For four months during the summer show season, London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre becomes one of the city’s largest venues, selling out its 1,200-plus capacity each night.

This year’s programme included Lord of the Flies, Beggar’s Opera (with a children’s version of Pericles running concurrently during the day), and the Gershwin musical Crazy for You. And an audio innovation...

The event’s regular sound designer, Olivier Award-winning Mike Walker, drafted in the TiMax2 SoundHub audio delay-matrix, and for the first time, TiMax Tracker automation to simplify audio control and help counter what Walker sees as the ‘two fundamental audio problems in open-air theatre’.

‘It’s about pulling the audio image back to the performer, so that what an audience member sees and what they hear is credible – the audio has to match the picture,’ he says. ‘To do what we’re doing in this space, you really need a delay-matrix like TiMax.

Bobby and Zangler‘Last year we used the TiMax SoundHub for Into The Woods and manually triggered the required presets. This year we decided that to make the system more flexible we would use the TiMax Tracker to alleviate the need for so many cues. We used the TiMax system for this one specific job of focus and realism – I like to keep things simple because when we’re not, we’re getting in the way – and if we get in the way, the audience no longer believe it.’

The lack of roof over the performance area meant that the loudspeaker set-up required just a few front fills, a row of delays and some larger cabinets in the proscenium arch left and right positions. TiMax addresses this ‘not at all ideal’ positioning by defining localisation zones on the stage, left to right as well as upstage and downstage, which are then mapped via its delay-matrix onto the multichannel Opus Audio loudspeaker system, supplied and crewed by Mike Walker’s Loh-Humm production resource company . This creates accurately localised sound reinforcement that ensures all audience members relate directly to each performer’s stage location at any time.

‘In matinees and the earlier part of the evening performances where lighting cannot help, only audio can give you a clue as to where people actually are,’ Walker says. ‘The open stage is a big expanse in which you have to pull focus in order to know who is speaking.’

TiMax2 also addressed the second issue in the auditorium: the slightly thrust stage. ‘While it doesn’t seem to stick out into the auditorium much, it sticks out enough to create a 90° quadrant from the centre of the stage,’ Walker explains. ‘This means that the proscenium loudspeakers are already half way upstage. The two-dimensionality of the proscenium arch often helps with that but in this case, without TiMax, nothing is helping it at all.’

This year’s use of TiMax Tracker allowed more accurate localisation as well as greater flexibility in the production period as changes to the staging didn’t impact on desk cues. ‘The multi-level set for Lord of the Flies had around 12 different image definition zones, and as directorial changes were made and scenes adjusted, we were able to keep refining the image definitions rather than just trying to keep on top of the where actors were on the set.

The TiMax set-up for the season – with initial on-site assistance provided by Out Board’s Robin Whittaker – was straightforward even with two shows in rep: Beggars’ Opera and the children’s version of Pericles. ‘The fact that the shows were in rep caused us no problems, we simply created a set-up that served both shows. The scenery for both had to coexist and so we treated the sound design similarly. The scene changes for Pericles and Beggar’s Opera may have seemed considerable but the fundamental format or footprint didn’t change.’

Walker’s approach is to keep things clean and simple: ‘It is very straightforward,’ he says. ‘It is all about quality. All I want to do is take the sound of the performer and recreate exactly what they’re doing. I try to not get in the way of anything: it’s all about making it sound like the person and making sure that everyone in the theatre can hear the appropriate sound at the right time.’


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