"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
As 2016 closes, I’ve had chance to reflect on what has been a phenomenal year for me. I’ve had the good fortune to work on more theatrical performances than ever before. The year began with a crazy January with three shows opening. Avenue Q was in its third year of touring and opened with some new faces and many old ones in The New Theatre Cardiff. Myself and associate Matt Chisholm, worked our usual Panto for PricewaterhouseCoopers at The Peacock Theatre before its move to Birmingham’s Alexander. One of my biggest and most enjoyable shows of the year, Peter Quilter's End of The Rainbow began in Colchester before embarking on a UK tour. April saw me return to Sell A Door Theatre to design a their production of James and the Giant Peach on its international tour. It was great to spend a week or so back in The Lowry Theatre, for an improvised production, 100% Salford, as part of Week 53 Festival. It really was lovely to return to The Lyric after spending so many years there on their casual staff.
The Month of May began with an introduction to Manchester's hottest new theatre Hope Mill. The unique space reunited me with Director James Baker after several years, for a Co-production of Parade. The show also ignited a new relationship with producer Katy Lipson who has partnered with the venue to produce some brave and exciting shows in 2016 and beyond.
Following on from a little holiday I was delighted to return to Colchester's Mercury Theatre following End of the Rainbow, this time to design for their new summer production of Wind In The Willows. A great opportunity to work with new music writer Rebecca Applin and director Matt Cullum. August saw PTM's production of Little Red Ridding Hood head to Edinburgh along with an all new musical I had been working on with the guys at HSL Group, Stop The Train. This great new show with some really catchy music penned by Rice and Guard, is set for a wonderful future if its sell out run at the Fringe is anything to go by.
As Panto season approached I returned to Colchester to work on their production of Dick Whittington. I had a great time on this with some old friends and a few new ones too.
So now, here we are in January as I look towards our late Panto for PricewaterhouseCoopers again. As the other productions close over in Colchester and around the UK, It really has been a great year. 2017 is looking busy so far and I can’t wait to tell you all about the productions I have planned as and when I can. I’m looking forward to more visits to my friends at Colchester, Hope Mill, along with some London ones too. So here’s to a bright and successful year to all my friends, family, producers & co-workers in the theatre industry.
All the best.
Its been a surprisingly busy few weeks for me following on from a summer of outdoor events, some theatrical but most more rock and roll to be honest. I always look forward the summer around around spring time when I can't wait to get out side however usually around mid July I remember that the British weather isn't always kind to us on outdoor events and I long to get back in the warm dry confines of a theatre! Following on from Colchester's Wind in the Willows and Hope Mills fantastic production of Parade I had been looking forward to returning to Colchester for Dick Whittington when I was asked to look at co-designing Aria Entertainment's second production at Hope Mill, a revival of the musical Hair. I wasn't partially familiar with the show but on listening to the sound track the music is truly fantastic. I couldn't pass on an opportunity to work with Katy Lipson and Co over at Hope Mill along with some fabulous creatives.
The production is set in traverse with a five piece band and is musically directed by Gareth Bretherton and directed by the wonderful Jonathan O'Boyle. The show features a stella cast, some of whom Id worked with before. I was also looking forward to my first time co-designing a production with sound designer and composer Max Perryment.
This show, like others I have designed in Hope Mill presented some challenges, the space is compact and unique. having lots of open radio mics and a live band in the same room is always a challenge so careful mic placement and selection was always going to be crucial. Another challenge I hadn't backed on so much was the placement of the radio mic packs. Ive worked on shows before that are very physical and always found solutions for pack placement that has been reliable however these have always ben under costume. I won't spoil the show for those of you heading over to see it but there is a scene where the entire cast is completely naked! Director Jonathan and I had spoken about some pack positions that would create the smallest visual impact when viewed from the front or side but we soon discovered some of these where not conducive to the productions fantastic choreography by Hope Mills own William Whelton. The cast do a lot of rolling on the floor which did cause us to move some packs. My savour in production week was our set and costume designer Maeve Black (Ill never know how they design and create so much stuff in the time they have). We now have some ingenious mic pouches for some of the cast, a sort of tiny rucksack with elastic shoulder straps that from the front you can hardly see at all.
The show have been receiving some fantastic reviews from critics and audiences and Id love you to catch it. Hair runs at Hope Mill until December 3rd. Go see it!
I was so pleased when the head of theatre operations over at the Lowry asked me to design exciting new project as part of their week 53 festival. Less of a theatre performance and more a piece of interactive community work, the project pioneered by Rimini Protokoll take 100 people from around the city. The cast is made up from people who represent Salford based on the last census and represent ethnic backgrounds, sex, age etc. The show then explores their opinions of certain subjects, asking a series of questions that the cast answer.
The show based around a huge revolving stage was almost entirely music led with the cast taking cues from ether music or sound effects for their movement and choreography, it was very exciting. The music was a mix of play back based on Ableton Live. something Id never really had a lot of experience with before this show and a live ensemble of local musicians and song writers. As the show was largely devised, based on a template from previous models, some of the sections of the performance only came together in the final few days making for some exciting sound effects sourcing and editing! I really enjoyed finding sounds from Salford and the surrounding areas but also thinking of everything I recorded, would this say Salford to a local resident? what sounds to they hear that remind them of their city day in day out? Meny of the clips where understated and embedded into loops of music such as the metros horn or the sound of the lowry outlet mall.
With only two performances the week was all over so quickly but it was great to be back in The Lyric Theatre gain.
After a few weeks at home during March its great to be getting back into designing a theatre show. This week I have been down at Greenwich Theatre opening the International tour of James & The Giant Peach. This lovely little kids show with new music by a wonderful composer, Harry Sever is set to tour the middle east, Hong Kong and a few other dates in the UK.
The great thing about these consoles is that they can present themselves as a sound card to software like figure 53s Q lab all over USB so theres no need to carry an audio interface. The MIDI to the desk also travels over USB so less cable to fit in. We are using a little MIDI control box from "That Little Box" again powered by USB so the whole front of house set up from the UK dates can tour in a Peli case overseas. This does mean that the back up qlab system isn't tracking with a easy switch however after giving it some thought its the price we have to pay for the portability I think.
Ive been impressed with the sound of the console for its size and budget and it suites the show well. We've had to do some clever routing to get a radio sub group and use of the four DCAs is a little complex but worth persevering with. The other Challenge the show presented was that of locally sourced radio mic systems for the overseas dates. In itself not an issue however touring mic capsules for consistency would mean looking at mics with several different connections for Sennheiser, Shure and other etc. I selected a head set from Proel that again for the budget we've been very happy with. They come with three adaptors to Sennheiser mini jack, Shure and AKG so kind of covered most of our options. the headsets themselves are a little big even at there smallest (I don't know who they make these for with massive heads!) but nothing a little Hellmann and transpore won't sort out. over all tonally they seen OK once in the right place, they can be a little dull if the capsule is to far back but quite open and rounded once moved forward.
I had a great time with this fun little show creating sound effects, its always great to see the Kids reactions to shows like this and Seussical, it makes it all worth while. Now the show is off to The UAE for 3 weeks before returning to play Ipswich and Edinburgh next month. Catch it while you can. Im off home for a week or two before beginning my next projects at The Lowry in Salford and designing a new production of Parade in Manchester.
James & The Giant Peach
Wow what a few weeks its been working on this gritty but funny and touching play. End of the Rainbow has opened to some fantastic reviews, Lisa is doing a fabulous job in the role of Judy with a great supporting cast and the audience reaction has been great. Many commenting on the sound of the show on the way out which is always nice.
Its been great for me to get back to a play al be it with some big music within it. I hadn't realised how Id missed the intricate detail sound effects that go along with such a serious drama such as sourcing the right traffic noises or having those off stage bathroom sounds just right. It might not have felt like that a few weeks back when I was recording the sounds of hotel doors opening and closing and taps running but it all seems worth it now! I made a real effort to record as many of the sounds I needed as I could and although I couldn't do them all with the time I had it was really nice to take time to record most of them.
I also made some different choices this time with regards to microphones, this time opting for Countryman B6 hair line microphones. One of the main reasons for this was that I had already decided that I would double mic and pack each of the actors. The play is really a three hander so if we did have radio mic issues the times when our actors leave the stage was very limited. I wanted to ensure we could switch to a spare even whilst on stage. This left our cast wearing two mic packs and two mics. The packs I will come to in a minute but I needed to chose a mic that we could hide two of in the hair line. with this play this needed to be as discreet as it could be. The B6 is one of the smallest available and worked a real treat. I was also very pleasantly surprised at the quality and tone from such a small capsule.
For most of our cast I chose my usual sennheiser evolution radio mic systems however Lisa, our lead has such a small frame I wanted to ensure that hiding both radio mic packs within her dress was going to be possible without seeing them. I looked at both the Shure and Sennheiser offerings and chose the SK5212 Mk II from Sennheiser. one of the residing factors in this was the size and weight but also that our other cast would be on Sennheiser using WSM software so it seamed the best option.
Another Mic that has also blown me away on this show has been the Neumann KSM104. I needed a vocal mic for Judy to sing down that would take us away from the natural sound of the dialogue scenes and place us right in the club where she was performing. This had to look the part circa 1968 but also sound phenomenal enhancing Lisas vocals perfectly. I looked at several options from Shure, Audix and Sennheiser and after settling on the KSM104 I have to say it does the job perfectly whilst still sounding so natural.
After a well earned Christmas break, I had almost no time this year before getting right back into designing with my annual pantomime, for financial giant PricewaterhouseCoopers in London. Avenue Q has been getting ready to bring the house down in Cardiff and there was also a new exciting project, Peter Quilter's End Of The Rainbow. The play is about the last few months of Judy Garlands life, and is set to tour the UK with an all star cast. Its opening in February at the beautiful Mercury Theatre Colchester, and Im looking forward to getting back to returning after I received such a friendly welcome there last year opening Avenue Q. Whilst the show is a play, it features many of Judy's big musical numbers, Some are performed as we step through the story whilst others are set within the 60's venue "The Talk Of The Town" with the sound of a seven piece big band backing Judy's legendary voice. I've been in and out of rehearsals and I can't wait to get into tech with this gritty and sometimes dark show. As I write this, I'm taking a break from recording some of the shows many subtle sound effects required throughout the performance. I've also been specifying the microphones for our band recording and those used on stage for our fabulous cast. If you are a fan of Judy Garland or the 60's in general, you should come and see whats promising to be a great show.
I was thrilled to be asked back again to work with my friends at the BBC Philharmonic, this time on a different project, a poetry reading with music to be recited live and broadcast on BBC Radio. The concert took place to mark The Salford Institute for Dementia's second year and was held at Peel hall in the Universities grounds.
The concert itself explores the relationship between poetry and music and how it can impact those with Dementia and their families. The poetry, written by Actor and director Di Sherlock explores her journey as a carer for her mother, almost as a diary of events and feelings as things progressed. These emotional works, now published in a book, prompted the BBC's Martin Maris to suggest adding music to accompany the words, commissioning Lucas Garner, an American music student studying in Manchester to compose a score for the piece.
The performance consisted of three actors including Di reading with a talented cellist from the philharmonic Elinor Gow.
Both the structure and the sensitive emotional nature of the piece dictated that any audio enhancement be subtle and unobtrusive. Its was imperative that these words be heard over the beautiful tones of the cello however never sounding amplified or out of place.
I chose both my microphones and speaker system carefully in order to maximise this affect and also to provide the best quality audio for the BBC's broadcast engineers.
This is a new style of project for me but one that I really enjoyed. The readings were received very well and seemed to strike a chord for those caring for and living with Dementia. The project now aims to work with these groups, aiding them to write their own feelings and experiences down in poetry. Perhaps the next chapter in the tale will be their performances.
With Bonfire night already over, I've spent the last few weeks opening this years first Christmas show. Miracle on 34th St The Musical was brand new design for me and I was thrilled when Paul Taylor Mills asked me to get involved. Christmas is a big part of the end of my year, even more so now I have two small children and although I love the traditional pantomimes I design, its always nice to work on other christmas shows. I have to say this is fast becoming one of my favourites.
The show has a strong cast of six principles and ten ensemble who are very busy covering a huge number of parts, so the sound department are kept on their toes. The show is performed to multi track play back which this year has been "remastered" by a crack team of the wonderful Mark Crossland (Musical Supervisor) and Lee Freeman (Musical Director) who has also done a great job of the additional arrangements. Its been a busy rehearsal process as the show evolves , ensuring this years production is better than ever. The design of the show features a Midas pro series console and loud speakers from Martin Audio, The team wanted the show to have that fabulous warm enveloping MGM chorus sound, I've used this combination of Martin XD series and Midas console before and have always loved the warm reproduction of the vocals I get from them.
I'd also like to thank our console operator Nico Menghini and the team at dBS Solutions for all their help and support.
The show tours the UK until Christmas eve and will also be opening in Dubai later in December. Get yourself along for some Christmas feel good fun.
This week I have been in bridlington working for Sell a Door theatre company opening Seussical The Musical ahead of its International tour to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Singapore. The project started back at the beginning of the year when I was asked if I was interested following the shows trip to Hong Kong.
Its been great to be working on this great show again and its nice to meet up with some old friends from the cast along with some new ones too. we've been doing a lot of work this time on the desk and qlab files of the show along with adding some new sound effects. The show is really catchy musicaly and the whole production really draws the audience (mostly kids) in to the story. I left the show in great shape in Bridlington this morning headed back home on the train.
Best of luck to all the cast and crew for the tour.
Its another busy week as I return from London following rehearsals and right into assisting our team with the preparation of equipment for next weeks opening of Seussical The Musical. The show plays for a week in the UK before heading off to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Singapore. We have been busy getting equipment ready to truck to the UK dates but also looking at radio mics sound consoles and redundant Q lab systems touring with the show overseas. This means air freighting them after the UK leg right over to Abu Dhabi. Singapore will be sourcing almost of the kit our show needs locally so I have been working with their sound department to ensure the Digico consoles are all running the latest software so all our programming will work without a hitch out there.
If you want to catch the show we open in Sunny Bridlington next Thursday through Sunday before heading overseas.
Thanks to Danny Claire at dBS Solutions and Rob Parkinson the shows no1 sound operator for their help this week.