Peter Pan
Fine Arts Association, Willoughby
by Carlton Guc

"I won't grow up, I won't grow up..."  Back to the days when we could play with toys and make believe.  If only we could do the same today and pretend we have toys that could let us create "make believe" - easily.  Wait...  We do!  SFX!   

Take a stage full of kids and adults, mix in some flying and wireless mics, an orchestra, add a bit of fairy dust and what do you get?  Peter Pan.  A technical challenge for any professional theatre, yet alone a smaller venue (300 seat) semi-professional group.  This is the 2nd year for Peter Pan at Fine Arts in Willoughby and for the 2nd year running the run of the show is sold out even before it opened! 

Make Believe

Even in our world of Make Believe we have to deal with the everyday challenges of what is real.   Specifically the challenge of running 7 wireless  mics, floor mics, and hanging mics, all from an enclosed glass booth.  Not the ideal sound arrangement for live theatre, but you work with what you have.  Luckily Fine Arts has state of the art equipment - Yamaha ProMix and SFX.  Add a qualified sound operator and you have what it takes to make the show work - but don't forget the hours of designing and programming prior to opening night.

The System

The audio system at Fine Arts includes a number of amps, house speakers left and right, a number of effect speakers, floor and hanging microphones and 7 wireless mics.  The mixer is a Yamaha ProMix and the playback is SFX on a Windows 95 computer with a standard SoundBlaster Live audio card.  The computer is equipped with an Ethernet port and sits in the control booth on the second story.

 

Designing The Show

As the operator couldn't hear or mix the show live from her enclosed booth, it was determined that all microphone control would be done using SFX to send MIDI commands to the ProMix.  This placed a large challenge on the designer to account for all cues that may require microphones to be adjusted up or down to match the level of the orchestra. 

As my laptop sat in the house and was VNCed ( www.uk.research.att.com/vnc/) into the main playback computer, I was able to see everything the operator had on her machine.  This also allowed me to grab the MIDI Mixer and make adjustments to the microphones and quickly record new cues or adjust existing ones.  Not being a big fan of wearing a headset while designing a show,  we discovered a system that would allow the operator to run the show while I was making changes - anytime the mouse was sitting on the GO button, my operator can run the show.  If I grab the mouse and move it elsewhere, I was now in control.  I also discovered the power of video taping the rehearsal.  With the tape of the show, I was able to quickly rip through the show and verify that the microphone movement I programmed accounted for all actors entering and leaving stage.  Really a must trick that I'll use in future complex shows.  When videotaping, you may also have to ask for permission from the stage manager.

How It Was Done

Using the MIDI Mixer Plugin with SFX, I was able to grab any slider on the ProMix and when I moved it up and down the Mixer Plugin would track the changes.  While watching the video I simply set the volumes of the microphones for each scene and each actor to either a talking level or a singing level by moving the sliders on the ProMix.  With SFX tracking every movement, I then copied the mixer settings into my clipboard, created a MIDI Command in my show list, then pasted the MIDI values.  In 40 minutes I had the entire show flushed in with the basic MIDI movements.  During the remaining rehearsals until opening night, my operator ran the show and I only tweaked the MIDI commands to fine tune the audio levels.

Details

 
Peter Pan edit workspace (larger view)

MIDI Mixer

Notice the changed titles for each channel used in the show - PN:Peter Pan, WY:Wendy, etc.  With this mixer I can grab a slider on the screen and move it up and down and the ProMix with track these changes.  In addition, I can grab a slider on the ProMix and move it and the MIDI Mixer will track these changes.  As there is a LOT of MIDI messages going back and forth, I disable the MIDI input after I do my initial programming so the ProMix won't flood SFX with messages.

Copying MIDI Commands

With the COPY button on the MIDI Mixer (see above), I can quickly copy the current MIDI Mixer settings into the clipboard.  Dragging in a MIDI Command from the Toolbox, I then paste (ctrl-v) my MIDI to quickly create the effect.  As all 16 channels are copied, I remove the MIDI messages I do not want to send.

 

MIDI Command Properties window after you drop it into the cue list.  Press the hot key - CTRL V to paste the content of the clipboard into the MIDI Command - delete any channels that you do not want to track, modify the attributes then save the cue.

After you get a few cues in the show, you can quickly copy and paste these cues as the same actors appear in different scenes in the show.