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Setting Up The Pit Area:

December 3, 2010

There are a few basic rules that govern placement of instruments in the pit:

1) You (the MD) must be visible to all the players

2) The drummer should be as far from the audience as possible, and you should place other people in front of him to act as a barrier to his sound

3) The pianist, the drummer, the bass player, and the guitarist, if there is one, should sit as close to each other as possible. They form the core rhythm section, and it’s very important that they be in sync with each other.

4) Instruments that have speakers should never point the speaker toward the audience and the player should be as close to the speaker as possible. That way, they are getting the loudest sound they can achieve to allow them to hear themselves (very important, by the way) and the quietest sound they can have for the sake of the audience.

5) Your quietest instruments should be closest to the audience, loudest instruments furthest away.

6) If possible, make sure the floor of your pit is carpeted with real carpet or throw rugs, or blankets, not tile or wood or concrete. If possible, put up an insulated wooden barrier between you and the audience to provide a baffle for the sound.

7) If you have an upright bass or (wow!) a harp, place them on far house left or far house right to avoid problems with sight lines.

8 ) Place your most inexperienced players closest to you, so they can hear you if you have to call out numbers.

And I suppose this is as good a place as any to put in this plug: If your school is building or renovating your theater and someone asks you if there’s anything you’d like, tell them you want a sunken pit. This is the very first thing that gets cut when the building project goes over budget, (the second thing is the fly space) but it’s the most useful thing for musicals. The best thing of all is a sunken pit that goes under the stage a little. When you have a sunken pit, your players can play out with great tone and never overpower the cast. And the best of the best is a pit that can be accessed from behind, below the stage, so you can come with your coffee from backstage and nobody sees you.

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