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Need to mic a theatrical play - any advice would be appreciated

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Don Hertz
Need to mic a theatrical play - any advice would be appreciated
on Dec 14, 2017 at 9:05:10 pm

We are going to be live streaming a theatrical play and I need to mic the stage. The director does not want wireless mics on the talent as the play incorporates some audience interaction so it will be very up close and personal. It will take place in a fairly confined space, entirely on the stage, audience members will be on stage with the actors, so it's not a huge area to mic. What would you suggest to get clean audio that minimizes any echo/hollowness of the space? Hanging mics? Floor mics? Particular brand/type recommendations? Thanks in advance for any advice.

Don


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Richard Crowley
Re: Need to mic a theatrical play - any advice would be appreciated
on Dec 18, 2017 at 7:32:06 pm

As you can see from the absence of any responses, you are asking an almost impossible question. Seeking "audio that minimizes any echo/hollowness of the space" using distant (hanging or floor) microphones essentially violates the natural laws of acoustic physics. By rejecting the concept of close-micing (wireless on the actors) the director has painted him/herself into a corner from which there is no escape.

And to make matters worse you seem to be describing "theatre in the round" where the actors are facing in random directions, so you can't even depend on traditional projection to an audience through the proscenium. maybe floor mics would work, but I wouldn't expect any better than "transcription-grade" audio quality (if even that).

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Recording audio without metering and monitoring is exactly like framing and focusing without looking at the viewfinder.


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Bruce Watson
Re: Need to mic a theatrical play - any advice would be appreciated
on Dec 20, 2017 at 7:24:09 pm

I suspect that the reason no one can answer is that your thinking is... against the laws of physics? Yes. This sorta captures it for me:

[Don Hertz] "We are going to be live streaming a theatrical play and I need to mic the stage."

I don't know how to break it to you (or more properly, your director), but you can't "mic the stage" like you can "light the stage" because sound isn't light. There is no microphone equivalent of a telephoto lens, or a follow spot.

The "golden rule" of sound recording, if there is one, is proper microphone placement. If you place your microphone(s) properly, you can record good quality sound. That is, sound that has lots of the signal you wanted to capture and very much less of the sound that you don't want to capture -- the signal to noise ratio.

This is why engineers invented lavalier mics -- to hang them on people so they could record the people's voices. By getting the mic close to the speaker's mouth, they can record more signal (the speaker) and less noise (the "echo/hollowness of the space"). By mounting the mic on the speaker's body or clothes, they can maintain the relative relationship between the mic and the speaker's mouth, leaving the wearer to roam about on stage while letting the audio capture a relatively constant voice level and sound quality from the speaker.

By refusing lavs, your director has eliminated the only proven approach to solving his problem. If you want to "live stream a theatrical play" you need to mic the players, not mic the stage. Not the answer you wanted, I know. But the laws of physics are the laws of physics. Nothing a play director can do about that, and I'm sorry you got caught in the middle of it.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Need to mic a theatrical play - any advice would be appreciated
on Jan 18, 2018 at 7:56:59 pm

Late to the party, but I wanted to mention I had the exact situation happen to me in terms of not being able to hang wireless lavs on the talent. Stage was very small as well. No PA, all lung-powered. Huge cast, lots of changes, impractical to share lavs.

What I did was, I laid 3 PZM type boundary mics along the edge of the stage, and I put a helper in the third row with a long, very narrow-pattern shotgun, a venerable but high-end Sennheiser with a very good rejection of off-axis sound, formerly used for birding. The helper's only job was to sit low and keep it pointed at whomever was talking from moment to moment.

The PZM's were "zoned" to be in the areas where most of the dialogues happened. Being flat and black, they were not easy to see, but they had good pickup.

Each mic was hard-wired to its own recording channel. I live mixed between sources to feed one of my cameras' extra channels.

I also had the shotguns on my cameras, and a go-pro for additional audio sources. No one source was optimal for the entire performance; I had to mix and match between them as I went in post, felt like the ABC mix scene in "The Conversation" at times, but I DID end up getting "intelligible", if not Emmy-quality sound.


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Don Hertz
Re: Need to mic a theatrical play - any advice would be appreciated
on Jan 19, 2018 at 12:50:16 am

Thanks everyone for your responses. The play is coming up in 4 weeks and it looks like we'll be taking an approach similar to Mark's suggestions, while trying our best to set the directors expectations properly per the input from Richard and Bruce. We at least are able to shoot a few rehearsals before the actual live show so the director will have an opportunity to hear the quality before everything is finalized and make a different decision if she wishes.

Don


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Mark Suszko
Re: Need to mic a theatrical play - any advice would be appreciated
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:17:21 am

I advise you to strongly consider recording the dress rehearsals as well, full gear, not just for the practice, but to use that opportunity with no audience in the way,to obtain additional angles and shots that you could never do during the actual performance.

I did that once on a shoot of s ballet recital: I had two cameras one for wide and one for closeup work, and for the dress rehearsal, I put them in completely different spots and used them for some quick matching action cut-aways, making the final production look like a 4-camera shoot.

This also saved the day for the real performance, when one dancer who had nailed her solo in dress, got stage fright during the actual show and forgot all her steps. She just vamped until the end of her music cues and went offstage crying. I swapped in her perfect take from the Dress shot, saved the day, made her and her family super happy too.


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