Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre company has just moved its highly successful 40 th anniversary staging of Richard O’Brien’s cult musical Rocky Horror Show to Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre in Johannesburg where, with little more than “just a jump to the left...”, it had presold all available weekend tickets by opening night and a complete sell out of the scheduled nine week run is apparently imminent. The show is already booked to return to Cape Town in July and then again to Johannesburg for a further run up to Christmas.
The Fugard Theatre’s namesake Athol Fugard is regarded as one of South Africa’s most significant playwrights, a fact recognised in 2011 by a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre for his emotive plays exploring the worst excesses and injustices of apartheid. Founded by Eric Abrahams in the playwright’s honour, The Fugard’s home venue is located in Cape Town’s District 6 whose indigenous community were brutally evicted during apartheid to make way for gentrification of the area.
As in Cape Town, Director Matthew Wild wanted to balance a suitably 50-‘s sci-fi feel with hi-tech production values so the gothically-detailed set and spooky laboratory props were complemented by elaborate lighting cues and animated comic-book style video mapping for many scenography elements. A central objective was to break the fourth wall with audience dress-up days and participation packs with glo-sticks, streamers and confetti, all supported by a high impact and immersive sound design.
To manage and sync the sound effects and spatialisation together effectively with the video playback, a hybrid showcontrol and playback system was created using a TiMax2 SoundHub matrix triggered via MIDI from a QLab3 workstation operated by the stage manager at front-of house. As some of the audio Cues were especially score-related (wedding bells, doorbell) or video-related (tyre burst, certain thunderclaps) these were played out of the QLab Mac, which also played the video clips, to allow collective manipulation and editing in rehearsals by Music Supervisor Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. These cues also sent MIDI Notes direct to the TiMax SoundHub unit to assign appropriate Upstage LR, Main LR or WideSurround LR localisations, or to trigger dynamic TimeLine pans on any of the six inputs allocated to QLab in the TiMax matrix. Other QLab Cues were used when mid-stage scenery flats were closed across in front of the band resulting in the upstage bandfill anchor speakers (see later) reflecting back down the band mics. This tended to muddy the band mix therefore these fills were faded up and down on Cue by TiMax in response to QLab triggers corresponding to the scenography movements.
Certain surround atmos and spot effects needing complex spatialisation were created in the TiMax SoundHub-S unit’s onboard Timeline environment, using Image Definition pan objects placed on the audio waveform of those particular effects, which themselves were played back off the TiMax unit’s internal harddrive. Using the waveform as a template meant that movements of certain things like the finale space ship launch could be built graphically from several offset layered beds, each with groups of multiple pan objects which had been squeezed or stretched so that samples would spin around the room slowly at first and then speed up as the take-off happened. TiMax’s internal hard-disk playback also provided spooky pre-show and interval atmos soundscapes with distant organ music, clanking chains, footsteps, rain, thunder and wind, all built up on separate tracks with level automation and immersive panning programmed in the TimeLine.
Frankenfurter’s laboratory scenes were accompanied by variants of an atmos motif made up from 50’s sci-fi style bubbling and bleeping noises which would first be established on upstage Image Definitions then via a QLab MIDI Cue, then slowly panned out into the house and faded down by TiMax into a slow spatial- stereo spin so that it floated around the audience hence enveloping them in the lab space to varying degrees as the director wished. Using delay-based Image Definition pan objects instead of just discrete level-pans around the speakers significantly enhanced the overall immersivity of the effect.
In addition to immersive soundscapes, sound designer Aki Khan, assisted on site by Dave Haydon from TiMax developers Out Board, was keen to get the most impact possible for vocals and band but still maintain good localisation for the performers. With a classic rock show feel in mind he opted for Turbosound TCS612 cabinets as the main system, with three hung each side of the Proscenium plus a pair hung mid-centre of the room as delays to cover the balcony. The system was installed and tuned by Eastern Acoustics’ David Claasen and the show was mixed, as for the Cape Town run, by Melissa George.
This main system was combined and delayed back to the front lip of the stage using a pair of XTA DP448’s, then fed with separate stereo Band and Vocal mixes from the TiMax SoundHub. TiMax fed directly the two balcony delays and four M1D front-fills as alternate LR pairs. To help glue the main system and frontfills to the band, two stacks of three M1D’s were built into the set under the band’s far-upstage riser platform. These upstage fill systems were driven from independent TiMax outputs to serve both as anchors for the band-mix and also for inclusion in upstage sound effects Image Definitions. They also provided some foldback support for the cast especially for critically timed sound-effects they needed to hear for dialogue cues.
Surrounds were all M1D, four channels of side L/R and rear L/R on both the stalls and balcony levels. These were fed from four TiMax outputs then paralleled together in vertically linked groups. Two other TiMax outs fed the Turbosound subs, and a single Band Monitor feed was hooked into the Aviom system so the more musically important QLab and TiMax sfx elements could be added to the band’s foldback mixes.
The producers wanted a “mic-free” look so all the performers were on DPA or Countryman headsets with a Sanken for the Narrator. These were mixed in an SD9 onto separate stereo Band and Vocal groups for TiMax, each also containing independent reverb mixes from the desk’s on-board effects. The TiMax vocal inputs used Vocal L&R Image Definitions localised halfway back with 17ms relative to front of stage, allowing room for movement around the relatively small stage without hitting phasing or echo thresholds.
Because the band was so far upstage their inputs were assigned in TiMax to BandMix L&R Image Definitions which pushed the whole composite main system 45ms upstage, resulting in solid anchoring of the live drummer to the band riser along with any DI’d stuff being effectively localised likewise with the help of the upstage band fill anchors. Having separate reverbs included in these different band and vocal assignments helped keep things in time at the front, but a special effect Bricasti reverb would also get bled into especially time-aligned surround Image Definitions for added dramatic impact on lead and backing vocals plus occasionally sax.
Other inputs on the 16x16 TiMax SoundHubS unit handled six internal harddrive audio tracks plus another six coming in from QLab. For the intro and finale music mix beds coming off QLab these six tracks were fed into the surrounds via musically-timed Image Definitions to put the surround elements of the music beds in time with the upstage live band and bandfills.
The show, highly acclaimed both for its production values and its superb all-African cast, has continued the success it enjoyed in Cape Town where, in the words of the The Fugard Theatre’s Executive Director, Daniel Galloway, "I have never experienced anything quite like this in my theatre career..”
ALL PHOTO CREDITS: Jesse Kate Kramer