AURUS: Best for Musical
Simba, the lion cub, is frolicking happily about the stage to the compulsive beat of African percussion. In the dark of the auditorium 16000 eyes are glued to his every move. When Simba starts to sing, his voice can be clearly heard in every corner of the enormous »Olympiahalle«. A microphone? Not that you can see. It is completely invisible, just like the state-of-the-art audio gear. The perfect illusion with AURUS and NEXUS on tour
Over the past 20 years the biggest success story on the German performing arts scene has been the musical. Annual ticket sales have no problem in exceeding the 500 million Euro mark. The phenomenal success of these lavish productions is due in no small part to attention to detail. The technical demands are no less stringent than those placed on the performers.
On the road
Until recently it was not uncommon for promoters to build a completely new venue for a new musical show, or at the very least to refurbish. Stage Entertainment, the undisputed market leader in Germany, now takes some of its shows on tour. For example, »Best of Musical 2006«. When a production takes to the road every part of the staging has to go along for the ride. Everything from the costumes and make-up through the scenery, props, all the specialized special effects and stage machinery, not, of course, forgetting all the lighting and audio equipment, has to be made transportable and reliable. This is the only way to ensure absolute consistency between venues and to manage the time required for the get in and get out at each site.
For »Best of Musical 2006« all this equipment means a total of 24 trucks are needed. So, quite apart from the technological challenges, a show this size also requires considerable logistical wizardry. There are challenges for the audio professionals as well. The huge conventional analogue consoles traditionally used for such productions are barely practicable for this kind of touring. They are too big, too heavy and too unreliable. Furthermore, the vast amount of copper cabling they require is too bulky and unwieldy for fast and reliable deployment during a hectic tour schedule.
All this goes some way to explaining Stage Entertainment’s decision to depart from convention for »Aida — The Musical«, the first musical on tour with the digital console. The reasons behind the decision to invest in a STAGETEC AURUS console are based on familiar benefits. Small footprint, light weight and greatly simplified interconnects, not forgetting superlative sound quality and class leading ergonomics.
AURUS quickly convinced the decision makers and so two consoles made their debut on the opening night of »Best of Musical 2006« at the Olympiahalle in München (Munich, Germany). One used for the main front-of-house mix and one for on-stage monitoring duties. The tour through eight major German and Austrian cities presents excerpts from the company’s current musical productions such as »Cats«, »The Phantom of The Opera«, »Mamma Mia!« as well as Disney’s »The Lion King«.
Tug of War
A 30-piece orchestra, split stage left and stage right, support the 20-strong choir and nine soloists. Unlike opera or classical music concerts, modern musical productions are entirely reliant on high quality PA systems, especially in enormous venues such as the Olympiahalle.
To achieve the desired results, 126 input channels are employed. 102 of these are equipped with TrueMatch microphone converters. Each console has unrestricted access to each and every one of them. Every soloist is fitted with a miniature personal microphone and transmitter hidden in their costume, under make-up or in their hair. Two hand-held radio mics are kept on hot standby in the wings in case the heat, sweat and sheer energy of the performance causes a personal mic to fail.
The show is mixed on the 48 fader AURUS console front of house in the auditorium. Monitoring is taken care of by a 32 fader console that can operate completely independently thanks to it’s own RMC card and STAR router. Inputs and outputs are furnished by four NEXUS Base Devices stationed stage left, stage right, and at the two console positions. NEXUS STAR routers, each fitted with seven DSP cards are at the heart of the network. Every AURUS channel has it’s own fully featured dynamics section and this helps keep down the number of outboard devices to the bare minimum. Another good reason for choosing AURUS. Just three external stereo reverbs are needed for the orchestra, choir and soloists.
One For The Road
To help the audio system withstand the rigours of life on the road, the two AURUS consoles are mounted in sturdy flight-cases while the NEXUS base stations and STAR routers are installed in shock-resistant racks. All these components are linked to one another using roadworthy fibre-optic cables and rugged connectors. This degree of ruggedizing is essential in the tour environment. Teardowns have to be performed very quickly and the fork-lifts and stage trucks drive straight over any cables lying in their path.
Optical connections bring major benefits when touring. Compared with traditional copper multi-core snakes, fibre is thin and lightweight making it much quicker and easier to install. Once in place these optical cable runs can also be used for other applications. On the Best of Musical 2006 tour, for example, the crossovers are controlled by RS-232 data signals. In musical productions the crossover delay settings are by no means static. As temperature and humidity changes due to the audience the delays are altered to suit. Using a NEXUS XTI card the control laptop next to the FOH console can send the settings to the power amplifier racks by the stage.
Mix and Mix
On such a big production the monitor mix is often more complex than the FOH mix. Apart from the 13 wireless in-ear monitor lines for the lead singers there are 24 in-ear premixes for the members of the orchestra. Each musician can personalize their own premix to suit their needs. Six lines are needed for the conventional monitor wedges placed to cover the dancers and Master of Ceremonies, with a further four lines for backstage and dressing room feeds.
Thanks to the sound designer’s preparatory work the show is ready to fly. Both mixes are meticulously prepared. Thanks to AURUS’ comprehensive snapshot automation each parameter can be precisely defined for every scene. Just another big advantage the fully automated AURUS brings to the touring business. Once the show is thoroughly prepared the mixes are recalled semi-automatically during each performance.
In this case, the tour’s sound designers were unfamiliar with AURUS when rehearsals began. For this reason, STAGETEC’s Christian Fuchs, a highly experienced sound engineer with many musicals under his belt, supported the crew during the preparation phase and joined the tour as second monitor mix operator.
This co-operation bore much fruit, both for the sound designers and STAGETEC’s R&D department.
Thanks to the feedback from Christian Fuchs and the sound designers, various details specific to musicals were added to the AURUS software. For example, scene automation can now include AURUS’s layer structure. The new automation function allows the layers to be defined differently for each snapshot. In each layer the operator can define which input signals are controlled by which control strip. In this way the most important inputs in a scene can be kept on the console surface regardless of which layer is selected. Less critical signals can be moved to lower layers. Unlike VCAs or DCAs, this approach also provides instant access to the desired channels’ signal processing parameters without the need to search for the channel first. Conversely, there are also virtual VCAs for those who prefer that approach. Simulation of this functionality was also inspired by the co-operation with Stage Entertainment. Yet another new function integrates complex dynamic parameter changes into the snapshot automation. Dubbed »SnapMix«, this enables dynamically automated mini-mixes to be saved and recalled as events in the snapshot list.
Just like any other snapshot the SnapMix action can be invoked at the press of a button. SnapMix offers a real advantage especially in musicals and wherever an operational sequence of actions must be performed repetitively and with absolute accuracy. Since there is no external timecode in this application, AURUS uses an internally generated time reference for this function.
Stage Entertainment applies the same stringent quality criteria to its tour productions as it does to resident musicals. This attitude has considerable consequences when it comes to audio equipment purchasing decisions. Audio quality and especially reliability take precedence over potential cost reductions. Following this approach translates into the use of high-quality microphones, consoles, effects equipment and speaker arrays. It is based on the conviction that only consistently high quality throughout the signal path can produce an audibly better performance. The goal and consequence of this strategy is to provide the audience with a near perfect musical experience.
However, a digital AURUS system can certainly also compete with analogue theatre consoles on cost, providing total operating costs are considered. On the »Best of Musical 2006« tour, for example, AURUS enabled the company to sell around 25 additional seats for each show, thanks to the reduced footprint at the FOH position. On a tour with 49 performances in eight weeks this is not something to be sniffed at!
And Even More Mikes
The evening is drawing to a close. 28 dancers and nine soloists are on stage, all dressed in white. The musical »Mamma Mia!« and »Danke Für Die Lieder«, the German version of a famous Abba song, »Thank You For The Music«, are used for the closing number. The soloists are all using hand-held microphones. What happened? Is there massive radio mic interference, or did their corresponding mixer channels stop working? Nope, the hand-held microphones are dummies, a reminder of the past and just a tiny accent in setting the scene, if you will. Then, the final applause begins, signalling the end of just another perfect show.
STAGE ENTERTAINMENT is one of the leading international live entertainment companies, with 4,700 employees worldwide and 2,500 in Germany. STAGE ENTERTAINMENT focuses mainly on three areas: show production, the operation of a total of twelve venues in Germany, and the marketing of these activities. The company is currently staging seven musical productions in Germany, and is expanding into other live entertainment areas, such as tour and arena productions.
Furthermore, STAGE ENTERTAINMENT also presents new shows in smaller theatres like the »Schlosspark Theatre« in Berlin and major successes like »Blue Man Group«, also in Berlin. Its TopTicketLine subsidiary ranks among Germany’s biggest ticketing agencies. To foster and develop new talents for musicals, STAGE ENTERTAINMENT set up the state-approved »Joop van den Ende Academy« in Hamburg, in 2003.
Apart from its own original productions STAGE ENTERTAINMENT ’s current promotions include; Disney’s »The Lion King« and »Beauty And The Beast«, »Mamma Mia!«, »Dirty Dancing«, »The Phantom Of The Opera« and »Elisabeth« as well as »The Three Musketeers«.