Friday, November 27, 2015

Man of La Mancha: Kelsi's Thesis Show

Time flies, huh?
It feels like yesterday that I was a first year, assisting my third year cohorts on their thesis shows. The day we strive for for three years came and went in a flash, and now I look back and reflect: Last Sunday, I closed my thesis show, Man of La Mancha, (affectionately abbreviated as MOM), in the Irvine Barclay Theatre. For those who don’t know, MOM follows Don Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant as they await their trial in a prison vault during the Spanish Inquisition. To pass the time, and keep from getting harassed and robbed, they perform a play Cervantes has written. Before the audiences’ eyes, we see the duo transform into the adventurers Don Quixote and Sancho. My amazing team was comprised of Ben Scheff (2nd year MFA, Associate Des.), Jordan Tani (1st year MFA, Assistant Des.), Garrett Hood (1st year MFA, Mixer) and Jacques Zweilich (senior undergrad and prospective honors candidate, Lead Deck Audio). The show was directed by Don Hill, our Drama co-producer/Head of Stage Management/multi-tasker extraordinaire and stage managed by Amber Julian (3rd year MFA).

Man of La Mancha was handed to me with incredibly high stakes, as this was the first show in the Barclay since 2009. With a hyper-compressed tech schedule, we knew our biggest enemy would be time (we didn’t have any 10/12’s, only evening techs, and two runs with the orchestra). To combat the time constraint, the team decided to do all rehearsals for MOM in the Claire Trevor Theatre, our typical proscenium space, whose stage dimensions are the same as the Barclay’s. The set was loaded into the theatre and rehearsed on for six weeks before load into the Barclay. Team Sound also took advantage of this by having the console used in the show, the Avid Venue Profile, and the show’s wireless set up in the Claire and utilized in rehearsal. We also used the Venue’s ability to record a virtual sound check, so Garrett was able to practice mixing outside of rehearsal. Additionally, we mocked up all speakers’ rigging in the Claire prior to load in, so each piece was assembled and ready to go.

Don’s vision for MOM was to keep it dark and not so “musical theatre”. Our buzz phrase was “not your grandma’s Man of La Mancha”. The costumes and props would come from the world of the prison and not be paraded on awkwardly from the wings. There would be no flashy musical numbers or distracting dance breaks. Sound-wise, we would have a stark difference between the feel of the prison and La Mancha. The prison had a constant ambience of dripping water, rodent sounds and drone-y creaks and moans. We hid two speakers behind the back wall of the set that these ambiences played from, as well as a reverb send of the actors on stage, changing the feeling in the room, creating a faux VRAS experience. We also mic’d and affected the large gate the Inquisitors entered through, enhancing the overpowering class discrepencies. When we enter La Mancha, all ambience goes away and the diegetic sounds are created foley-style by the actors from those found prison props.
Excitedly, this is the first venue I’ve ever designed in that has a balcony. No other theatre on campus poses these design challenges, so I was able to learn how to design for and implement fill speakers. System-wise, I chose d&b Q7’s and Q10’s as my main orchestra system, the Meyer M1D line array for the center, and d&b QSub’s for the subwoofers. Underbalconies were Meyer MM4-XP’s, front fills were Meyer M1D’s, and balcony fills were Meyer UPM’s. I had 3 onstage specials, 2 Meyer UP-JR’s that contained prison ambience and vocal reverb, and 1 Meyer M1D hidden within a scenic piece for diegetic effects.

Overall, Man of La Mancha was an incredibly challenging, overwhelming and fulfilling experience. My design team was so supportive and encouraging of exploration. My mentor, Mike, taught me more than I could imagine. Putting up a fully produced musical in the time we were given was a great challenge and preparation for the real world. 
Shoutouts to Mike Hooker, Ben Scheff, Jordan Tani, Garrett Hood, Andrea Allmond, Matt Eckstein, Vinnie Olivieri and BC Keller, my amazing UCI support system. Julie Ferrin, my thesis critic. Phil Allen and Ian Burch, my long-time LA mentors. Eric McFall, the one who started me on this amazing aural journey. Jon Weston and Josh Millican, my NY friends and mentors. My puppies Albi and Remy for their emotional support, and my mom and dad for their love.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

LA Ovation Awards

Last night were the LA Ovation Awards, the annual presentation of awards for theatre in the greater LA area.  The Design Awards are divided into awards for Intimate Theatres and Large Theatres.  Last night, was a great night for UCI Sound as alumnus Noelle Hoffman and lecturer Drew Dalzell won the award for Outstanding Sound Design for a Large Theatre!

Congratulations Drew and Noelle!

And, not for nothing, but John Zalewski, who won the Outstanding Sound Design for an Intimate Theatre, has been a guest artist and critic at UCI for a number of years now.

Congratulations John!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Does this building sound good to you? Sound Consulting in 255 with Davin Huston

Sound Consulting. Is that what happens when a professional tells you what sounds to use or what constitutes a “bad” design? These may be some of the questions that we think of when it comes to Sound Consulting. Consulting can be seen as system design and the collaborative process between architects and project managers among others to create a good-sounding, clear, and user-friendly sound system capable of doing whatever the client desires. And very few clients will have a comprehensive knowledge of sound. If there’s a problem, they want it to be fixed. End of story.

To kickstart our own endeavors into this unique world of sound we had Davin Huston, Clinical Assistant Professor of Purdue University and former consultant for the Kirkegaard Associates architectural firm show us the world of sound consulting for both large and small projects. Ranging from getting a church PA system to have intelligible vocals during services or an installation of complicated audio/visual networks and systems within a brand-new company building, the process and end goal for an sound system that just works is one and the same. 

In the overview of what it means to be a consultant we learned a few do’s and don’ts in the process:

“Explain this to me like I’m five” 
“Throw your tech speak out the window”

It does the consultant no good to try to understand what the system ‘kinda has to do’ and nor does it help the client by spouting data and technical jargon to justify the level of importance or knowledge. It’s confusing and can make headaches an unnecessary strain on the whole process. 

“empathy never goes away, no matter the budget.” 

No matter how savvy the client may(not) be nor if they have the fanciest equipment at hand, we must find a balance that will bring out the best their budget can afford while allowing us as the consultants to do the highest quality work we can. There are those who will depend on the system day in and day out and it falls on us to make to make that a reality.

“Make the magic”

Turn on the TV, plug in computer, attach HDMI/VGA adapter, press a few buttons, get webcam to work, press more buttons, have video conference with powerful and important person across the country. Or alternatively, turn on the system and hear a pastor sing and allow his voice to warmly fill the space for everyone to hear. The system works without a hitch. No need to call tech support. A world of headaches and stress gone. That’s magic.

Consulting boils down to the fundamental level of communication and doing whatever we can to make sure everyone is on the same page is the greatest thing to strive for.

Huston went on to break the process down into 5 Steps which I’ve  copy and pasted below.

The 5 Steps:

Step 1: Programming. What do you want the building to do? No Makes/Models or paperwork.

Step 2: Schematic Design. Take drawings from napkins and go to AutoCAD.  Quick decision making back and forth with the architects.

Step 3: Design Development: CAD drawings become more permanent, and at the end it gets bid out to contractors. Start roughing in budget.

Step 4: Construction Document: Finish the drawings, spec things.  What shows up might be different: “Good. We can solve this with code,” or “we’re gonna need some more EQ.”  Don’t expect the best things to happen and account for unforeseen events (“I didn’t even have appendicitis when I came in; why are you taking my appendix out?”)

Step 5: Construction Administration: Build the building. Make sure the conduit is in the right place. The moment things are built, they become pretty permanent. NEVER MARRY YOUR SOUND SYSTEM. 

These phases can vary in length depending on the project. Some a matter of months and others years in just the second and third phases alone.

Davin Huston’s talk was incredibly informative and this speaks not only to the realm of consulting but has many applications in theatre. Our fellow designers on a production will most likely not have the same technical understanding we do (that’s why we have the job!) and to best communicate our ideas to create a spectacular piece we have to find the best ways to interact and get our points across. Tech weeks are tough and can be hellish nightmares when we have so many things to work on, it can only get worse if our systems don't work! It is during this time that we must get everything working perfectly and prepare for the worst: what if our operator has never even touched a piece of sound software before? We need to make the system work under any circumstances. 

And when we're at wit's end, everything comes together in the final moments and it truly is magic.

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For more information on Davin Huston and his work you can go here

Other memorable quotes:

"The difference between a good consultant and a great one is the usability step. Your job is to make sure when they use their sound system, it just works."

“The SPL meter does not tell you the happiness level of people in the space.”

Regarding German software developers: “You must have all the buttons!”

Another software: “I live in Sweden, live in a cabin, write software, and kill *moose*”

Doing line array calculation by hand: “What is math anymore.”

Line arrays: “They are large and in charge, and ya know what they are *not* appropriate. Think about your damn decisions.”