Friday, October 23, 2009

Can You Hear Me, Now?

Wall Street Journal article on miking actors in straight plays and using background tracks in musicals. (The end of the article contains some tracks for sound effects used in some Broadway plays.)

Many theatergoers have come to expect the miking effect. Microphones on stage allow actors to speak more naturally, emulating the more realistic performance style that audiences are used to from movies and television. Audiences also expect entertainment to be louder generally, after years of surround-sound in movie theaters. Sound designers say it's necessary to turn up the volume on actors as Broadway theaters themselves get louder, with automated lighting and set-moving equipment making a continual background noise. "There's very little true quiet in the theater anymore," says Tom Clark of Acme Sound Partners, which is designing the sound for "Bye Bye Birdie" and other shows this season.

Playwright David Mamet is known for refusing to use any mics at all in his plays. It may be a losing battle. At a recent performance of "Oleanna," his play about sexual harassment now on Broadway, an audience member complained at a "talk back" for theatergoers after the show. Dennis Sandman, a 56-year-old financial planner from East Brunswick, N.J., said he couldn't hear the play from the balcony. "The actors should've worn mics," he told the group. "It's important when you have one of these talkathons to hear it clearly."

I've been body-miked for straight plays in the past. The most interesting miking experience for me as an actor was performing in David Ive's Sure Thing. It was a very large theater that was selling pretty well out. At first I was a little skeptical. However, I found the mike allowed me to relax into what was probably a more nuanced comedic performance than I ever would have been able to achieve if I had to worry about reaching those near the back with my projection.

In that particular instance, I really felt the miking was a benefit for both me as a performer and for the audience. Although, during one performance, the battery pack that was under my sweater at my lower back began to slip. I could could feel it slowly coming loose as the skit continued. Fortunately, the play takes place in a coffee shop with the two characters sitting for most all of the action. However, at the end, our direction was to stand up for the last few lines. During the dialogue was able to manuever my upstage hand around to the battery pack. I held it in my hand and as we stood up I was able to quickly drop it into my pants pocket.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Wow. As a sound designer, I can say this: Most sound designers I know do NOT actually think it's *necessary* to turn up the volume. It's actually quite problematic. Good for our careers, but problematic.

There are definitely some benefits, but consider the negatives: Our audiences are getting noticeably deafer and less able to actively listen to a performance.