The Bard would no doubt approve of the egalitarian philosophy of Boston's annual Free Shakespeare on the Common, which places a priority on getting pristine sound to all people. Audio for the 2006 season's presentation of Taming of the Shrew made good on that promise, using an array of Sennheiser wireless microphone systems to move Beantown's city center with crystal clear iambic pentameter.
"We strive to make each year better than the year before, not just artistically and creatively, but technically," says Mike Mayo, head audio engineer for Free Shakespeare on the Common. "We're almost striving for studio-level perfection outside, without a single line of dialogue lost in a dropout, if possible. Our Sennheiser wireless systems are putting us within reach of that goal."
Outfitted with twenty Sennheiser MKE 2-sub-miniature lavalier microphones, connecting to 14 Sennheiser SK-50U and six SK-5012U bodypack transmitters (for a total of twenty channels), EM 3032 and 3252 receivers, plus two A 5000-CP passive helical antennas, the shows have seen a marked evolution in their production values. An increasingly popular summer series and joint effort of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and The Wang Center for the Performing Arts, Free Shakespeare on the Common has been presenting the timeless plays of Stratford-on-Avon's favorite son to Boston audiences of 5,000 plus each evening since 2003, bringing extensive audio challenges to Mayo and his crew on a nightly basis.
"The first issue is, simply from being outside, there's a tremendous amount of noise from traffic, ambulances and other real world intrusions, so getting a clean wireless mic signal is even more important than at an indoor venue," he explains. "From an RF standpoint, there are local radio stations, conventions, helicopters, and just a multitude of people with wireless gear. However, we didn't have to worry about these problems once our systems integrator, Talamas, brought in our Sennheiser gear. We've had strong, solid signal from the transmitters, and all the components have performed remarkably well under brutal conditions, including summer days where the temperature reached 107 degrees outside."
According to Mayo, who worked closely with Wang Center vice president of artistic programming Steven Maler, sound designer Jay Hagenbuckle, production manager Thom Kaufmann and CJ Danek of Matrix1 Audio, and Talamas' David Talamas to design the system, the highly accurate and reliable sound quality that the Sennheiser setup maintains throughout the signal path is critical to the company's mission of staying true to the Bard. "Shakespeare is all about dialogue. If you miss one word, then sometimes the sentence or the whole scene doesn't make sense," he says. "The audio mix for Taming of the Shrew is particularly challenging, since there's a lot of comedic side notes and characters talking under their breath, which I have to incorporate into the mix.
"Additionally, with this outdoor show, there are people sitting far enough away that they can't see what's going on. Instead they're out there with a picnic blanket, just listening to the show, and a fully-functioning wireless microphone system is critical to ensuring that they can follow along. The Sennheiser MKE mics are very clear and crisp sounding. They're a perfect complement to the SK-50U and SK-5012U bodypack transmitters, which were low-profile enough to put on some of the actresses that were wearing skintight dresses with almost no place to put a microphone. The transmitters maintained excellent sound quality to the Sennheiser A 5000-CP antennas, which were placed at distances of 15 and 50 feet from the stage."
With the most ambitious and successful run of Free Shakespeare on the Common just completed, Mike Mayo and crew knows that they can keep raising the company's art to the next level, without ever having to worry about their audio. "When you're working outdoors, there's a lot to keep track of, but with our Sennheiser wireless microphone system, we don't need to consider that as a variable," he says. "Sennheiser is solid."