You can't throw a proverbial rock without hitting a DiGiCo console in the audio trenches on Broadway. From the long-running The Lion King to the relatively new smash hit The Book of Mormon, as well as Evita, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Newsies, Sister Act and War Horse, DiGiCo's potent SD7T, with its powerful hardware, Stealth engine and theatre software kit—utilizing Live Update along with Aliases to manage the demands of 100-cue shows—is handling the toughest demands of theatre audio today. DiGiCo's SD10 can be found on productions ranging from One Man, Two Guvnors to Peter and the Starcatcher.
This June, two of the newest productions and their respective sound designers took home coveted 2012 Tony Awards for sound design: Clive Goodwin for Once and Darron L. West for Peter and the Starcatcher. They each found the DiGiCo desks critical to the creation and design process of their shows. Interestingly, both shows got their start at the New York Theatre Workshop before moving to Broadway, and this was the first nomination for both Goodwin and West.
The critically acclaimed musical Once is based on the 2006 Academy Award-winning film about an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. In transitioning the show to the larger theatre, Goodwin chose a DiGiCo SD7T after consulting with Scott Kalata at Masque Sound, a leading theatrical sound reinforcement, installation and design company, who'd been helping in the design process.
"We needed something with a lot of busses and a high input/output count, flexible theatre-friendly architecture, and the capability of using Waves plug-ins," Goodwin reflected. "And, it goes without saying that we needed great sound quality. I had used a DiGiCo D5 in a previous life in live music touring, and I was impressed with the user-friendly nature and excellent sound quality. I found the SD7's dynamic EQs—both onboard and from Waves—were extremely useful in vocal processing. The tube emulator is a nice feature for adding a little extra warmth to most things. The ‘alias' feature and programming groups were also very useful, especially when planning a show in advance, as they simplify changes throughout the show or just to a single scene. Not to mention, the console has the best sound of any digital console I have used to date. I was hoping to use an SD8 on a forthcoming production, but unfortunately, they were all out doing other shows!"
Also transitioning from the small stage to the big theatre with much fanfare is Peter and the Starcatcher, based on the novel of the same name, which gives the back story for the beloved character Peter Pan. The show got its start in several venues before moving on to the New York Theatre Workshop, where the full production team came together—including sound designer Darron L. West, associate designer Charles Coes and production provider Masque Sound—before opening on Broadway in the spring of 2012. Enlisting the help of Scott at Masque, they spec'd a DiGiCo SD10-24 console to handle the expanding production. Key factors for their new console consideration were having an onboard automation package that could work well for theatre, a flexible bus structure, a system that offered lots of outboard control, programming and matrixing, and a transparent sound. The SD10-24's small footprint ensured they'd have no complaints from producers requiring only a handful of seats for its placement, and the console's feature-packed system and exceptional sound quality won them over and sealed the deal.
"The sound design of this show is very old-fashioned, as Darron is happy to say," offers Coes. "It was important for us to create a feel and a subtle sound that seems to come from the actors and from the band. Having a console that sounds incredibly transparent and clear—and lets engineer Rob Bass follow the show really carefully—keeps us from showing our hand in how much we're actually reinforcing the show."
Coes says they were impressed the deeper they got into the console, discovering more ways they were well served by the desk—from the flexible bus setup available for creating feeds, to the scene recall and animation.
"It's an incredibly powerful console in a small package and we weren't fighting with the producers about seats," Coes muses. "Once we learned the DiGiCo mentality in terms and approach, we found the console could do pretty much anything we were asking it to. The I/O flexibility helped us a lot, especially in this application. We made great use of all the internal effects and they sounded consistent and much better than the ones on a competitor's console. We didn't have to bring in outboard gear or worry about automating a bunch of external reverb units to track the show. Everything was in the desk and it solved the problem very well for a complicated production."
Before the desk left in the shop, engineer Rob Bass was able to spend a day setting it up with Coes, laying out the basics and building snapshots. Also a newcomer to the DiGiCo format, he too was pleased with what it had to offer to manage the intricate show. With approximately 70 inputs for everything in the show including actor mics, band mics and sound effects, they're utilizing 48 outputs.
"We're basically using our aux sends strictly as outputs," Bass explains. "We're using all of our aux outputs as mains in the way we're set up, and the fact that we're able to set up that many outputs without losing what we needed for inputs was a big help. Charles set it up so we do all the delay matrixing after the console. It's all done back at the racks before we send it to the speaker processing, so all the outputs are sent to specific points in our outboard matrix and that's basically set up to do different vocal delays on the stage, separate band outputs, for the surround speakers, and we have 16 channels that are all sent down a discreet output for the effects speakers onstage that double as foldback [stage monitors] for the actors. The band has monitoring outputs and we're only using six reverbs, and all those have discrete outputs."
Because the show strives for a more natural sound, Bass says they're using a minimum of effects and mostly stock reverbs. "We don't want it to sound very reinforced, so none of the effects are super prominent; it's more about adding space for some of these live sound effects. We're using about six reverbs for the different spaces we're building, like on the underwater grotto where the mermaids swim. We have a trippy reverb on the piano that's playing at that point. Basically we're taking the stock reverbs and tweaking them to get what we want, and then EQing them over returns. The show itself uses a lot of live sound effects; the musicians are doing a lot of that as well as the cast, whether its different noises or vocally, so a lot of the time we're just putting reverb on that. I like that I can get around the desk pretty quickly and it was easy to dial it all in to have everything at our fingertips."
"I was a huge fan of the flexibility of the console," added sound designer Darron West. "Especially on a show as complicated and as dense as Peter and the Starcatcher. There was never a moment in tech rehearsals when a request was made by me that Charles or Rob said we couldn't do… which is also a testament to the system, and the DiGiCo was indeed the heart and soul of that."