ArrayProcessing balances a big balcony on Broadway.

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The current Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof has seen award winning sound designer Scott Lehrer introduce some new audio tools for this emotionally driven musical. “The auditorium has a couple of significant issues that need to be addressed, one is the gigantic balcony – this is one of the largest theaters in New York, the audience capacity is 1700 and the balcony seats approximately seventy percent of them, so it’s very deep. The other thing is the acoustic, the auditorium is totally dry; natural reverberation is non-existent, so the actors have a hard time hearing themselves.

“I’d been to experience d&b’s ArrayProcessing at the Harlem Apollo and was really impressed,” added Lehrer. “I wanted to use it here for two main reasons: the sheer size of the balcony, and because there is a big dome above the orchestra and I really needed to keep control up there.”

The complete audio system was supplied and installed by Sound Associates but it was one of Lehrer’s long time design assistants/collaborators Alex Neumann who got to engage with the detail of using ArrayProcessing, assisted by Adair Mallory of d&b’s Education and Application Support department.

Lehrer: “To give you some idea of how effective ArrayProcessing proved to be, once we had correctly set it up I did A/B the system; the difference was so profound I never bothered again. I had expected it to be good, even so, front to back of the balcony was so even in frequency response and SPL - this was a whole new thing. The Broadway Theater has typically been a very difficult space to design for; designers have to devote a lot of time, attention and budget on delays and fills to make the room work. But we didn’t need them, the V-Series covered it perfectly front to back 125 feet, just a 2dB variance, and the front of the balcony is very close to the arrays.”
Domonic Sack has been optimizing systems for Lehrer on and off since the late 1980s. “Using a SIM3 system, I set up a mic every seven rows and what I saw surprised me. Every mic looked the same, it was very even. Traditionally, for the Broadway Theater there are a lot of delays; a side and rear ring in the balcony is typical. A rear delay zone was part of the design. The question was: do we use them or not? In terms of intelligibility they added maybe fifteen percent at the very rear balcony position. The reality was, the intelligibility achieved with ArrayProcessing was good enough already that it wasn’t needed, so we turned them off. When you consider the audience absorption for that distance, the rake, and that width, that is spectacular. I arrived thinking at the least I’d be adding some HF, but departed knowing ArrayProcessing squared it off nicely.”

Lehrer again: “Typically I do a lot of left right delay panning to give the audience some awareness of where the actors are on stage. I’ve never been able to do that effectively all the way to the back of a deep balcony, certainly not from a simple left/right line array. And you can’t do level panning in a theater to achieve that effect - it just won’t work. When you make spatial adjustments for individual singers using only delay in order to locate those singers in their proper place relative to the listener’s position, you can lose parts of the frequency detail. With ArrayProcessing that does not happen, because essentially whatever is delayed is always that ArrayProcessed nearfield, full frequency (as mixed) program audio. I want that thirty degrees of spacing between performers to be experienced all the way to the back. The main thing for us is that working this way with ArrayProcessing I didn’t have to worry about that at all.

“The show has been really well received - there have literally been no complaints about sound since the show opened according to the theater management. That’s never happened before; no-one has come out and said ‘it’s too loud, or too soft’. No-one.”

Pictures courtesy of Joan Marcus.

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