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Pit Onstage/Backstage

December 10, 2010

I have done Once Upon a Mattress onstage once and Anything Goes onstage twice. Each time I had a terrible crick in my neck every night. I also Music Directed Once On This Island and Honk! with a backstage pit, and it was a blast. It all comes down to what the tech guys are able to give you to help you out. You have to ask at the first production meeting, or it may not happen. It may not happen anyway, but good monitoring is not an accident; it’s planned for.

Having the pit onstage or backstage is very good in one respect: balance. You’ll find that whatever is in front is easiest to hear, and whatever is in front of the proscenium (the big arch that delineates the stage area from the house) is the loudest of all. When the pit is in front of the stage, the pit is the loudest thing, there’s just no way around it. And chorus members way upstage may as well just not be singing at all, because the sound shoots right up into the fly space and is sucked up by all the curtains. If your pit is the thing upstage or offstage, your drums and your wind section can play at a volume they want to play at, because their sound is the sound that goes up and gets sucked up in the rigging. If you’re offstage, an additional plus is that everyone can wear shorts or pajamas for all you care, or read a book between numbers because nobody can see them.

The problems are twofold: You can’t hear the singers, and you can’t see the singers. So what you need to ask for is an audio monitor and a video monitor. The audio monitor will be the combined sound of what all the stage microphones are picking up, and it comes off the main sound board. The audio monitoring speaker should be as close to the MD as possible and quiet enough that the microphones on stage don’t pick up the sound of the monitor, because that will cause a feedback loop. (that horrible high pitched shriek that makes everyone temporarily deaf) The other way of doing it is to run that feed not to a speaker, but to an audio signal splitter which sends the same audio into a bunch of earpieces worn by the pit members. Don’t let the tech people tell you you don’t need Audio Monitoring. You need it very badly. If you can’t hear the singers, you’re dead in the water. And then you need a video monitor. You need somebody’s old TV right in front of you, with somebody’s terrible old VHS or BETAMAX video camera taped to the top of it. Then somebody else’s old camera is up in the sound booth pointing at the stage, and there’s another old TV downstage center or up in the booth which shows you conducting. The cast sees a tiny you. You see a tiny cast. All you need is these 2 tvs, (borrow one or get one at a goodwill store) 2 cameras (which don’t have to be great at all) and a lot of video cable, and you’re a go. If you have an onstage band and you don’t get these two things, you will not be together, people will not be able to see your cues and cutoffs, and you will get a real pain in your neck from trying to turn around to see the cast. If you have an offstage band, it is truly impossible to coordinate without these two things. You must insist on it.

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