Sydney Theatre Company goes digital with Clear-Com
AUSTRALIA: After seeking a replacement for its ageing wireless comms system for almost two years, Sydney Theatre Company's (STC) Wharf Theatres has chosen to install a new digital system from Clear-Com.
Head of sound at Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Theatres, Ben Lightowlers, kept coming up against the recurring problems of sound quality and digital signal latency in his search for a new solution. ‘There were teething problems in digital wireless technology,’ he explained. ‘Latency was a problem across many brands and the audio quality just wasn’t there. Latency was particularly troubling – if there was someone sitting next to you talking on comms, you’d be hearing them talk and then hearing them again 500 milliseconds later in your headphones. It’s very distracting, and as far as getting your cue right, it’s a pointless exercise.’
Intrigued by the launch of Clear-Com’s FreeSpeak II, Mr Lightowlers trialled a FreeSpeak system from Australian distributor Jands. ‘We did a demo and it sold itself,’ he recalled. ‘It has low latency, it’s clear and its wireless coverage is impressive.’ The company invested in one FreeSpeak II base station, eight FreeSpeak II beltpacks, two AC-60 battery chargers and three FreeSpeak II active antennas.
The system has been configured to run four communications loops – a show loop, stage management loop, sound loop and lighting loop. Each beltpack can receive five separate loops and accesses them through four programmable push buttons. For simplicity, most of the packs have been programmed to receive two loops only, customised to each user group. Production management receive all four, as does sound, who are responsible for monitoring and maintaining the comms system.
‘We have the base station hooked in to our corporate network,’ explained Mr Lightowlers. ‘We can access it from our office at the other end of the building to check its status. If an issue pops up, we see what’s happening at a glance.’
The FreeSpeak II system has been integrated into the venue’s existing Clear-Com wired system. ‘Our regular lighting operator has gone over to the FreeSpeak beltpack,’ Mr Lightowlers added. ‘He keeps it plugged directly to the charger, but if he needs to do a preset or leave the board, he can unplug and stay on comms without any trouble.’
The new wireless system has inspired Mr Lightowlers to upgrade and extend the wired system. ‘We’re pretty keen to upgrade our wired system to Clear-Com’s digital system, HelixNet,’ he said. ‘I’d also like to get more FreeSpeak II active antennas to extend our wireless coverage further down the wharf. We have three nodes in Wharf 1, but it is 500m from one end to the other. When someone needs to go and get something from our storage at the other end, it would be handy to keep them on comms.’
Furthermore, the system has reportedly been widely accepted by the venue’s range of theatre practitioners. ‘We are constantly hosting different designers and creatives, production managers and crew,’ Mr Lightowlers concluded. ‘They just jump on, and I don’t really get any questions. I’m happy, and our regulars are happy.’