We love to receive feedback at Bard on the Beach and one consistent note from patrons last season was that from certain parts of the house in our new and bigger Mainstage Theatre tent, it could sometimes be difficult to hear the actors. One of the most iconic features of the Mainstage tent is its open back; sound can escape through it and that adds to the challenge of projecting voices, music and sound effects throughout the large space. So – a new custom designed sound system was needed. Chris Engleman (head of audio) and Terry Hilton (design consultant/assistant) designed the system while Gearforce and Smith Sound supplied the necessary equipment to create a one-of-a kind audio system for Bard.

While I am many things – ahem – a gear head I am not. I will let Sparky Lawrence (Bard’s Production Manager) explain what they did.

“Basically what we have done is to build 2 complete, separate sound systems that run through one console – a playback of cues system, and some discreet amplification of the actors’ voices from the stage. These systems serve the more challenging portions of the theatre where it proved difficult to hear last year.

Through a console, things like music, dogs barking, etc are played through the main system which feeds a number of speakers throughout the theatre. These are the ones that are the most easy to see; they are left, right and center of the stage, with 9 speakers set up behind the last row of the audience. The sub woofers are under the seating deck. This is the system that the sound designers use for their designs, and individual level settings are possible for each speaker to create special effects; for example, like a horse is riding around the theatre.

The second system is for the monitoring of the actors’ voices. This is done through microphones hung over the stage, specifically designed to hang in a theatre to mic actors or musicians. They feed into a separate system of eight speakers which are hung over the audience; these eight speakers are directed towards the upper areas of the theatre where a boost of audio from the stage is needed. The sound from this monitoring system is “delayed” so that when the amplified actor’s voice reaches the audience member, it is synchronized with the sound effects and music – just as it would be heard by someone sitting in the front row.

The final step of the monitoring system was to set up the speaker system so that it doesn’t sound like a speech is coming from an artificial source, but is in fact being produced directly by the actor’s voice.”

So – that’s the sound story. But of course the best way to appreciate the changes is to hear them for yourself. Go, listen, and let us know what you think!