"It’s hard to see how this production could be improved on. Festive family theatre rarely gets better than this." Nigel Smith for The Stage
What a year!
Gosh its taken me a while to catch up this year and finally write up some of fabulous times Ive had working back in 2019 such as my design for Storyhouse Chester's Christmas production Peter Pan pictured above. From September through to December I was also busy designing the season in a tent for Mercury Theatre Colchester who have been taking time away from their theatre whilst its been refurbished. The season called Mercury at Abbey Fields saw a tent housing 800 seats play host to a host of tours & several in house productions including their largest Panto yet Cinderella.
This seems a world ago now what with 2020 being what it is. Here we are in December of 2020 with my last sound design for a theatre show closing 11 months ago! I was lucky enough to have several other productions to work on in 2020 and back in February I system designed and production engineered one of my favourite tours yet. Queen Symphonic was a concert tour with an orchestra and four fantastic vocalists. I was so pleased to be asked to look after this with my rental company dBS Solutions for the UK tour.
I also had a great time looking after Firedance UK tour featuring Strictly's Karen and Gorka. This one was sadly cut short in March along with Anton & Erin & Burn The Floor but both will be back Im certain of it.
Since March Ive been trying to keep myself busy, learning new skills, working on things with the rental company to help us deliver events as efficiently but also its been a great time to spend at home with the family. Ive watched my eldest learn to ride her bike and we've been everywhere on our bikes this summer.
In September I was so pleased to be asked by Bill Elms to head up things technical for the first ever Liverpool Theatre Festival. This outdoor event was to play host to some new work along with some clastic comedy. Im thrilled that we make this happen in Liverpool in spite of everything going on around us and that the event also won the Liverpool Culture & Creativity award.
Since then I have turned my creativity to the audio on some of our lit Christmas trails which have thankfully still been able to go ahead. The only live show I have mixed since the summer was for Russell Watson for a Christmas live stream which was super fun. I had been scheduled to mix Russells UK tours back in May and September both of which moved to next year so it was great to see everyone before Christmas. Sometimes the hardest thing about this year hasn't been not working on live events but its not seeing the people you work with on those events.
With New Year only around the corner I know we all can't help but hope for better things in our work life for 2020. Whilst I do to Im thankful for my family and friends this year. Ive spent more time with them than I ever thought I could which has been fantastic. I know Im ready to hit the ground running in 2020 whenever Im able to. I look forward to some new challenges but also to more family time out in the open air. All the best to all my friends this festive season.
"Accompaniment under musical director Tom Chester is first rate, as is the excellent sound balance from Chris Bogg that crisply delivers words and music throughout." Nigel Smith Musical Theatre review.
A welcomed return to the Hope Mill for me this August along with another chance to work with old friends Director James Baker and MD Tom Chester.
Jerry Springer The Opera when last performed in the Uk, saw protests outside the theatre and national outrage when it was shown on the TV, but its never been more relevant than right now. With whats happening in the world and Jeremy Kyle being axed recently, telling this bonkers story albeit with a little twist really was a lot of fun.
Not without its technical challenges, not least I think the largest cast to date in a production at Hope Mill. "Jerry" was always going to be racous and in your face. Its a show where for the most part some one is angry and yelling at someone else! The biggest challenge for me was to ensure that this didnt feel like three acts of confrontation but had the dynamic flow of a musical. There are some great musical numbers in the show, from the loudest to beautiful heart felt ballards. I wanted to guarantee our band of six players who where tucked away remotly in the band room, could be heard too.
The low ceiling in the Hope Mill along with this productions traverce staging did pose a test with our speaker positions. I carefully plotted some ideas on the plan and elivation drawings of the theatre and it needed something unusually verticaly wide, powerful and yet very compact enough to drop from the truss and not feel like it detracted from Victoria Hinton-Albrieux set design.
I had used the dB Technologies DVX 8 HP before on a number of projects for on stage monitoring. After using them on our production of Hair at the Hope Mill a year or two back, they fitted the job perfectly. Compact and light enough to go on a drop arm from the truss, so we could set the right height for them. Super wide vertical coverage or 70 degrees which gives me 35 degrees from the on axis point down wards, which really helps to get even coverage across our audience area without the use of delays. One thing I did notice with these boxes which helped too, is that they are quite well behaved off axis too for a small box. With the front row of audience being only around 2 ft from the performing area, I needed all the gain before feedback I could get. At some points in the big numbers we would have 14 radio mics open in the PA and I found we could still achieve the level we needed, with a warm and open tone too.
With the DVX chosen as my left right and centre speaker system, it made sense to select a sub designed to work with all those boxes. The S09 from dB Technologies has worked well for me in the space before, it fits nicely under the seating banks in the Hope Mill and whilst that wouldnt be my first choice position, I know space is always at a premuim with such a big show in a small space. Once I and Associate Sound Designer Mike Jewitt had timed these to the system, they worked really well at extending the low energy of the main system, without distracting from the overall sound of the band. I also must thank Mike for getting stuck right in when it came to recording some of the EPK's and click tracks during our busy tech week. Shows like this, with very small teams, can be really tight for time before press night and it really was all hands to get the show ready.
Out front I selected a Digico SD9T for our operator Vicky to mic on. The Digico really is the most flexible programming tool for musical theatre and makes progamming a show with cast playing multiple roles, deps in the pit and understudies etc a piece of cake. We made great use of the multi track recording features for Vicky to learn the show around tech. This can really help with diagnosing little problems that can not always be quickly found during tech. It also was great for working on the sound of the band too. It's amazing though, once you realise just how much noise our cast made when your mixing the same levels and they're not there! In such a small space like the Hope Mill we receive so much directly from the stage.
I very much enjoyed being back and working on "Jerry" after a little break from fringe theatre and it looks like the press and audiences did too. The show has received some amazing reviews, some I've linked below.
Musical Theatre Review
Photo Credit: Anthony Robling.
Avenue Q Touring the UK
Now that I've had time to stop, I'm reflecting on what a busy year its been for me. It started back in January with the return of Spamalot UK tour, then came March with Legally Blonde. Before I'd really had chance to catch my breath it was September. I was delighted to be asked to design an all new musical penned by Local Coventry Writer, Geoff Thompson, with music by the band The Enemy. The production opened at The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, the bands home. It was fantastic to be working with lead singer Tom Clarke who was musically supervising the project. As we headed into November and Panto season it was great to return to the Mercury Theatre for their most successful panto yet, Jack in the Beanstalk. I had a great time on the show which is the last panto within their venue for a year or two, as they prepare for a refit. Almost as soon as the Colchester show was open, I dashed back up north to begin work on StoryHouse's production of The Wizard of Oz. I was excited to be working in a new venue with such a great team. The show was one of my all time favourites, and with eleven in the pit and a cast of around 32, there was a lot to get my teeth into. This was also the first time I'd used some of the d&b Y7P speakers. They did a great job. A big thanks goes to supervisor Alex Beetschen and Musical Director George Francis, for all their help and to the StoryHouse sound team for doing such a great job.
Meanwile back in the office at dBS Solutions we were also having our busiest Christmas season yet, with an additional four shows out over the season. I think by Christmas we had all earned a little break.
No rest for the wicked though, and the day after Boxing Day saw me working with The Halle Orchestra in Manchester, amplifying a concert to film of Cassino Royale. It was great to see and hear the film in all it's full orchestral glory.
January saw the opening of one of my faverate shows Avenue Q. I was thrilled when my friends at Sell A Door told me that our production was returning for another UK tour. It's a show I just never get bored of. We opened in Postmouth and pressed the next week in The New Wimboldon to some great reviews including this one.
Avenue Q Review.
"Making a show like this play in a huge theatre like the New Wimbledon takes incredible skill not only from the performers but with the help of Christopher Bogg’s sound design this band have a great big, rich sound." Douglas Mayo: British Theatre.
The Tour has been going well with some great audience feedback across the country. Im looking forward to heading to see it again next week.
I’ve always admired Bolton Octagon as a great producing house, local to home town and yet until this point in my design career, I'd never worked in this lovely building. I was so pleased when Musical Director and long time friend Richard Reeday, enquired to see if I would be interested in designing a site specific production of the classic musical, Summer Holiday. It all started with a text message looking for a No.1 sound operator and from there came the sound design for this ambitious production beginning in Bolton’s all new Bus Interchange. Involving the audience travelling on double decker Bolton buses, the journey continues where the audience and "the boys" come across a pop group the "Doe Ray Me's" stranded in Paris trying to get their mini cooper to start. After we all alight our buses and help them out, it’s round to the octagon where the party continues. Not only was this the first production for me at the Octagon but also the first site specific piece of this scale I'd worked on. I knew designing sound systems for four different locations (including several buses) along with recording all of our fabulous actor musician cast for the outside locations, was going to keep me busy. Once Richard and I had developed a list of all musical sections, cast and instruments we needed for the various sites, we began with the recording sessions. This was a super fun day with all the cast, going through number by number recording everything in a multi track format so we could play back each instrument into the mixing consoles of all venues, so that they could still be mixed live. I wanted to keep a really live feel to the numbers so that once the audience got into the main space we retained the same great sound but all live.
With The Octagon set out in a thrust format, the challenge with a rock and roll musical was always going to be delivering that guitar driven music, whilst hearing every line over the drums, saxophones and electric guitars. It's been a constant dialogue with our wonderful cast, and musical director over the content of the vast array of monitor speakers, to ensure we retain control of the shows sound in the more striped back sections. I think we have achieved a show that really rocks in places yet has some beautiful intimate moments where the natural dialogue and imaging works a treat.
From speakers in clapped out Mini coopers, double decker buses, to control one's under the audiences seats, the whole process has been great. There’s not much I don't know about battery powered wireless speakers now. A big thanks goes to Richard Reeday for inviting me over, the directing team of Elisabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti for all their help and support, James Lawford for all his advise with MiPro battery powered units on the buses and of course to my operating team of Rob Parkinson and Chris Theobald.
I’ve left a link to some reviews below, but you have until June 23rd to get yourself to Sunny Bolton (no, really its been lovely) to see this cracking night out.
The Guardian: ****
The Stage ****
Oh My God You Guys!
As the UK tour of Legally Blonde heads out for its second Leg, following a little rest over the pantomime season, I noticed that I’d not written on here and told you guys all about it!
One of the funniest shows I’ve had the pleasure of working on, I was thrilled when the shows producers asked me to sound design this comedy musical on its UK and Ireland tour. Directed by the lovely Anthony Williams, arranged and conducted by James McCullagh, this production introduced some subtle changes from the previous versions. One of which was the shows orchestral arrangements. James had worked hard on these to broaden their tone and make them feel a little more orchestral than pop. Something I think he’s done a great job of. I spoke with Anthony and James about one of my main challenges from the beginning with this production. The girl heavy vocal nature of the show can make for an uncomfortable shouty feel in the big sections, something that I was really keen to avoid. James agreed and some of the new vocal arrangements help with this but I felt I needed to be selective in the components of the show’s sound design to help with this.
After some listening tests of several different speaker systems from a number of manufactures, I returned to Martin Audio a company I know well. Having designed several musicals on their XD12 speaker system, I auditioned their larger XD15 point source offering and was very pleased that the system still exhibited the tone I like so much from the 12s, but with a more powerful low mid driver needed for this application. My designs also make good use of the speakers rotatable horn in wider venues, so it was also great news that the XD15 has this feature. The Martin boxes have naturally quite a soft sounding HF which has certainly helped keep the tone of the vocals under control here.
Some other tech that I have been really impressed with on this production has been the Allen & Heath ME1 personal monitor systems. I’ve had some demo systems around for a while now and thought this would be a great show to commit to them fully. I love that the system allows selection from a possible 40 inputs, giving full flexibility to our musicians but also the grouping feature allowing custom groups has worked really well. Our system is installed with MADI cards in both the main and spare ME-U brains, so takes all the inputs right from the Digico system. Its been solid all tour.
Last Item our team has implemented that has been a game changer is the Wavestool software to monitor the radio mics systems. I initially put it on the show as an easy way to monitor both Sennhesier and Shure radio mics as we have a mix on the show. I didn’t want to be messing about with two lots of software however its become so much more than that. With access at front of house, stage and anywhere else on our sound no2s ipad, we can listen and monitor not only radio mics but the full band too. This has allowed our team to find and identify problems on stage or in the pit fast, even allowing staff to fix issues whilst streaming audio to the ipad remotely to ensure the problem is solved. A total game changer.
The tour has been going really well so far with some great reviews across the country. It helps that all the cast are great and we truly have what I believe are one of the best teams on the show I’ve worked with. A bit thanks to Associate Designer Matt Chisholm, Production sound engineer’s Richard Pomeroy and Rob Parkinson, Head of sound Kieron McGuire and sound no2 Luke Capay for all their efforts. A great team. If your interested in a fab night out Id highly recommend catching the show as it tours the UK. Its a lot of fun.
Check out the shows trailer here.
Well after the excitement of Spamalot earlier in the year, I was delighted to be invited back to the Mercury Theatre Colchester, to design their summer musical production Peter Pan.
This Actor Musician show followed in the foot steps of the successful Wind in the Willows last year, with a few familiar faces in the cast. I had been looking forward to be working again with Matt Cullum and Daniel Buckroyd, along with my old friend Richard Reeday who composed and musical directed the production.
I had loved the challenge of last years Wind in the Willows with Cajon's, Accordions and Tubas, all needing amplifying in a way that would allow our cast to move freely around the stage and auditorium. I was looking forward to some more crazy micing on radio mic packs and I was not disappointed! The Mercury Theatre have a great team and I know Joey, the venues sound engineer, had also been enjoying finding mic positions for DPA 4061s on tubas and wooden boxes too!
The most challenging of all, was micing the accordions in a way that provided an even capture of the full spectrum of sound an accordion produces, but also in a way that was portable, didn't hinder getting the instrument on and off, and looked fitting with the style of the show. After some research it would seem we needed at least two mics maybe three.
We did some experiments and come up with a nice combination using the JTS CX-500F flute mic using the units boom to get the mic away from the keys and a little more equidistant from all the notes. We then used a JTS CX-500 DU on the low frequency port of the accordion for the low notes. This worked well, but two mics mean't two radio mic transmitters for each accordion. Not ideal when the actor is already wearing one. I discovered a little box that takes two mics of this type and powers them, allowing a mix of the two to be output to one XLR. Originally designed for a Chinese folk instrument the
Hu Qin, this box performed just as we needed to mix the two channels down to a single XLR, that could then be connected to a singe Sennheiser transmitter for the shows.
After early talks with the team and following on from lessons learned from last year's Wind in the Willows, another challenge arose for the sound of the show. With a small cast in both these shows and all the music being played on stage, we soon discovered that in busy production numbers all the cast would be needed to ensure a full sound. This was great but your big numbers in musicals normally take the action somewhere. We had musical numbers that were fab, but at the end of the number all the cast would still be there in the same costumes and the set wouldn't have changed as everyone was playing!
We needed to record elements of the playing so that some cast could change and move some of the vast set around, like the change from The Nursery to Mermaids Lagoon etc. In discussions with Richard the shows composer, we thought it was important to ensure that the recorded sections and live sections were indistinguishable. Some times this would just be a few instruments with some live additions and other times it would be all recorded. The only way to do this and ensure it was seamless, was to record our cast playing with the mics we would use for the show in a very live way. I selected the mics for the live shows and recorded into logic using the shows Digico SD9T as a big sound card with help from a madiface, this way when we played back through qlab everything had an identical signal path, be it live or recorded. We utilised over 30 channels of Qlab playback for the show with each live instrument having a paired dedicated QLAB channel also.
This method worked wonderfully, meaning the live cast could play the opening sections of a number, put down their instruments to move set and change leaving our Captain Hook to play Violin to the tracked band almost without you noticing. Once set they could pick up their next instruments and join back in for the next section. The use of Vamps and Devamp cues or loops, helped us in technical rehearsals deciding how long we needed before everyone was ready to join back playing again.
I love the stripped back earthy feel these shows at the Mercury create. Both Matt and Daniel have a real way of drawing in audiences to the action. Something I hope we've managed to achieve with this production.
As I write this little round up, I'm already preparing for the Mercury's Pantomime. Hopefully slightly less accordions, Cajon's, pots and Pans there though.
Following on from The Mercury Theatre Colchester's fantastic run of Spamalot, Theatre producers Sell a Door Worldwide take the show to Korea for the Daegu International Music Festival. I'm thrilled to be again working with Sell A Door who are no stranger to taking their brand of high quality British theatre around the world. I designed their UK tour of Avenue Q which we took to Hong Kong along with Sessusical The Musical which also visited Hong Kong, the middle east and Singapore. Many of the venues I've visited on these shows have been stunning and Daegu Opera house looks beautiful.
Regrettably I won't make it over to see this production and have left the show in the safe hands of my old friend Andrew Waddell. Andy had taken a little time away from his current project to see this laugh out loud show reach the lovely folk of Daegu along with helping me again on the shows UK tour later in the year.
The Musical's design has had a few tweaks from the original Mercury Theatre production to help with the scale of the venue. Deagu's opera house has a 16 meter proscenium so some extra speakers have ensured both audience and cast get what they need from the productions four strong band, but retains its core features. It's been challenging but fun once again dealing with creating theatre in a different continent with a different culture.
Thanks again to the team at Sell a Door, Richard Darboune Ltd, our sound team Nathan, Joe and Andy along with the local team Red Sound, Digico support and all at the Opera House. Sincerely wishing all of the cast and crew a fantastic run over in Korea.
If you would like to see the show and don't fancy a holiday to Korea do check out the UK tour opening in September.
With a little over a week until our London transfer of Yank into Charring Cross theatre, things are really hotting up in preparation. I've been dotting the I's and crossing the T's on my paperwork whilst our equipment needed for the show in being prepared in the hire shop.
Rehearsals have begun with our shows director James Baker and movement director Chris Cumming making some changes to the Manchester production to ensure the best of this fabulous score and script. I'm excited to be building on the wonderful reviews we received from our Manchester show and can't wait to get into the theatre.
I'm also pleased to again be working with two of my regular collaborators(!) associate Nico Menghini and sound operator Findly Claydon.
If you haven't seen the show, it's a great musical with a thoughtful story performing at Charring Cross until August.
March and April have been a busy few months for me. The first major project of the year over at Manchester's Hope mill Theatre opened. The UK Premiere of the musical Yank. This world war II love story between two gay soldiers is a beautify told story of love, bravery and tragedy. The show's writers David and Joseph Zellnik who were both involved in this production have created a story with some real heart. The production gave me a chance to work again with director James Baker, a new opportunity to collaborate with musical designer James Cleve and of course a welcome change to return to what is fast becoming one of my favourite venues to work in Home Mill. This shows sound design, for the most part, is simple but effective. The first show I had designed in the venue in a traditional end on format, the system consisted mostly of EM Acoustics speakers with a left right and centre system of EM81s along with the delays, stage monitoring and so round sound speakers being EM51s. The low-frequency extension for the band and effects were handled by some dB Technologies powered subs under the seating blocks. The show features some really great sections to get your teeth into from a soundscape point of view. With an interrogation and a good chunk of the show set within the war, I had a great time building the effects and trying out all sorts unnerving sounds.
It was the first time I had worked on a show new enough to have the original writers of the book and score in the rehearsal process. It gave the production a whole new feeling of energy, another opinion to draw from during the creative process. It's not always been plain sailing and not everyone always feels the same about sections of the show but I've often spoken wth directors who are trying to understand what a writer intended in a scene and only wished they could call and ask. It was a real pleasure to work with such a talented lovely team.
I'd like to thanks the producers at Aria and Hope Mill for getting me involved again in what is now my third production at the venue, Liam our sound operator who ensured that the show sounded as intended 8 shows a week in a tricky space and also the team at dBS Solutions who looked after the shows needs back home when I was away working on other ventures. More on that to come too.
If you haven't yet caught a Home Mill/ Aria entertainments show you can catch Hair London as it transfers to The Vaults later this year or Pippin in Manchester in August. What are you waiting for!
I just wanted to share the fantastic news with you all that PARADE has been nominated for BEST MUSICAL in THE MANCHESTER THEATRE AWARDS. The unique space at the new theatre Hope Mill was home to the production and I had the exciting opportunity to work with James Baker again as Director and built a new working relationship with Producer Katy Lipson. As one of the creatives on this show, I'd like to take the opportunity to say congratulations to the full company, this nomination is so well deserved.
Photo Credit: Anthony Robling