King Lear at the Newmark Theatre
By Demetri Pavlatos

William Shakespeare's King Lear is considered by many a literary masterpiece on the level of Hamlet. The tragic story of King Lear, the aging king of Britain, who decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters was brought to life at the Newmark Theatre in Portland, Oregon last year.

As expected, Stage Research's SFX was backstage helping Sound Designer Demetri Pavlatos create a rich and natural soundscape for the show. What sets this production apart from others, however, is that SFX handled not only the sound, but also a major set piece -- a servo controlled turntable that would rotate during the show.

"Many people know about the deep sound capabilities of SFX, but not many designers have explored the possibilities of SFX to run other MIDI controlled devices," says Stage Research President, Carlton Guc.

Sound Designer Demetri Pavlatos describes how he used SFX's capabilities to run more than sound for the show:

"The set, designed by William Bloodgood, consisted of two stone wall sections with an 'inside' side, and an 'outside'. side. These were mounted on turntables to allow them to be reoriented to suggest different locations.

The turntables were driven by chains connected to servo motors built by Industrial Devices Corporation. The motors come with controllers which can be networked via RS-232 and sent commands from an external application.

The commands cover direction, rate of acceleration, speed, deceleration, and exact stopping point. The command messages were recorded in SFX along with the sound cues for the show, and the PC was linked to the turntables via its serial port.The stage manager simply called scenery cues along with lights and sound. SFX is used for sound in all Portland Center Stage shows, and we have used these motors once before in a production of "Batboy", but this is the first time we have integrated the two.

Once we had all the bugs worked out (with Carlton's help) it worked perfectly!"

"Demetri's King Lear project afforded us an opportunity to extend the understanding of SFX among the theatre community," added Guc.

"SFX is way more than just a solid sound playback tool. With a little inventive imagination, it can run other parts of your show as well!"

SFX does more than just sound:

A screenshot of the SFX setup used to run the turntable.

A shot of the on-stage turntable.

The Portland sound booth for King Lear
complete with SFX setup.

The motor mechanism and and backstage controller used to operate the turntable.