Berkeley, CA â€“ July 2011â€¦ Known for its core values of imagination and excellence, as well as its educated and adventurous audience, Berkeley Repertory Theatreâ€” headed by Artistic Director Tony Tacconeâ€”is the recipient of a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre and is widely recognized for its exhilarating new plays. Delivering top notch performancesâ€”several of which have gone on to Broadwayâ€”is a mission that requires keen attention to detail. Sound quality is certainly a big part of this organizationâ€™s considerations and, to ensure both vocal and instrumental reproduction is as good as can be, microphones and direct boxes from Menlo Park, CA-based Countryman Associates are an integral part of this theatreâ€™s productions.
James Ballen is Berkeley Repertory Theatreâ€™s Sound Supervisor. A theatrical live sound professional who has also worked with Chicagoâ€™s Goodman Theatre and who, for the past ten years has run sound for Berkeley Rep, is tasked with overseeing all aspects of the theatreâ€™s sound operations. Over the past decade, heâ€™s become an enthusiastic user of Countryman products, including the companyâ€™s E6 Omni and E2 Uni-directional earset microphones, B6 Omni lavaliere models, as well as the Type 10 direct boxes. He discussed the challenges he routinely encounters and his reason for selecting Countryman.
â€œWhen an actor or actress is outfitted with a microphoneâ€”be it an earset or lavaliere type modelâ€”sound quality is only one of several key considerations,â€? says Ballen. â€œComfort is equally important. If, for example, an earset mic doesnâ€™t fit well, it becomes extremely distracting and this is likely to compromise the talentâ€™s ability to give their best performance. Countrymanâ€™s E6 earset mics have proven to be extremely comfortable, are very lightweight, and sound fantastic. Compared to many competing products, the E6â€™s are frequently preferred by theatrical performers due to their fit, sound quality, and their ability to blend to various skin tones. These mics are used in many of our productions and we keep roughly ten units in our permanent inventory.â€?
In addition to the Countryman E6 earset models, Ballen reports the theatre also has a pair of E2 earset microphones as well as about fifteen B6 Omni lavalieres. â€œThe Countryman E2â€™s have a much shorter boom than the E6â€™s and, as a result, are even less visible to the audience,â€? says Ballen. â€œBeing uni-directional, their pickup qualities are different from the E6â€™s, so having both models gives us considerable flexibility when outfitting the talent. Similarly, the B6 lavaliere mics have proven to be invaluable when it comes to placing a microphone directly onto wardrobe or hiding it within a costume. The sound quality of the E6â€™s and, for that matter, all of the companyâ€™s mics, is right there at the topâ€”regardless of price point.â€?
The Countryman E6 is a great microphone choice when achieving suitable audio levels proves difficult, as Ballen explained. â€œWe premiered a show called Passing Strange that eventually went on to Broadway,â€? Ballen said. â€œThis show was presented on our Thrust Stage, which has a rather odd shape that can cause acoustical challenges. This theatre has no right angles and the stage juts out halfway into the house. Because of these factors, feedback is a huge issue whenever we use lapel or body mics on stage.â€?
â€œWe started tech rehearsals with some microphones placed on the actorsâ€™ ears to make them as discreet as possible,â€? Ballen continued, â€œbut we quickly hit the ceiling in terms of gain before feedback. We just couldnâ€™t get acceptable levels. We then switched everyone over to Countryman E6â€™s and these mics completely resolved the issue. The sound was fantastic, with tons of gain. Everyone involved with the production was impressed with the vast difference the E6â€™s made.â€?
Depending upon the nature of the production, live musicians are frequently hired to play the theatreâ€™s shows. Making the Hi-Z unbalanced (musical instrument) to Lo-Z balanced (mixer channel input) conversion can create distortion and color the sound if not handled properly. To overcome this, Ballen often relies on Countryman Type 10 direct boxes. â€œWe had a show a while back that required several guitars, and we used the Type 10â€™s exclusively,â€? he said. â€œThe sound quality was crystal-clear and transparentâ€”absolutely wonderful.â€?
Before shifting his attention back to the business of the day, Ballen summarized his experience with Countryman Associates, â€œCountrymanâ€™s customer and technical support services are some of the best Iâ€™ve encountered. Theyâ€™ve overnighted products to us in the past and are very responsive whenever we have questions. After working with a variety of Countryman products over the years, I feel as though everything the company makes is of very high quality and is built to last. Their equipment exhibits well-thought-out designs and I can honestly say Iâ€™m very happy with them.â€?
To learn more about the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, visit them online at www.berkeleyrep.org.
About Countryman Associates
For more than 30 years, Countryman has focused on developing microphones and accessories that deliver maximum gain before feedback, with the highest possible rejection of wind, vibration, interference, and other unwanted sounds. The result is warm, clear vocals in speaking and singing applications, delivering natural audio reinforcement that requires almost no attention from the sound engineer or the performer. For additional information about Countryman Associates, visit the company online at www.countryman.com.
Photo Info: Rebecca Naomi Jones, Stew, and de'Adre Aziza (left â€“ right) wear Countryman E6 earset microphones in the world premiere of Passing Strange at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo credit: www.kevinberne.com.