A Man of No Importance
Beck Center – Lakewood, Ohio
By Richard B. Ingraham

So here is the mission, if you choose to accept it. You must design sound for a small cast musical production in a small studio theatre. The orchestra will be in a separate room that is upstage of the performance space. Although there is a large opening between the two rooms, very little natural sound from the orchestra will be heard in the audience area. There is no Front of House sound position. All the audio equipment must fit into a small area of the control booth. And Oh yea…. If you could make it possible for the Stage Manger to be able to run sound, along with the light board in the booth, that would be ideal.

This is the situation I found myself in, while designing A Man of No Importance at Beck Center in June of 2006. Although I was very familiar with the theatre company, the director of the piece, and the musical director, having designed several other pieces for this same organization, I was a bit concerned about just what I was getting myself into.

Fortunately, this space is only around 100 seats, so no actor amplification was needed. I only needed to amplify the orchestra into the house and provide a vocal monitor to the orchestra. Of course, I did have to make sure that the actors were able to hear the music well enough so they could sing along with it. I also had to make sure the audience received a nice mix of the small ensemble orchestra, while still maintaining a good balance between actor and music.

For this task I turned to SFX along with my Yamaha DSP Factory sound cards. The Yamaha DSP Factory sound cards are essentially a digital mixer built onto a sound card. So by using SFX’s MIDI Mixer plug-in, I was able to fully automate the orchestra mix using the DSP Factory sound card. The sound card not only mixed the orchestra microphones, it also provided routing for the sound effects played back by SFX.

By fully automating the entire orchestra mix, I was able to make the show run as a single GO button push in SFX. Each orchestra cue could completely change the mix of the orchestra, as well as change the over all levels and even change the routing of the orchestra mix. The mixing power built into the Yamaha DSP Factory sound cards gave me a great deal of flexibility, much more than just about any other option that would fit within the cramped quarters of the theatre’s control booth, and the limited budget of the production.

A Mackie mixer was used solely for its microphone pre-amps. But the DSP Factory Sound card handled all the actual mixing and routing tasks.

A SFX screen shot of what the Stage Manager saw during the show:

A screenshot of C-Console, the software used to control the mixing functions of the DSP Factory Sound Cards. SFX sent MIDI commands to C-Console, via a MIDI-Yoke virtual MIDI port:
Although this situation was far from ideal, I think this set-up provided a good solution for working within the limitations presented to me on this production. I was able to adjust levels live from the house during technical rehearsals by hooking up a JL Cooper Fader Master. The Fader Master gave me 8 physical faders I could use to adjust the orchestra mix, and over all levels while we were running the show. These level changes would simultaneously occur in both the C-Console software, and SFX’s MIDI Mixer. I would then use SFX’s MIDI Mixer plug-in to save those levels as a cue within SFX. Once I had all the cues written, the Stage Manager was able to run the show by simply pressing the space bar on the SFX computer. As tech week progressed I just used my Fader Master to make small tweaks to the levels, and updated the cues within SFX. I had my laptop at the tech table running Ultra-VNC, so I could view and adjust the computer running SFX and C-Console from my tech table in the house.