Road tours are usually not the place to try something new. Tight budgets, quick load-ins, impatient producers, and the simple wear and tear of life on the road make theatre sound designers more apt to go with the tried and true and less apt to experiment with something they've never used. Such experimentation is usually reserved for regional work, summer stock, or the safety and solitude of one's own studio.
But sometimes the road is just the right place, as was the case for associate sound designer Rob Lindsay on the current national tour of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. The tour, based on the long-running West End production featuring sound design by Peter Cox and Rick Price of Alpha Audio Designs, allowed Lindsay the opportunity to use Martin Audio loudspeakers in their first major US theatrical application.
Buddy can be a tricky show for a sound designer because of its blend of concert, recording studio, radio, and real-life scenes in a late 50s setting. Sometimes it has to sound natural, sometimes it has to be loud, and sometimes it has to sound rather antiquated. Lindsay flew over to London to look at the West End production and speak with Cox and Price about the project. "The producers told me they were looking for something that would give them a good old rock-and-roll show but also keep it almost intimate and unamplified. Peter Cox was originally the one who talked to me about the Martin speakers. He said it was a good box, but I wasn't very familiar with it. So at AES in New York last year, I went to the Martin booth and checked it out."
Lindsay liked what he saw, and decided to use 12 Martin Wavefront W8Cs, six WSX sub bass, four W8Cs, and six WT3 speakers for front of house. "It was right for this show because it gives me the rock-and-roll sound the designer and director want, but it behaves itself at lower volumes. The problems I've had with other boxes are that they're great on the lower levels, but when it comes time for the big rock show, it just doesn't cut it. I've found the Martin speakers to be the best box for the dynamic we use on the show."
The biggest difference between the West End version of Buddy and the tour are the use of wireless mics. Lindsay uses Sennheiser SK50 transmitters with a 3536 receiver, and DPA 4060 capsules. The tour is run on a 32-channel Cadac F-Type console with 12 sub groups and a 40-channel Midas XL200. Other gear includes JBL Control 1s in the front-of-house position, Meyer UPM1cs in both front-of-house and monitor positions, Meyer UM1s in the monitor system, Shure 55SH, SM98, and SM58 mics, Klark Teknik DN330s and DN360s, Crest P600a amps, and Crown MA 2400 and MA 2600 amps. ProMix was the supplier.
"London uses only two wireless mics at one point in the show, and that's it," Lindsay says. "Other than that, they rely on the actors projecting into the house, which seats about 1,000. That works fine for them, but it certainly wouldn't work for us. The director didn't want to use wireless mics at all on the tour, but unfortunately, with the audiences in this country, and the size of the venues we're playing, that wasn't realistic. The smallest venue we're playing is about 1,200, and the largest, I think, is the Fox in Atlanta, which seats about 4,400. And that's another reason for going with the Martin box: the flexibility of being able to add to the rig and still keep my job as simple as possible, being that we're on a very limited timeframe. We have 10 hours to put the show in, do a sound check, and have an opening night."
Dealing with the widely variable venue sizes while still trying to maintain that sense of intimacy sought by the director and original design team was one of the biggest challenges for Lindsay on Buddy. "I'm always trying to keep in the back of my mind that it was 1959 as I'm mixing the show," he notes. "I try to let the actors do the work, as opposed to pushing the RF so that it becomes obviously amplified."
Buddy is scheduled to tour the US through mid-August.