As the stage turns: the Soundscape of NYC comes alive with d&b
The revival of Lobby Hero on Broadway is a masterful presentation by Second Stage Theater at the Helen Hayes Theater. Every moment of dramatic action is staged within the lobby of an apartment building, clearly demonstrating Oscar winning writer, Kenneth Lonergan’s, particular skill and sensitivity for realistic everyday dialogue.
The mechanics of the presentation are equally engaging. David Rockwell’s revolving set design constantly pulls and pushes the audience through personal and revealing episodic exchanges. To ensure everyone fully experiences every nuance, sound designer Darron L. West explored an equally intimate and revealing new piece of d&b technology: d&b Soundscape. The big question is what prompted West to be the first to try this on Broadway?
“I’ve not done this venue before,” explained West. “It was curious for us; it’s been around a long time but has just been purchased by Second Stage and rebuilt. The acoustic is super intimate, but the bigger challenge was the revolve; there would be no walls in the set for sound to bounce off; that dictated we would need to mic’ up everyone in the cast. The stage is gigantic, but the room is small and intimate, just how you want it. The sound in the room is nice, wide and live. There is space in there; it’s almost unique sounding, a bit like the Booth [Theatre], but there’s something different. It has a lot of width, there is a lot of space around what you hear.”
Charles Coes, West’s associate designer saw an opportunity to solve the revolve conundrum. “We knew that Lobby Hero was on a turntable and there were early discussions of that turntable being used, at low speed, to constantly change the perspective during scenes. Usually Darron and I create very, very carefully delayed multizone reinforcement systems and this is tricky on a moving turntable, so my main interest was in the reinforcement. Once we talked about Soundscape and Darron realized that he could use it to create object based effects rather than manually setting levels he wanted to expand our usage to sound effects too.”
d&b Soundscape is a toolkit to enable the creation of an unparalleled listening experience, including two optional software modules and powered by the DS100 signal processing engine. For the purposes of Lobby Hero, the En-Scene software was used to allow West the individual placement and movement of up to sixty four sound objects – in this case the familiar noisy New York street environment. The deployment of d&b loudspeakers was not so different from how a sound designer might normally address a traditional theater space with proscenium L/R at the upper and lower levels, center cluster and down-fill, under and over-balcony delays, and a surround system across the orchestra and balcony levels, plus subs. The difference is in how Soundscape can affect the delivery.
“We’re not playing music per se,” explained West, “but we are playing the sounds of NY – the street noise, the traffic, the people – as the set moves. To be plausible the drama needs to live within those sounds, as we do every day. So from the outset I saw that as the music of NY and said to Charles that is how I want the audience to experience it.”
“d&b offered us great support,” continued Coes. “Despite it being an early product, it was truly reliable. Soundscape is a unique algorithm built on technology that we're comfortable with. Dante and OSC are old friends, as is R1, so though there was a fancy box in the middle, we knew how to integrate it into the system and workflow.”
West again. “For me the one thing I did not want was for Soundscape to take a lot of notice. It had to be something integral to the production, not imposed on top of the play. That it has achieved: Lobby Hero remains a show of subtleties.”
Coes agreed, “Lobby Hero isn't a show that’s all about sound or design generally. Trip Cullman, our director, has kept us all focused on the phenomenal acting from every member of our cast. The world exists around them and in transitions around the audience as well, pulling us in. Soundscape offered us a user friendly way to keep the reinforcement and conceptual content focused on them, but also to deliver it to a house with several tricky acoustical zones. Darron keeps us focused on the story; it’s my job to keep the technology supporting that and out of the way. Soundscape made that easy.”