NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 2015: The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park series has been a storied New York City tradition since 1952. It offers free and open access to outdoor productions of Shakespeare in Manhattan’s Central Park, and features world-class talent and Broadway caliber production and audiovisual design. Performances are well known for creating lines of air mattress and camp chair toting Shakespeare fans up to a mile long.
This year, Free Shakespeare in the Park opened in May with a six week run of The Tempest, starring Sam Waterston, and continues July 23rd through August 23rd with Cymbeline, featuring Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater.
Central Park’s 1,800-seat outdoor Delacorte Theater has been home to the Free Shakespeare series since 1962. The venue, while offering creative possibilities to directors, actors, and scenic designers that no other New York City theater can match, presents unique challenges to technical production designers, including audio.
Matthew Bell, Assistant Audio Supervisor at The Public Theater, used two RF Venue products, the Spotlight antenna and Optix fiber-optic remote antenna system, to address and simplify the RF difficulties an outdoor theater in the heart of New York City creates.
“We have to load an entire Broadway quality sound system into a natural park,” says Bell. “There is no pre-existing rigging of any sort. There are raccoons, birds, and rain, and all those have to be taken into consideration.”
The Public Theater’s outdoor Shakespeare productions are technically complex. They use wireless for every speaking role. Cymbeline involves more than 40 channels of Sennheiser 3532 and Sennheiser 2000 series, along with Shure IEMs, two matrixed intercom main-stations, and three Telex BTR–800s. Audio equipment rental and frequency coordination is provided by Masque Sound.
Though wireless is of utmost importance, the unique, intimate nature of Cymbeline's set design paired with the Delacorte’s unconventional upstage area –an expanse of open water named Turtle Pond – makes minuscule wireless audio signals vanish into the trees.
“There is no bounce to the room or anything to reflect RF back onto our actors and antennas, like you would have in a traditional theater,” continues Bell. “We used two RF Spotlight’s to get our antennas physically closer to our actors. Since they’re low profile, we built them into our set pieces and under the deck, and our antennas are 120 feet closer than we would have otherwise been able to get them.”
The Spotlight’s thin 7mm disc allowed The Public Theater to mount both transmit and receive antennas for some of their UHF equipment directly underneath the actors, maximizing signal-to-noise ratio.
Underneath the stage, the antennas are connected to two Optix RFoF systems which, in lieu of coaxial cable, send signals for mics and IEMs to and from the rack via 1310nm fiber optic cable.
“This park is so big and all our cable runs are so long that we want to get our signal loss down to as little as possible,” says Bell. “We went with the Optix because 2.5 dB of loss is a whole lot better than the 10–12 dB we would get with coax.”
“We have a lot of challenges in New York, and a lot of challenges that you only find in Central Park,” Bell concludes. “These two solutions have allowed us to pick up only the transmitted signals on the stage, as opposed to getting all the extraneous noise around the city.”
Production credits for Cymbeline include direction by Daniel Sullivan, scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by David Lander, sound design by Acme Sound Partners, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe, and original music by Tom Kitt.
ABOUT RF VENUE
RF Venue designs and manufactures innovative products that make wireless audio systems work and sound better, specializing in remote antennas, RF distribution equipment and RF signal management and monitoring systems for audio/video installations and live sound events.
Free Shakespeare in the Park, managed by The Public Theater: www.publictheater.org/en/programs–events/shakespeare-in-the-park
Masque Sound: www.masquesound.com
(PHOTO CAPTION/CREDIT) The company of Cymbeline in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production, directed by Daniel Sullivan, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.