‘Urinetown’ band performs above Park City audience
November 9, 2010
The orchestra won’t be settled in the pit in front of the stage when Park City High School presents "Urinetown" this week (see accompanying story). Instead, the musicians will perform on the catwalk system above the audience.
The set up was necessary because the musical will be presented in the high school’s black box theatre, said Bret Hughes, associate director of bands and percussion for PCHS.
"One of the problems we came across in using this place is there isn’t an orchestra pit. So we decided to put the orchestra upstairs. The orchestra, comprised of six musicians and one conductor is sort of spread out over the catwalks.
"Normally we would do our musicals in the Eccles Center, which has a full orchestra pit," said Hughes, who is also the assistant technical director for the Eccles Center. "Anytime we do a musical there, we put our orchestra in the orchestra pit. But the Eccles seats so many people the kids feel like they are playing to an empty auditorium.
"Even when we get 300 people there, it still looks empty, because it holds just over 1,200 seats."
Hughes said the black box seats 200, which will hopefully give the actors a chance to perform in front of an interactive full house.
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"We’re presenting the performance in a three-quarter thrust design theatre, which wraps partially around the stage," Hughes said. "The usual stage is set up as a front-thrust stage theatre."
The small performance space called for some innovative thinking for Hughes and The Eccles Center production manager David Hallock.
"We usually hide our sound monitors backstage in the Eccles Center, but we don’t have a backstage here," Hughes said. "So we had to mount them on the catwalks so the sound would blow down on top of the actors."
Likewise, some of the actual speakers were set up, like the monitors, above the audience.
"In addition to having speakers pointing out at the audience from the stage area, we also had to have speakers pointing down onto the audience," Hughes explained. "That way everybody in the theater gets the best sound possible."
Another challenge was situating the orchestra, which consists of two keyboardists, a bassist, a drummer and two wind players, on the catwalks, Hughes said.
"Our drummer, keyboardists and bassist are using 100 percent electronic instruments, which produce zero acoustic sound," he said. "Normally, we would be able to plug the instruments into an amplifier for sound. But this time we’re plugging them straight into the sound board, which is hooked up to the P.A. and speakers."
The wind players, however, are playing their acoustic instruments, and will be playing through microphones which are hooked up to the sound board, Hughes said. So to minimize the sound from bleeding into the live mix, Hughes and Hallock devised an "aquarium of Plexi-glass drum shields" that surrounds the musicians.
"We put acoustic paneling on top of the box and hung curtains and carpet all around to insulate as much as possible," Hughes said. "It’s not perfect, but it drops the sound flow to an incredibly low level."
Hughes said he and Hallock had a lot of help.
"The Park City Education Foundation did some amazing fundraising for us this fall," Hughes said. "They raised money for us to buy headphone amplifiers and headphones for each member of the orchestra. And they also helped us buy all the wireless microphones for the cast."
In addition, the sound gear was an in-kind donation from Mountain Town Music.
"Dave and I work for Mountain Town Music during the summer," Hughes said. "And we store the gear here all year. In turn, they let us use it."
Also the Egyptian Theatre loaned some wireless microphones and some blacklights, Hughes said.
"From a technical standpoint this is a cool show for us," he said. "But by the time the show goes on, the only two adults involved in the live show will be Chris Taylor, who conducts the musicians, and Mikell, (Price) who directs. Other than that, it’s all student run."