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TiMax SoundHub and QLab take a step to the left in CapeTown

The Fugard Theatre’s namesake Athol Fugard is regarded as one of South Africa’s most significant playwrights, a fact recognised in 2011 by a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre for his emotive plays exploring the worst excesses and injustices of apartheid. The Fugard Theatre, founded by Eric Abrahams in the playwright’s honour, is located in Cape Town’s District 6 whose indigenous community were brutally evicted during apartheid to make way for gentrification of the area.

Occupying the old Sacks Futeran textiles warehouse juxtaposed with the ex- Congregational Church Hall which serves as box-office and bar, the compact 280-seat auditorium recently underwent a massive refit - floors, balconies, seats and all - to make way for a 40 th anniversary staging of Richard O’Brien’s cult musical Rocky Horror Show.

For some reason this quirky show when done right seems to be eminently bankable in front of a live audience, and with an incentive to outdo previous stagings this particular outing offered the director and production teams some lip-smacking opportunities to indulge heavily in their respective arts.

Director Matthew Wild wanted to balance a suitably 50-‘s sci-fi feel with hi-tech production values so the gothically-detailed set and spooky laboratory props were complemented by elaborate lighting cues and video projection for many scenography elements, both static and animated. A central objective was to break the fourth wall with audience participation dress-up days (including crew – see pic of sound engineers Melissa George and David Claasen) and participation packs with glo-sticks, streamers and confetti, all supported by a high impact and immersive sound design.

To help manage and sync the sound effects and spatialisation together effectively with the video playback a hybrid showcontrol and playback system was created using a TiMax2 SoundHub matrix triggered via MIDI from a QLab3 workstation operated by the stage manager at front-of house. As some of the audio Cues were especially score-related (wedding bells, doorbell) or video-related (tyre burst, certain thunderclaps) these were played out of the QLab Mac, which also played the video clips, to allow collective manipulation and adjustment in rehearsals by Music Supervisor Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. These cues also sent MIDI Notes direct to the TiMax SoundHub unit to assign appropriate Upstage LR, MainLR or WideSurround LR localisations, or to trigger dynamic TimeLine pans on any of the six inputs allocated to QLab in the TiMax matrix.

Certain surround atmos and spot effects needing more complex dynamic pans were created in the TiMax SoundHub-S Timeline environment, using Image Definition pan objects placed on the waveform of those particular effects, which themselves were played back off the TiMax unit’s internal harddrive. Using the waveform as a template meant that movements of certain thunderclaps could be visually matched to specific elements within the clip, and likewise things like the finale space ship launch could built graphically from several offset layered beds, each with groups of multiple pan objects which had been squeezed or stretched so that samples would spin around the room slowly at first and then speed up as the take-off happened.

Frankenfurter’s laboratory scenes were accompanied by variants of an atmos motif made up from 50’s style bubbling, wibbling and bleeping noises played out of TiMax, which would first be established on upstage image definitions then, via a further QLab MIDI Cue, slowly panned out into the house and faded down by TiMax into a slow spatial- stereo spin so that it floated around the audience hence enveloping them in the lab space to varying degrees as the director wished. Using delay-based Image Definition pan objects instead of just discrete level-pans around the speakers significantly enhanced the overall immersivity – one visiting audio professional familiar with the room from previous shows commented you just couldn’t hear the speakers (which was of course the whole idea).

In addition to immersive soundscapes, sound designer Aki Khan, assisted on site by Dave Haydon from TiMax developers Out Board, was keen to get the most impact possible for vocals and band but still maintain some good localisation for the performers. With a classic rock show feel in mind he opted for Turbosound TCS612 cabinets as the main system, a pair each side of the stalls on columns just in front of the prosc, a pair in the circle on columns half-way back where the bulk of the audience seating started, and a flown pair for the upper balcony. A pair of TCS618 Subs were placed at the prosc in the stalls and also the circle balcony, and the circle also had a pair each side of Meyer M1D’s at the prosc as nearfills.

This whole main system was stitched together and delayed back to the front lip of the stage using a pair of XTA DP448’s, then fed with separate stereo Band and Vocal mixes from the TiMax SoundHub. TiMax also fed directly four MM4 front-fills as alternate LR pairs. To help glue the main system and frontfills to the band, two pairs of M1D’s were built into the set on the band’s far-upstage mezzanine, plus an identical system at stage-level to use as upstage anchors principally for effects. These upstage anchor systems were driven from independent TiMax outputs.

Surrounds were all M1D, four channels of side L/R and rear L/R on each of the stalls, circle and balcony levels. These were fed from four TiMax outputs then paralleled together in vertically linked groups. Two other TiMax outs fed the stalls and balcony subs, and a single Band Monitor feed was hooked into the Aviom system so the more musically important QLab and TiMax sfx elements could be added to the band’s foldback mixes.

The producers wanted a “mic-free” look so all the performers were on DPA or Countryman headsets with a Sanken for the Narrator. These were mixed in an SD9 onto separate stereo Band and Vocal groups for TiMax, each also containing independent reverb mixes from external Bricasti devices. Because the band was so far upstage their inputs were assigned in TiMax to BandMix L&R Image Definitions which pushed the whole composite main system 45ms upstage, resulting in solid anchoring of the live drummer to the mezzanine along with any DI’d stuff being effectively localised likewise with the help of the upstage band fills. The TiMax vocal inputs used Vocal L&R Image Definitions localised halfway back with 17ms relative to front of stage, allowing room for movement around the relatively small stage without hitting phasing or echo thresholds. Having separate reverbs included in these different band and vocal assignments helped keep things in time at the front, but the reverbs were also bled very slightly into the surrounds withiin the respective Image Definitions. Other inputs on the 16x16 TiMax unit handled six internal harddrive audio tracks plus another six coming in from QLab.

The proof of the pudding is as they say in the eating and in this case many of the reviewers seemed to enjoy the dessert. One remarked that “ is the most amazing production I have seen, the sound was awesome the singing you can not find fault and the cast is so perfect I can not find words”. The show has been selling out since its July previews and has just been extended to October. In the words of the The Fugard Theatre’s Executive Director, Daniel Galloway, "I have never experienced anything quite like this in my theatre career in Cape Town”.

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ALL PHOTO CREDITS: Jesse Kate Kramer

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