Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Constellation in After Troy

A musical number where I mixed the level of early reflections in this scene with the intensity of the music and vocals to make the scene feel like a musical.
My thesis show was After Troy, a large-scale play with musical numbers staged in UC-Irvine’s Claire Trevor Theatre.  The theatre is a 285- seat proscenium space with an unoccupied reverberation time of about 1 second.  This show presented me with many sound design challenges; primarily, a play performed in this space is very difficult to understand without vocal amplification and secondly, the show has several songs that portray madness or have a religious, sacred feeling that I wanted to heighten and enhance. Last year I used Constellation in my design for Waiting for Godot, primarily for reverberation effects, and fell in love with the flexibility of the system and the ability to have total control over the quality of the sound. For After Troy, I decided to use Constellation primarily for voice lift for the play’s dialogue but also to heighten certain moments with highly exaggerated reverberation effects.
To implement both needs, I used microphones over the stage and house and a system of speakers in the house. Steve Ellison helped me with this design and met with me to go over optimum microphone and speaker placement. He also came down to UCI to calibrate the system and help me get started. It was an invaluable learning experience to begin making Constellation cues with this system in place and the high level of understanding Steve left me with. During tech, I was able to further EQ the system to fit the show’s needs and adjust both early reflection cues and long reverberation cues to the emotional content of scenes, creating some truly beautiful moments. Overall, I created about 30 cues in CueStation that were triggered by sending MIDI commands to Matrix3 via QLab.
After Troy relied heavily on sound, with underscoring or ambience under almost the entire show and musical numbers sung by the entire cast. The director made the choice to amplify these songs using handheld microphones; he wanted this to be an obvious visual and aural convention that when you see an actor holding a microphone to their mouth that this was a musical number and that the actor’s voice was amplified. Therefore, I found myself using Constellation for three modes of operation: voice lift for dialogue, enhancing the background singers during songs using microphones, and special reverberation effects.

I think that using Constellation not only helped enhance the experience of the show for the audience but also helped the actors. In one instance, I created a cue that simulated the acoustics of a church for a poem sung in a religious style; this added a magical, holy atmosphere to the song that not only assisted the performance of the actress vocally but also emotionally as a character in the moment. I felt this was also true for songs of madness where the actors walked from the house to the stage; here I created cues with multiple reflections that made the music and vocals swim in dense reverberation throughout the space. Engulfing both the actor and the audience in this thick sound set the atmosphere for their insanity.
I found the use of Constellation to contribute greatly to the success of After Troy. The flexibility it allowed me was perfect for this show’s process where we were still adjusting staging and developing new cueing ideas during tech; I was able to provide a myriad of options in the moment that I otherwise could not have.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have used Constellation in another show, for the support Meyer showed me, and the generous amount of time Steve spent helping me. I enjoyed the process of helping to design the system as much as I enjoyed creating the VRAS cues.


Groundplan of the Claire Trevor Theatre
The preshow scene of the show during the audience’s entrance which used early reflections for subtle vocal reinforcement.

The male warriors disguised as women at the top of the show – a scene using early reflections for subtle vocal reinforcement.

One of the first songs where the warriors abuse and taunt the women of Troy – a scene where I mixed the level of early reflections to balance with the reinforced vocals of the song.

The one to be sacrificed to the gods is chosen – a scene using early reflections for subtle vocal reinforcement.
Hecuba performs a burial ritual for her children – a scene with a long reverberation effect to match the spiritual music and atmosphere.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Las Vegas and a tour of LOVE by Cirque du Soleil - 2013

This past weekend, UCI Sound traveled together to Las Vegas to see Cirque du Soleil's Love. Most of us had never seen this show, but the department had visited several times over the past few years to meet with Jason Pritchard (Head of Audio) and Richard Dennison (Company Manager) for a look behind the scenes. From the extensive and highly-insightful tour from Jason to the spectacular show, we were all blown away at the quality of Cirque's work on and off the stage. We took a moment to note our individual reactions:


This was my first Cirque du Soleil show, so I entered without any expectations short of the glowing review I'd received from my peers. The show was, of course, a supernatural feat of theater, but I want to give special thanks to Jason for giving an incredibly comprehensive and informative tour, while being receptive and articulate with any questions we had. It's inspiring for me not only to see an operation as large as Love, but also to see the creative use of infrastructure to make it happen—bravo!

I learned so much about collaboration, gestural theater design, system design, etc. from watching Love. Jason's explanation of the system, in particular, was very clear—the fact that the time smear from the line array system is trumped by the clarity of the seat-mounted delay fills is very cool to me, and certainly something I will take advantage of in my own designs in the future. Overall an awesome experience—many thanks and I can't wait to come back and see another Cirque show!


Recently, I've been thinking a lot about redundant show systems:  How much of your gear do you duplicate?  Where do you combine your main and backup systems?  Should the main system and the backup system communicate with each other?  On the backstage tour of Love, Jason was kind enough to explain the backup systems they use, and how careful they need to be when changing out any piece of gear. When you're running a non-stop show like Love, 2 times a day, 6 days a week, it's crucial that the infrastructure stays up and running smoothly.  As such, the audio team has made it a priority to reduce risk at all links in the chain: computers, audio interfaces, control surfaces, backups of backups, etc.  It was great to see how thoroughly they've designed their setup, and it gave me a lot of ideas to try out as I put together a show computer rack of my own.

It was immediately obvious how much Jason and Richard loved their jobs and cared deeply about the show.  Their attention to detail, passion, and outreach sets a terrific example for theater artists everywhere; I aspire to being as enthusiastic and committed as they are.


My first year at UCI we did a themed entertainment class trip to Vegas and were lucky enough to tour Love. I remember being completely overwhelmed when Jason described the system for each piece of the "pie" of the theatre, and also confused about how each component was used and how it all came together. This time around I was able to not only hear the different systems being used throughout the show, but had a greater understanding of their purpose having integrated similar if not identical concepts into my shows since. Jason was very generous with his time with us and I was again impressed by his ability to talk about the history of show, where the state of audio for the show is now, and where it might go in the next few years.


Seeing Love was one of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life. I think often as theatre artists, we find ourselves critiquing the shows we watch. I am glad to say that every time I go to a Cirque show I am captivated by the show and I forget I’m in a theatre. I become immersed in the world that has been painstakingly created. It is a world that seems to have no limits or bounds.  There is a certain magic to Cirque shows that reminds me of why I chose life as a theatre artist.  Love was amazing and I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn from such great artists.
            I would like to thank Jason Pritchard and Richard for providing us with such an amazing opportunity. It was great to see that all of the principles, techniques, and equipment we are learning applied on a massive scale. UCI has afforded us the opportunity to work directly with the exact same tools and techniques used in the show.  Jason’s tour was wonderful. I specifically enjoyed his thorough explanation of the massive system and his willingness to teach us about the show.  I loved that despite all of the technology in the show, the creative team stayed true to The Beatles music. Love was an amazing experience. Thanks to all involved.


I am extremely grateful to have spent time with Jason and Richard discussing the ins and outs of the magic behind Love.  This was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I was blown away by the level of collaboration required and the number of hours spent in creating such a massive show.  It was great to have Jason walk us through his process. I was able to live vicariously through his tour, almost as if I were present during the creation of the sound system design and implementation. This day reignited within me a sense of passion for large-scale, state-of-the-art sound design. Love was one of the most brilliant productions I have ever seen in my life. There was so much to take in on so many levels, and I look forward to watching the show again as soon humanly possible. Thanks again to Jason and Richard for taking time out of their busy schedules to inspire me, and to the brilliant sound team for creating such a masterpiece.


Wow...where to start? It was another incredibly exciting, kid-in-a-candy-shop moment for anyone who loves sound.  Love was my fist Cirque show, and this was the first time I have ever experienced a show of this scale from behind the scenes. Jason was amazingly willing to take whatever time it took to provide carefully detailed answers to all our questions while on the tour.  My heart jumped with excitement watching the preshow checks for all the technical functions supporting this huge production.  I have not felt that magnitude of excitement about a given theater production in many years.  There was something about the sheer scale of the production; watching the stage oscillating, hundreds of lights flashing, and the thousands of speakers booming. Jason’s passion for the show was absolutely infectious. His love for sound, combined with the one-of-a-kind way that the sound was crafted/specialized for this production, was truly inspiring. The 90 min show was overwhelming in the best possible way from the very first a capella vocal—which stood out for its ability to heighten the emotion of the moment—using the most perfect reverb tail known to man. The other stand-out moment from the show was completely unrelated to sound: the spectacularly unexpected introduction to Lucie in the sky with diamonds nearly knocked me off my seat.  Before I saw the show, many people had told me that the sound was one of the best things they had ever heard. My gut reaction was not  to get my hopes up, but I was in no way disappointed; instead I was blown away.

All 6 MFA's in the LOVE lobby before the tour.

After the tour l-to-r: Mike Hooker (UCI head of sound), Stephen Swift (MFA3), Patricia Cardona (MFA3), Josh Fehrmann (MFA2), Matt Glenn (MFA2), Jason Pritchard (LOVE - head of audio), Mark Caspary (MFA1), Brian Svoboda (MFA1).

In the the LOVE theatre before the show.