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Old August 21st, 2004, 07:48 PM   #1
Fred Retread
 
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Best setup for community theatre musicals and plays?

Okay, I returned my DXA-8 and AT897.

I have to reassess my needs. With my main venues as indicated in the SUBJECT, I don't think that a shotgun is the right first mic for my toolbox. I will get another XLR adaptor, at least the DXA-6 or equivalent, and I may even reacquire the DXA-8.

I've been contemplating the purchase of a pair of Oktavas, maybe full sets with all three capsules. Then I could use a line and an Oktava if a board is available, otherwise the two Oktavas.

Feedback on that idea or alternative recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
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Old August 21st, 2004, 08:33 PM   #2
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Is there no option for hooking into the house sound board if you're taping musicals? If so then that may very well be your best choice....
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Old August 21st, 2004, 08:46 PM   #3
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Last week I compared 4 mics for use as the ambient pickup at a stage play. This play had a single actor wearing a wireless lav, along with some music and effects played over the house speaker system and some voice-over cues played only with an off-stage monitor.
This theater has fairly poor acoustics and with a single actor wearing a wireless I knew the ambient sound wouldn't be very good.
I tested an AT3031, a Shure SM81, an Oktava MK012 with the cardioid head and an ADK SC-1.
I decided only to test cardioid mics because the actor was using a stage monitor at the front of the empty orchestra pit. The mic was placed on a stand in the pit very close to the edge of the stage (about 10 feet directly in front of the stage monitor). The actor moved across the entire width of the stage during the play, at a distance of between 10 and 25 feet from the mic.
The SC-1 had the worst sound at a distance, picking up mostly the acoustics of the theater and very little of the actor directly. I'll be relegating this mic to close-up instrument work.
The Oktava actually had the most clearly defined, open and accurate sound. Unfortunately I rejected this because it so perfectly separated the actor and other elements from the acoustics of the room that I judged even the casual listener would find this distracting. It had the widest pickup pattern by far. If I hadn't already checked this capsule and known it has a null zone at the rear, I would have sworn it was actually an omni that had been mis-labelled.
The AT3031 and the SM81 had a very similar character to their sound. The AT was noticeably quieter and the SM81 had to be boosted to match the higher sensitivity of the 3031. Both mics had what I judged to be the most useable sound of the four, although they were more closed in and had less general clarity than the Oktava.
I would have clearly picked the 3031 in this situation if the actor hadn't smoked the entire 2 hour play, the mic would have only been set up for 1 session instead of 4, or if the noise floor had been critical. Instead I used the SM81 which actually belonged to the theater.
In a different theater or a different setup of speakers and mics, or no mics on different actors, the results could have been different.
I would say the AT3031 or a tested Oktava with all the capsules would be a good choice for ambient micing in a theater setting.
Just remember that even in the best settings, an ambient mic isn't going to get stellar sound quality.
In this same theater I have also used an AT873r very successfully. I didn't test it for this play because of the stage monitor directly behind the mic and the actor's wide range across the stage.
The two-camera recording went very well, with the controlled feed of the wireless mic going to one channel of each camera. The ambient mic went to one track of one camera and the music feed went to the other track of the other camera. Both camera's were synchronized and had matching timecode. I also used compressors on the wireless feed and the ambient mic due to the very wide range of volume levels.
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Old August 21st, 2004, 09:04 PM   #4
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Boyd, read his other thread on the feed problems he was getting from the board. I was lucky in having full access and knowledge of this facility's board and total audio setup. I made my own connections and settings of the post-fader aux sends for the wireless and music feeds after discussing it with their tech director.
The only problem I had was movement noises in the lav capsule that the theater had mounted in the actor's wig. It wasn't terrible, just aggravating and not much I could do about it but suggest were to make it tighter and were to make the cable run looser at his neck.
I was using a Mackie 1202VLZ for my control and signal routing of the house feeds, as well as the two compressors and the ambient mic straight into my Mackie.
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Old August 21st, 2004, 10:16 PM   #5
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I usually use a pair of PZM microphones and a SM81 for theatre productions.

The plate microphones are set towards the side, distances determined by the nature of the production and resting on either a mouse pad or soft expanded plastic used for shelf lining.

The SM81 sits on a stand and usually dead center above the stage floor and pointed at about 30-40 degrees towards the upper rear of the stage.

I feed these three into my Shure FP32 mixer and then back to on of the cameras.
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Old August 22nd, 2004, 07:24 PM   #6
Fred Retread
 
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Thanks.

I haven't given up on using the board as one input, as I mentioned in my original post. Next time I'm out there I'll get the model number, and then come back here and/or consult Mackie's website, which is a really good one.

Several of you alluded to two camera deployments. Do you normally have an operator for both, or do you leave one set wide and work the other?
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Old August 22nd, 2004, 09:00 PM   #7
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I usually have a camera set wide and centered and one chasing head and action shots.

If I have another head's up camera operator, I may, if we can communicate, use both (or three cameras) to chase the action.

WA shots are good as a safety net but as boring as watching steel melt in the sun.
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Old August 25th, 2004, 06:59 PM   #8
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Musical theater sound

This is a most difficult endeavor. I'm a music recording engineer but I love musical theater. Most videos of theater are only interesting to those who were performing (or their most loving relatives) because we compare the production values of the video to movies we've seen which have been shot on film stages to prerecorded music. The production values are so widely different because the lighting and sound requirements are so different for live vs recorded performance. The ideal is to have at a separate performance for the recording or at least a few key scenes (as is done regularly for publicity stills), with appropriate lighting and sound.
I've used 3 PZM mics (cardoid) strategically placed on the floor (on 1/2" pieces of foam to eliminate foot noise) at the front of the stage and as many lav (or in the hair) mics as you can afford. If you are in a large city maybe you can rent these. If not then try to have shotguns manned by smart boom men (familiar with the show). The ideal would be to record to multitrack with time code but 2 cameras would provide 4 channels of audio. I know that this is getting a little involved and most regional theaters have buget and union constraints that make this even more difficult. Then in a worst case use 2 PZM's or even omni mics hanging (or hidden) as close to the action as possible. If you can simultaneously record the music to a separate machine with time code so much the better, but try to get as close to the actors as possible to eliminate audience and room sound (the sound of unprofessional recording).
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Old August 25th, 2004, 07:20 PM   #9
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It is interesting in that I get asked to record a lot of plays because I do the television commercials for the theatre.

I always hate the results of taping a play for the reasons you stated, Joel.
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Old August 25th, 2004, 08:22 PM   #10
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Musicals

It's a tough one. Lincoln Center in New York has an archive of all the shows that have appeared on Broadway for more than 20 years and I've seen videos of some of the greatest musical productions ever done and had that same disappointing feeling. The other extreme is Chicago which I felt was too perfectly "Auto-tuned" and quick-cut edited so that it didn't feel like a real musical.
I still love the old shows like "The Music Man", but in the DVD "making of" video it's revealed that they stopped shooting for 2-3 weeks to rehearse each of the major numbers. And this was with many of the actors who had just done the show on stage for more than a year. They were rehearsing the camera angles and lighting. But this could only be done in the old studio system when the crew would just move to another movie in production and then come back when rehearsals were done.
All we can do is complain and be a pain in the ass and try to make it as good as it once was.
And continue to try to produce good musicals so people will understand what all the fuss is about.
(A little bragging: I produced the audio for a PBS version of the San Francisco Ballet's production of "Othello" for the composer Elliot Goldenthal which earned Elliot an Emmy nomination this year. I work with Elliot doing Film scores and used the same recording and mixing techniques as with the film scores. I used more mics and mixing time than any other PBS Great Performances show but it didn't sound like a live recording.) Keep trying to make it right.
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Old August 25th, 2004, 10:32 PM   #11
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What I like is when I get to go on-stage during dress rehersal to shoot the action for the television commercials. That footage and sound is always good because we do stop the action and ask for changes just for the video.
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Old August 26th, 2004, 01:04 AM   #12
Fred Retread
 
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This discussion has made me feel better about my humble efforts :>]

I certainly know what you mean about the lighting. I was dismayed for a long time by what seemed like my inability to get sharp focus on faces in anything much wider than a two-shot under colored lights. Yet the two-shots and closeups were quite good. I finally realized that the colored illumination drowns out subtle facial color gradations that convey information, making it difficult for the camera to resolve detail. In tight shots the underlying color differences successfully translate to shade and brightness variations of the dominant color that the camera can resolve.

With respect to sound, it's clear to me now that my amateur's budget is not going to provide good independent sound coverage for plays and musicals. When the coverage is there as part of the production, I need to focus on getting it fed to my camera. If it's not part of the production, I need to just do what I can afford and adjust my expectations.
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