High School Musical meets ShowBuilder:RF and SFX
A quick sit down with Sound Designer, Mark Kraus

Mark Kraus is a very busy sound designer. This past summer, he helped design a version of one of the biggest musical phenomenon the stage has seen since "Grease"; a full-blown production of Disney's "High School Musical" for the Arts Theatre in Adelaide, South Australia. In addition to using SFX to power the playback, Mark created a total sound environment using 14 radio mic systems for principals, and 2 upstage mics for chorus. Playback was done via SFX 5.6 Pro Audio (build 23) out to RME fireface 800, into a Behringer DDX3216. For the production, SFX was used to not only control playback, but also to send MIDI signals to make program and control changes on the DDX3216 to mute unused mic channels in order to clean up the soundscape.

We were lucky enough to sit down (virtually) with Mark over an e-mail and some coffee and get some of his quick thoughts regarding the production, SFX and ShowBuilder RF.

STAGE RESEARCH: Tell us a little bit about the show. Why "High School Musical?"

MARK KRAUS: The company “Creative Souls Theatre” wished to produce a show aimed at the teen market – “Disney’s High School Musical” seemed to fit the bill just right.

SR: What, if anything, is unique about the show?

MK: The show is immense for a musical. It has a cast of 4 leads, along with 10 supports and 40 in the chorus. There is definitely a lot of audio to be aware of.

SR: Where is the show being performed?

MK: Arts Theatre – Adelaide, South Australia

SR: Does the theatre present any sound challenges that you had to overcome?

MK: Yes. Of course there is the standard issue of speaker dispersion to make sure the whole audience is covered – the show is sold out every performance so a lot of consideration is given to every seat in the house. We ended up placing an infill to service the front 2 rows that were being missed by the JBL VRX932 LA system and sent it a feed from the L/R buss at low level.

SR: How did you become acquainted with SFX?

MK: In 2005 I was asked to take a show to Argentina by a local company “Parallelo” who performed the first season of a show called “Lontano Blu” – it explored the issues facing Italian migrants to Argentina in the 1920’s and also the wave of Italian migrants to Australia in the 1940’s – The composer wanted the audience to have a 5.1 surround experience. I had read about SFX Pro Audio in a local industry magazine called “Audio Technology” and its ability to send to multi-channel outputs, this started me on the journey of acquiring the software from a local dealer. The show was a creative collaboration between Argentine and Australian artists. It included music, dance, actors, video manipulation and lighting.

SR: Is this the first time you've used SFX?

MK: Since “Lontano Blu”, I have used it in 2 other shows. One being the remounting of “Lontano Blu” in Adelaide for the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 2006, the other being a conference piece by director Teresa Crea called “Science Outside the Square” which explored how the mind perceives aural information and it’s emotional affect on the human body. We used SFX in a multi-channel (6 sends) environment. Soundscape was provided by Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner).

SR: Ok, let's talk shop. What do you have running under the hood? What is your current SFX setup? How are you using SFX to run the show?

MK: SFX exists on my Toshiba Tecra A3 laptop (modified to perform audio tasks only). The output is via S400 firewire to RME Fireface 800. This is then sent to Behringer DDX3216 console. The console receives 14 mono channels of Wireless mic and 2 channels of SFX playback on channels 25/26.

SR: Are you using SFX in an unorthodox ways? (running video, etc...)

MK: No. not right now. Just the basics.

SR: How has your experience with SFX been so far?

MK: It's worked really well. The product has been stable, reliable and performs consistently well since I first learned how to use it. The experience has been great – most things are immediately logical and understandable.

SR: You had mentioned that there are a lot of extras in this production, who we assume have to have some sort of wireless mic pack associated with them. What has your experience been with the ShowBuilder RF program?

MK: The ShowBuilder RF program has taken a whole level of anxiety out of my technical setup process, in turn allowing me to concentrate on the creative elements of audio reproduction and not get bogged down in too much techno grief. I have never before been completely RF IM free, but now I am - I even have one scene in the show where I have 13 transmitters within 2-3 metres of each other – and NO intermod!!! I have never had that before – The software using my own equipment settings was easy to use and again logical in its methodology. We had a mix of Shure ULX, SLX UC, & UT systems. To do the calcs manually, well…it’s not possible.

SR: Thanks for taking the time out to talk with us Mark!

MK: Absolutely. Any time.

Mark Kraus is a Professional Sound Designer based in Adelaide, South Australia. He has worked extensively throughout Australia as well as internationally in Argentina, Vietnam and the US. His mantra for life is “infinite flexibility”. In other words, never say “No, it cannot be done.” He has been a saxophone player for 20 years and his favorite genre to play is progressive rock/jazz fusion.