The Wizard of Oz
Sound Design by Carlton Guc
Fine Arts Association Theatre, 2002

What's the greatest attribute a sound designer has? Flexibility. Many times sound designers have to work in situations where they are short on time and low on resources, but they still come through and deliver a solid design. That's why when you're working at a theatre over ninety minutes away with limited access to the stage and the typical "tight budget", the flexibility to creatively get your sound design completed is a life-saver.

The Wizard of Oz turned out to be one of these challenging shows and required some out-of-the box solutions to overcome:

  • Numerous wireless microphones
  • A "larger than life" twister scene
  • Mixer and operator behind glass on the second floor
  • Limited stage access
  • Live Orchestra

 

While the theatre is pretty well equipped – SFX ProAudio/Show Control, a Yamaha ProMix, multiple zones of audio, wireless system and remote access to the SFX system in the house, it was clear that the limitation of a glass booth would require the show volume levels to be preset and automated. Limited access to the theatre also put the kibosh on programming the over two hundred microphone cues "in the space".

 

What to do?

With a large number of actor entrances and exits, numerous wireless microphones, and little time to program all these changes into the system there was little choice to do anything other than video tape a run-through during rehearsal so that I could develop the microphone design off-site. (Note: Video taping of any production typically requires specific permission to do so. Check with the rental company for details.)

In my home studio I fired up SFX, burned the video tape to a MPEG file on my system, and then programmed a serious of cues in Array View that allowed me to jump to any desired scene in the video.  The video was displayed in a small window on my monitor.

Before I started creating all the microphone entrance and exit cues, I created a supporting microphone cue sheet that set each microphone to three different levels: Out, Talk and Sing for every wireless microphone I have on stage.  In my master cue sheet I pointed to these settings using the Command Effect that allowed me to tweak the Sing and Talk levels during rehearsal.  Remember that my operator was behind glass in a booth on the second floor, which meant that I needed to set general show levels relative so we could modify the master volume depending on house size and what the house manager reported at the start of the show.

Very quickly I was able to click on each scene in my video array cue sheet and drop in the necessary microphone entrance and exit cues.  I also made note of any special actor movements that I wanted to add special effects to at a later time.  Such as the Tin Man's scene when he is first discovered and squeaks when he takes each step.

Twister

The twister scene was a full minute and 45 seconds of things flying either on wire or by actors "dancing" across stage.  There was even a bicycle that flew with the witch on it! T he scene required many layers of audio to support the actions that were seen and not seen and was built using a separate cue sheet.  (I'm not sure how that cow got in there flying from stage left to stage right…)  My operator simply started the scene with one click, then ending it with a huge crash of the house with another click.  With subwoofers blasting and wind blowing, and actors running back and forth, we decided to record all the voice overs and have SFX play them in the scene which made the musical director happy so no one lost their voice shouting all the time.  Using a separate cue sheet allowed me to add and tweak until there was enough "noise" for the director – it was loud – just the way it should be!

In future designs I plan on continuing to use video to support my design process as it gives me the ability to start and stop as often as I can and tweak, tweak, tweak until I really get what I want.

Thanks to tools like SFX, I was able to overcome the challenges and provide a great sound design for The Wizard of Oz.