't say I remembered the existence of PZM's never mind their applications.

    This is an honest to God real scenario, although it is a little badly explained I guess.

    If you must know, we're Congregational... so unlike other denominations, money doesn't pour out the walls and governing bodies...
  4. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    OK, I just spent some time looking at the PZM-6D.
    Definitely seems like it would do the job. I could even repurpose them as mics to pick up the congregation during services...assuming we didn't rent.

    The only snag is, the wooden panel upon which I'd probably put them is only 1" thick - it's that or putting them further away.

    It's not clear whether they come with mini-XLRs or not. I take it that these are the same wiring as full-size XLRs and adapters are easy to get?
  5. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    One of the high schools here in town uses PZM's mounted on clear plexiglass as a flown AB stereo pair for their performance stage. I can't say as I care for the sound quality of these particular mic's but the audience is certainly minimized. They seem to like them.
  6. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    I was going to suggest one or two nice condensers (like 414s I mentioned in your lead-up topic) in cardioid hung just behind the curtain (stage side).
    You do have access to a ladder, a drill, and some screws, right?

    But then the PZMs really got me interested as a more manageable alternative.
    I know PZMs are also used in broadcast/voice work, so they'd make a nice inconspicuous mic for the priest during sermons.
    I've also heard of people mounting them on studio glass and other places as room mics. Neither of us work in a studio per se, but a church. I'm already thinking of lots of inconspicuous places I could but some of those babies.

    And by the way, we do have pantomimes here, but they're the clown-faced fellows that don't speak and "mime" actions - like the trapped in a box or rowing a boat kind of thing. Think Charlie Chaplain.

    So, no sound! That's why I found your topic hilarious at first. Then I remembered you were from Scotland and it HAD to be something else.
  7. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    You need to be very careful with compression in a live situation if feedback is an issue, as compression can make things much more unpredictable.

    When I set the gain for a vocal mic I am to have a 'feedback safe' level with the fader a little above unity. Pushing the fader higher than this puts me in the 'danger zone' where there is a risk of little squeeks appearing, and I will only use this region very carefully: I might ride a vocal up into the danger zone for a quiet bit, but I will keep a finger on it just in case, and I will ride it back down as soon as I am able.

    The problem with compression is: it makes the danger zone larger and more dangerous, as the gain is no longer static.

    If you do use compression I would suggest the following strategy: patch the comps into the channels, but set their thresholds all the way up initially, and the gains at unity. Find your safe maximum fader level during the soundcheck, then wind down the compressor thresholds to tame the loud bits. Don't touch the compressor gains: leave them at unity as that way your 'safe' fader level won't change.
  8. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    I don't think condensers are the best idea. This is a situation where the more limited bandwidth of a dynamic mic might actually work in your favour.

    My first choice would be my pair of Beyer M201s. These are hypercardioid dynamics with a very tight pickup pattern. They also sound great, and are standard issue for the BBC. Not the cheapest dynamic mics around, but still much cheaper than a quality condenser. The good news is: they are amazingly versatile mics that sound good on anything (even vocals if you use the supplied foam windshield) so would be an excellent upgrade for your mic box.

    Alternative suggestion: maybe try a couple of the cheap ribbon mics that are available these days. A figure-8 pattern could be used to your advantage by postioning the mics so the PA speakers are in the side nulls...
  9. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member


    I own a number of the Crown PZMs (not the sound grabber- the 40Ds - $400 US each) and I really like them as omnis in a bad space (they can make walls disappear) and for piano with the lid down. (Remy's trick to use 3 instead of 2 was a godsend)
    But... I have never had success using them for live audio, the gain just isn't there to make it work well for a stage setting. At least is wasn't in my spaces. They did work great for micing in a hidden space or for close micing in a tight space that couldn't get picked up by the front of stage mics.

    I've done a number of live shows and have tried 414s, Rode NT5s and 58s laying on the stage (all have worked better than anything else at the time in that setting.) Its very room dependant, SDC, LDC, dynamic.

    What I reach for first now (and just finished a show in an odd space) are these or their more expensive brothers.

    Small and a really good pickup pattern, just don't get them too close due to phase issues. I put 2 of these splitting a 25 foot stage in a 150 seat house and didn't need any other micing. This was a musical review where I created all the backing tracks so we had a CD feed to monitors onstage and the singers (ranging from excellent to ok) had no trouble riding above the accompaniment.


  10. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Fantastic responses, thanks a bunch folks.

    I'd provide pics of the hall but they're hard to get, there's invariably a group using the hall and I can't just breeze in the door (like cowboys in 1980 westerns).

    @Soapfloats, well I have a ladder - but the wooden panel where the front lighting row is, probably isn't thick enough for (heavy duty) screws.
    "I'm already thinking of lots of inconspicuous places I could but some of those babies." Agreed...

    @IIRs, the feedback can only get better. I recall the tip about not using the makeup gain from another thread on compression...

    @Pmolsonmus, those look nice (and cheap). Are they any good for other purposes, such as drum OHs?
    I appreciate the note about the gain - the pres in our board are at 75% for vocalists almost eating the mic.
    (Yes, the pad is off :D)

    Now, I have a ballpark. Next, to pester people for funds...
  11. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    Keep us updated!
  12. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    The ones I use have a small pack that provides 9v phantom and then connect via XLR

    Audio-Technica AT853RX

    They work quite well in a variety of settings- and I've used them for OH and they'll work ok in a decent sized room. Not great in tight spaces

    If you plan to use these other than hanging, order the specific mic clips ($15/20? or so) because you'll want to direct them - tough to do when just flying them.

  13. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    OK, so we have

    2x Beyer M201s (£320 for mics),
    Which also function for vocals etc. or,
    2x AT Pro45's (£160 for mics)
    Which also function as OHs.

    Plus about £40/50 for clips/stands for either.
    (I'm not too bothered about getting a perfect sound - so long as it's not awful)
    Improving the mic collection would be good as well.

    I'd like to add 2 (possibly 4) channels of compression, I can pick up a 2ch Samson S-Com for about £50. Samson doesn't get bashed on here and seem decent. Would you recommend also picking a comp up for use with the mics? Hell, I can use it anyway.

    Now, I'm sure I saw £250 lying around somewhere...
    Dang it, was it under that couch?
  14. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    I bet you could use those ATs for more than overheads.
    They've got a pretty even frequency response from 100Hz-16kHz.

    Just a thought.
  15. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    I'd use them for anything which wasn't gonna overload them.
    Although "suitable for OHs" should mean they're fine for vocals.

    In an ideal world the vocal mics I use would handle proximity effect well but in an ideal world, I'd also have the means to correct it before the mic (or on the frontend of the mix).

    Anyway I'll talk to the minister about funding and see what happens. We're also looking into a few more things so money is either going to be thin on the ground or become available.
  16. audioangel

    audioangel Active Member

    hello there, my church does a panto every other year! Although your venue sounds a little larger than ours, a couple of things might help.

    Firstly, how directional are your front speakers? Alot of the problem that we have had is that our orignal pair weren't directional even slightly so if they were too back towards the stage we'd have feedback coming from all over. This year we had a pair of more directional speakers at the front and our other pair further back. This was great and also meant people at the front weren't blasted and the balance of sound throughout the hall was better.

    We used a couple of little condensers at the front on small desk stands.
    We used to hang a Neumann stereo mic as well, but we couldn't this year because of the band. I do think condensers are the way forward with this.

    Radio mics wise - it obviously depends on how many actors you have, you can certainly get waterproof or "cream-proof" mics, for the ol' custard pie moment. I can certainly advicse you ont he best radio mics if you want. We always use radio mics for singers, as our band usually drowns them out.

    We don't have a curtain, but you could pull the mics down for the curtain closing or pull out the bottom freqs.

    Hope that helps!!!
  17. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Cheers :D

    Come to think of it, our cabs aren't really directional.
    The stands for them are quite wide too so I can't bring them too far forward.

    I try to keep the mics hidden so I'd mounted them on the lighting row, which puts them 6" from the curtain track. Some ultra L-F reduction did the trick, I only noticed them in the recordings afterward.

    I don't think radio mics or handheld anything will be viable... you never know.
    The casting is in about a month so I'll try and avoid being hooked into stage work, then worry more about placement and mics.
  18. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Time to dig up the thread.

    I've been roped into cast this year so now I will be the one to set up (and tear down early on Sunday because people don't like hanging around on Saturday night), and then fuss over EQ while standing on stage listening to the echoes on my lines.

    Turns out there's a few changes this year... notably: no piano, and the stage is being extended out in front by about 1m with a half-height platform.
    Oh, and they cleared a massive amount of junk from the back of the hall, which seems to have made it slightly more reverberant. :cry:

    Updated layout is here, minus the speaker/mic positions.
    The sound desk starts near the middle, and moves backwards as we put out extra seats to accomodate the expanding audience.

    This is a great excuse to pull the speakers forward to be level with the front of the lowered stage.

    I'll find out what the deal is with getting PZMs for use on the stage area, but I doubt I'll be able to cover the lowered area effectively. Most of the people using it can project, anyway.

    Me being my usual self, I had an idea... the shelves halfway down on each side might be strong enough to hold a light speaker each. My plan would be to get these delayed (approx 25ms as they're around 9m from the stage) and run the voice only through those. Background music could come from both. The shelves are about 2m high. I have enough amps/cabling/speakers for this, all I need is for the shelves to be sturdy and to hire a delay processor. Unless people have bad experiences of putting speakers on shelves (I'm already thinking of ... was it moonbaby? It involved PA stacks and camels, anyway)

    While MSPaint is fun to draw in, I'll try get some pics of the hall soon.
  19. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Your stage extension doesn't protrude in-front of the FOH speakers does it?
  20. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    The speakers aren't placed yet. Normally I put the speakers in line with the front of the stage, and against the walls.

    It sticks out about 1m from the front of the stage and is 50cm high, so the speakers would go about 1m forward and not as far apart - there's a fire exit so they'd need to come in, flush with the very front corners.

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