The evolution of a show
A much reduced development time led to plenty of challenges for the audio team on Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation. But the right technology allowed the show to flourish as James Ling discovers...
The creative process for any theatrical event is a long and detailed one. Changes happen at every stage as the show moves from the idea on a page to the production on stage. So to condense this process you must have a team of highly talented people who can adapt quickly and have the right tools at their fingertips.
Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation was the centrepiece of the Qasr al Hosn Festival, an event to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Abu Dhabi’s historic fort. It was a visual poem created by renowned theatre director Franco Dragone, which combined an array of audio and visual technology with live performers to tell the story of the UAE’s capital.
While the end result was spellbinding, reaching that point was a challenging journey. For Britannia Row’s Josh Lloyd, it started when the UK-based production company was approached to provide the sound equipment. ‘We were brought on as an audio supplier and there really wasn’t that much information because the show at that point hadn’t really evolved into anything,’ he explains. ‘Really our brief was to provide a reinforcement system for the space.
‘Everything in this production has changed quite a bit,’ continues Mr Lloyd. ‘The show has been developed in the space, they had a load of concepts and they have worked out what works and what fits in with the kind of story they are trying to tell, and it’s evolved from there,’ he explains. ‘They normally have six months to do what they achieved in a month here.’
While the initial brief was to cover the space, the production also needed to be something special. As such, a 7.1 system provides the audio effects to accompany the visuals on stage. ‘We wanted to do surround and we looked at other things, but due to time limitations and the way it’s been mixed in Pro Tools, that made sense,’ explains Mr Lloyd.
The solution fitted in the temporary structure for the run of the show relies on loudspeakers from L-Acoustics. Above the stage, four hangs of three Arcs cabinets provide what is essentially an L-C-R setup. Added to this are CT108 cabinets along the sides and to the rear of the seating area for surround and SB218 subs for low end. Monitors for the performers on stage are Turbosound TQ-440s, a cabinet that Mr Lloyd describes as ‘a good workhorse’.
‘We ended up going for L-Acoustics Arcs because of their dispersion characteristics,’ explains Mr Lloyd. ‘It’s very short throw. If you are sat at the bottom or if you are sat at the top, it’s all equidistant so point source works for that,’ he furthers. ‘It’s not the most complex PA but it works well in the space.’
Building the show
With a show such as Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation, music would usually be the spine of the performance which everything else would be created around and locked to. This gives the production team a set running time and allows them to timecode certain cues within the performance to keep all departments working to the same schedule. Unfortunately, the reduced creative period meant that the music was constantly being developed up until the first performance.
This saw a library of music developed in Pro Tools to be combined with extra live instrumental sections. As the show evolved, the director would call for certain pieces to go with the section of the story and a speedy edit process resulted in the eventual cue list.
The initial plan was to timecode Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation and get it very organised, but the point at which Brit Row had the final audio available to port into QLab was the day before the first performance, resulting in a very stressful 24 hours. ‘There are bits of the show that are timecoded, some of the lighting and bits, but it’s not as much as initially planned,’ smiles Mr Lloyd. ‘But all the departments are in the same boat because the whole creation process was very fluid.’
The fluidity of the musical cues meant the production team was very reliant on QLab with Mr Lloyd describing the Mac cue list software as ‘the only way we could have got the audio’. This made for a mostly digital signal chain combining a variety of technologies.
‘To get the QLab into the desk from the rack-mounted Mac Mini, most of the signal chain is digital. We use a Dante Virtual Soundcard and that goes into a Yamaha DME unit which switches it to AES for the Avid Profile console,’ explains Mr Lloyd. ‘The Profile is taking all that with Pro Tools doing all the surround mixing.’
The Avid Profile is set up with three stereo sends and two mono ones. The stereo is music and then secondary music and effects, the third channel, which is not in use, was for effects that would have been panned into the back of the surround array. Brit Row also setup a dynamic panning channel on the Profile. ‘There’s no surround panning on this desk so it comes into Pro Tools HD|X and we pan it,’ explains Mr Lloyd.
Output from the console goes into another Yamaha DME digital mixing engine. ‘It’s AES in from the console,’ furthers Mr Lloyd. ‘It has a Lake card in it, so it’s got Lake processing for all the announcements which are stored in the DME and triggered in timeframes. It sends out AES into the PA. There are two Lake LM processors which are the front end for the 7.1.’
The other core element to ensure the smooth-running of this very fluid show has been the intercom system. ‘A lot of the comms was used during the creation process and not used now,’ recalls Mr Lloyd. ‘We’ve got the Riedel comms over IP. They have these IP units which convert their Cat-5 to TCP/IP, so it’s all VoIP stuff,’ he explains. ‘We’ve got the Artist matrix system and the Acrobat which is wireless. We’ve got quite a few channels of beltpacks dotted around and we’ve got the Motorolas interfaced as well.
‘We’ve got a network of antennas,’ continues Mr Lloyd. ‘We have six cells, there’s one in each corner of the room and then there’s two in the middle. We did have some cells in the roof, but we found that they hindered more than helped. It’s all PoE on Cat-5.’
Brit Row has used fibre to carry the audio, control data and comms from FOH down to the control backbone setup just behind the stage in what would normally be monitor world. This is described by Mr Lloyd as featuring Brit Row’s standard driverack system with Lake processors used for crossovers and returns and Yamaha DMEs. ‘Having the whole fibre system and having the Dante means the whole signal chain is digital from FOH to the amplifiers,’ smiles Mr Lloyd. ‘The nice thing is it’s quite flexible.’
Remarkably, despite the fluid nature of the creative process and changing requirements of the show, Brit Row only required two shipments of equipment during the two months it was onsite. The flexibility of the selected system and the talent of the technical teams meant that while the end result was not as technically structured as it could have been, Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation evolved into a spectacle worthy of the 250th anniversary celebrations.