Midas digital stars on Broadway
Midas digital consoles have won starring roles on Broadway, with an XL8 at FOH in the Palace Theatre's new smash hit, Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert; a permanent PRO3 installation at 42nd Street's New Victory Theatre and a PRO9 at FOH with a PRO9 on monitor duties in the Broadway bound, Whoopee-Goldberg produced musical, White Noise.
The technical abilities and versatility of Midas digital systems to respond to the particular demands of theatreland have won unanimous praise from all the audio teams involved, with automation capabilities singled out as just one of the highlights. "In the theatre world, we're very cue-based," explains Brian Hsieh, associate designer/programmer on White Noise. The production requires more than 100 scenes to be programmed into the PRO9, with every scene carrying MIDI commands to at least seven devices with links and follows. "We're able to take any number of the 24 wireless channels and put them on the VCAs needed for that scene," continues Hsieh. "Every line is a fader move, and every scene changes the layout of the VCAs. So we use a lot of automation, and we're constantly on the VCAs throughout the show."
Sound designer Garth Helm, who's worked on both White Noise and Priscilla, says of the XL8 on the latter, "The automation features made it very easy to adjust to the large dynamic range of the show". Matt Peskie, project manager at the New Victory Theatre, is similarly enthused with the automation features on his PRO3. "The scene changes, snapshot automation and group assignments are great for theatre. A big key for the New Victory is that shows often come back, so they can build a library of every show and have everything stored for the next time. That's a tremendous advantage."
The Midas digital systems have also proved adept at handling the enormous I/O counts demanded by large musical productions like the disco-based Priscilla and the hip-hop and rock themed White Noise. One XL8 has been sufficient to cope with I/O demands of Priscilla but the particular I/O challenges of White Noise, with 88 input channels at FOH and 48 at monitors with 35 individual mix outputs from FOH and 24 from monitors, spurred the decision to utilise two consoles in tandem, with a PRO9 for primary mixing duties augmented by a backstage PRO3 for monitors. Just three CAT5 cables handle the 144 channels of audio running between the two consoles. The PRO3 is the source for all the monitor mixes, which includes IEMs as well as wedge mixes for the band, plus various stage foldback speakers. "Those mixes are static, so there's no need for an active monitor engineer for the show," explains Heish. "We use the KVM switch on the PRO9 to access and program the PRO3 from the front of house - very convenient!"
The small footprint of both cabling and consoles has tangible benefits on high-risk Broadway productions, notes Helm. "As a sound designer, sound quality and technical ability will always be first for me. But economics are also a factor; ask any producer on Broadway. At $150 a seat, if you can save six or more seats by having a smaller footprint at front of house, there's your business case for Midas digital right there."
White Noise is also using a Klark Teknik DN9696 high resolution audio recorder to capture the show's musical performances. "Our game plan is to create a live performance soundtrack CD," explains Helm. "Instead of bringing in a remote truck, we're using the DN9696. It's a great recorder, and integrates seamlessly into the Midas network. We're capturing each input individually during the performances, and then we will take them to a recording studio to mix and edit." The DN9696 offers 96 tracks of recording with 96 kHz, 24-bit resolution.
Despite the wealth of technological features offered by Midas digital systems, the consoles retain an essentially analogue feel for operators, which is a big advantage for those with limited time for learning. About half the shows at the New Victory Theatre bring their own engineers, not all with digital experience. "The PRO3 has all the digital capabilities we could ask for," says David Jensen, director of production, New Victory Theatre, "but it has a very analogue feel, so people can get their heads around it pretty quickly, usually within 30 minutes."
Anthony Nittoli, design principal at Connecticut-based Akustiks LLC, was engaged to upgrade the sound system at the New Victory Theatre while the installation itself was handled by Masque Sound, stalwarts of the New York theatre scene for some 75 years. "One of the biggest requirements was to find a console that was not only user-friendly, but also rider-friendly," notes Nittoli,."Midas has always been well accepted. No matter what's on a rider, when you tell them you have a Midas, you're pretty much good to go."
The famous Midas sound has also made its customary impression. "The sound is simply gorgeous," says New Victory's Jensen, while Garth Helm, acknowledges, "Between the preamps, the EQ and the time management system, the Midas digital platform is so close to their analogue sound, I can't really say that I can hear the difference between the two."
Midas factory support is also universally praised by the Broadway teams. "Along with great sound, one thing that has always set Midas apart from other console manufacturers is factory support," says Akustiks' Nittoli. "Midas was totally on top of it, and had people both on the phone and on site to help with configuration to make sure the installation was right."
"The support of the Midas technical staff has been incredibly valuable to us," adds Helm, while Hsieth concludes, "Ultimately, the thing that really keeps me coming back to Midas is the relationship. They are always there if I need support, and they really take an interest in their users. When I make the investment in their product, they become invested in how I'm using it. It's very gratifying. That, to me, is valuable beyond anything and really sets them apart as a company."
Photo: Garth Helm with Midas PRO9 on White Noise
Photo: Operator Michael diMarco with Midas PRO3 at New Victory Theatre