Last time in my blog (for my die hard fans out there (hi Mum)), I talked about how every show is different, so every design is different. Now that we’re touring, I have another totally obvious epithet for you; every theatre is different. Of course, I hear you sighing. How could this not be obvious from the beginning? Well, as a sound designer, I’ve only ever designed sound for one space, specifically the Black Box theatre in the Theatre, Film and Television Department at the University of York. Not only does this mean I’m only really familiar with the tech of one space, it also means I’m only familiar with the acoustics of one place.
So what does that mean for touring Constellations? Well, it means a lot of research and adapting has to be done for each venue. The first port of call as far as research goes is the tech spec for each theatre, and coming to terms with the fact that not every theatre packs a PC running QLab. I really was spoiled with my time at university.
Some venues come with their own software packages for me to use, and this means most of my work is a lot of youtube videos, which is incidentally how I learnt to use QLab in the first place. Handy life lesson kids – there is a tutorial vid for pretty much anything out there. Other venues have very limited tech, which makes things a little tricky. Being a new company, we can’t splash too much cash on tech, and so things like QLab or SCS are on a permanent wishlist. For the venues where I’m using my own PC and software, there have been many incidents of trial and error. A lot of the free packages out there are great but limited, and so it’s all about making them work for you and having a back up plan.
For a recent run, I had spent a lot of time working with a free package (that shall remain nameless), putting in a lot of hot keys and editing clips together in order to make the design as slick as possible. Then on the night, this software would not recognise the speaker system as an output, no matter how much I tried. There was a very stressful twenty minutes during get in where I was pretty much just a swearing ball of frustration (not an unusual sight for my colleagues at my day job). So, as ever, I adapted, this time with minimal grace and decorum. There is always iTunes through which to improvise a basic cue sheet.
Something else became clear to me on this first performance away from the safety of TFTV. The acoustics of this new venue were completely different, which coupled with the limited ability to position speakers and the minimal time to work on tech due to my meltdown, meant that I was adapting (or ‘freestyling it’ if that makes me sound cooler) the volume of sound during performance using the faders on the desk.
But forewarned is forearmed, and now I know I have to a) keep it together if things go wrong, and b) be prepared to spend more time in the tech/get in adapting to new acoustics. In an ideal world where I did not work full time and had not used up all of my holidays, I would go to see shows in each venue to fully appreciate the way others have used the sound in those spaces. But alas, rent is a thing, which brings me to another life lesson. Conserve your energy for the things you cannot do without. Touring is tiring, and so having an idea of which sound is essential and which is desirable means I can focus my time and energy on making sure everything I need for each venue is there. As much as I’d like to think my design is integral, it is a relief to know that if disaster were to strike on the day, we have talented enough actors who would be able to give a moving and incredible performance without any tech.