S6L on Tour with ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’

By in Live Sound, Music Creation

Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened off Broadway in 1998 and has since been produced in hundreds of stage productions around the world, including London’s West End. The musical opened on Broadway in 2014, winning four Tony Awards, and the production is now out on tour in North America. Kenneth Goodwin was tasked with programming the tour’s dual S6L systems, and I caught up with him recently to discuss the process and how his team is using the systems to bring the production to American and Canadian audiences.

Kenneth Goodwin

DH: What was your role in the production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch?

KG: Hedwig was my first Broadway show and I was hired as the assistant sound designer. A few months later, I became a substitute mixer for the show as well, for both front of house and backstage to mix IEM’s. For the tour, I was the assistant sound designer. I’m not mixing the tour, but I had to remember everything that we did on Broadway and program it into the brand new S6L’s we rented.

 

DH: What console were you guys using for the Broadway production?

KG: For the Broadway production, we used the Midas Pro 9 for front of house and a Midas Pro 2 for IEMs backstage.

 

DH: What is the monitor console for the touring production?

KG: It’s also an S6L. So we have two S6Ls, two stage racks and two E6L’s [engines], with a backup E6L also built into the system. All of the inputs go into one stage rack other than a couple of local inputs that go into the console controllers themselves. Both consoles share those stage rack inputs. The front of the house has control of one whole stage rack for outputs and the monitor console has control of one full stage rack for outputs.

DH: So you’re sharing I/O between the systems for the tour?

KG: Absolutely, and that was one of the biggest things that saved our butts for the show too, ’cause we were originally going to rent an isolated channel split between the systems, and when VENUE 5.2 [software] was released, that saved us a whole rack on a tour for the splits. We have a total of 64 inputs being shared between the consoles, and then in addition to that there are another ten inputs at front of the house and another four inputs going into the monitor console.

 

DH: What are you using as a playback system?

KG: Front of the house is controlling eight channels of playback which are going analog into the system. There are two Mac Minis running QLab version 3 that go through an A/B switch, and the S6L at front of the house is MIDI triggering all of the queues. Channels 1 through 6 are going to front of the house only and channels 7 and 8 are being shared with monitors. There’s a couple times we send click tracks and a mono mix of sound effects to the actors’ in-ears.

S6L at front of house in San Francisco at the Golden Gate Theatre—the tour's first stop

DH: How are you using S6L’s Pro tools integration?

KG: The main thing that we have used Pro Tools for is to re-record voiceovers for rotating cast members. Each time the tour cast switch out we have to record a couple of effects that play back from some upstage speakers that come through the door. So it’s real easy for a new actor to come in, step up to the microphone and for us to just hit record so that we don’t have to rent a studio out or anything on tours.

 

DH: Is it also useful if you have to bring a sub onboard, if you have musicians that drop out for whatever reason?

KG: Correct. The Monitor Desk records IEM mixes to train sub musicians. The biggest thing that Pro Tools came in handy for is that in San Francisco we had Darren Criss play Hedwig, and then once a week Lena Hall, who normally plays Yitzhak, would come in and play Hedwig—and they sing in different keys. So it was really handy for us to record the band in a different key. During the sound effect a voiceover plays and then the band track starts to underscore the voiceover during a cast costume change. So basically, the effect we were trying to make is that in the blackout, when all the cast members are doing quick changes and getting into place, the tracked band starts and then fades out as the live band takes over.

We queue up an Apple script that asks who is performing the role for the night and when the operator chooses the script, it will say, “Oh, I see Darren is playing the lead role tonight,” so all the voiceovers automatically flip to be Darren’s voice, and all the playback tracks for that last song on that day flips to be in Darren’s key.

DH: Who is the sound provider that you guys are renting the consoles from?

KG: PRG Audio out of Secaucus, New Jersey.

 

DH: How did you approach bringing the Broadway show programmed on Midas consoles over to the S6L’s for the tour?

KG: Our biggest concern was getting the in-ears mix for all the band members, so we sub-rented a complete S6L system from VER and sent it to a rehearsal room in a tiny theater in Manhattan where we had a full stage setup with all the band members and all their gear. So while the band members were working on the guitar sounds and training the new cast members on all the choreography and interaction with all the different microphones and equipment on the stage, the IEM mixer was programming everybody’s ears. We then just transferred the [VENUE show] file from rehearsal in New York to San Francisco so that all the band members could hear the same mix that they were rehearsing with.

The front of the house programming was basically all done from memory and well-documented notes in different formats. I had a digital copy of my mixing script’s notes and we had Excel spreadsheets. The main thing we were really excited about when VENUE 5.3 came out was the fact that we got custom fader layers. So the first thing our mixer did was program a redundant fader layer, so that in case his fader bay went bad, he could just hit a backup custom fader layer and all the VCAs would jump over to the other fader bay.

A1 Walter E. Shaffer and A2- Brian Kallaher at monitors in San Francisco—the S6L systems were supplied by PRG (Production Resource Group)

DH: Are you just using custom fader layers for redundancy, or how else are you using them?

KG: We use the custom fader layers extensively. VCAs one through ten are always popping up at the same spot per each custom fader bank, and then depending on which one he selects, RF microphones might come up, or reverb returns, or all of the drums, or all of the playback, etc. I think that’s probably the one thing that saved our butts programming the show—the fact that he could just mix the show and I could hit fader bank “guitars” and then make the guitar changes and store them. And then I could go back and hit “microphones” and he could still be mixing the VCAs.

But I will say that the number one improvement that this console made for theater is the fact that the matrix mixer is just so much bigger and the fact that you have a custom matrix mixer for each matrix. So the fact that you have more matrixes—that’s the thing that makes this console so much more powerful for theater compared to the Profile.

DH: Was the difference in sound quality noticeable for you guys?

KG: Absolutely. I think the Midas console on Broadway was specifically chosen because you can drive Midas console’s preamps into distortion and hear the warmth that comes out of that, but with this console we had so much headroom we didn’t even need to bother with that.

 

DH: Was the team very familiar with I/O sharing before this tour?

KG: They were familiar with it with other console brands, but I think our show was the first theater show to use the S6L with I/O sharing—we installed it the day that we needed to start doing it. We kinda did it backwards in a way because all of our gain settings were set in rehearsal by the monitor mixer who was still running on 5.1 [software] and then sent that file to us with all his mixes saved. And so the front of the house engineer, when he sat down for a band sound check, he was using all of the same gain settings that were used in rehearsal. And I think in the end he said, “Oh, I’m gonna gain it all up,” so he kept turning them all up and it didn’t affect monitors whatsoever.

We definitely tested it. You know, just for shits and giggles, we sent some pink noise via playback to the monitors and he was listening to it in his ears at front of the house. We had turned our gain up 20 dB and he goes, “Yeah, I don’t really hear anything,” so we were like, “great, we don’t have to worry about it, let’s move on.”

Front of house in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre

DH: I understand that you’re also using S6L on another theater production off Broadway—what can you tell me about that?

KG: The production is called The Band’s Visit at the Atlantic Theater Company. Tony Shalhoub, the actor from Monk, is in it. Had a great review in the New York Times a couple days ago, and we’ve only been open since Friday. They hired a mixer who has had very limited experience on the Profile. The fact that he could step up to the console and program it—get his head around Scoping, Recall Safe and stuff like that—is a testament to the system.

DH: Who is the sound provider that you guys are renting the consoles from for The Band’s Visit?

KG: Masque Sound out of East Rutherford, New Jersey.

DH: Are there bigger plans for this production?

KG: I think so, the producers are looking at a move to Broadway once a decent sized theatre is available. We extended two additional weeks at the Linda Gross Theatre, The Band’s Visit has been sold out through New Years into mid-January. We used Pro Tools extensively on that show. Every night we would record the full multitrack file and then the next morning we would rehearse a song or two through Virtual Soundcheck. So we would run the show, run rehearsal and then perform a preview with an audience. At the end of the night, we would get our notes from people who may say, “This song, somebody had trouble hearing the melody on the stage.” We were using the VENUELink on it, so the next morning we would just recall the snapshot and use the transport keys on the console and play it back. I would walk around stage and I would say, “Okay, less snare, more piano” and we would make our adjustments. It was really, really easy for us to do that. The fact that on an Off-Broadway show, I could come in and say, “Let’s record the show so that we can fix it the next morning.” I mean there was a 90 percent improvement in 24 hours—everybody was happy with it.

A-1 Spencer Carter at front of house for 'The Band's Visit' at the Linda Gross Theater with an S6L supplied by Masque Sound

DH: Are you just using one S6L for that production and running monitors off of it as well, or what’s the setup there?

KG: Monitors, on that show, are coming off of our S6L system via Dante into an Aviom system. We have two stage racks: one is upstairs in a large dressing room split in half for the band and the other one is downstairs in the basement’s ampland that gets all the RF inputs and outputs for the rented PA and house sound system. It’s worked out great.

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Sr. Marketing Manager for Avid Live Sound Systems and Music Notation. I previously worked at Euphonix and E-MU Systems before joining Avid.