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Autograph, EM And Rugby Theatre

Rugby Theatre in Warwickshire is an amateur company which produces ten shows annually to highly professional standards, providing live entertainment almost 50 weeks of the year as well as screening the latest films. Staffed and run entirely by volunteers, their own productions include drama, farce, musicals and theatrical classics while visiting performers and productions feature brass bands, children’s dance, opera and celebrity speakers.

Rugby Theatre Society was formed in the late 1940’s and obtained the sub-lease to ‘The Scala’, originally a purpose built silent cinema built in 1913. Work was undertaken during 1949 to convert the building into a Theatre in which the first production opened in December 1949. Rugby Theatre was set up as a charitable organisation and although the management structure has changed over the period to keep in step with the times, it is still fundamentally a charity run by its members.

Autograph Sales & Installations were approached by the theatre to determine why the vocal clarity and intelligibility in their venue was not always up to the high standards achieved by the other elements of their productions. Autograph duly ran a variety of acoustic tests, some on the existing house sound system and some on a sample system they provided for comparison, using the SMAART acoustic analysis software programme. This exercise provided the base data from which Autograph were able to make some important observations and recommendations on how the problem should be addressed.

As a result of those conversations Autograph then installed a temporary sound system so that meaningful A/B comparisons could be made and subsequently conducted a detailed technical and practical demonstration to the theatre’s stakeholders. Consequently Autograph were asked to complete a full installation of new loudspeakers and DSP-equipped amplifiers in addition to supplying a new digital mixing console, a selection of microphones and various supplementary items.

Autograph’s Adam Broom oversaw the whole project: ’After the installation was complete we returned on several occasions to support the theatre through their first musical production including technical and dress rehearsals as well as opening night. This was mostly to make sure the system was performing properly but also to support their sound team through the decision making process in a musical – all linking back to the initial task of increasing vocal clarity.’

At the core of the new sound system is a suite of loudspeakers by Surrey-based EM Acoustics, comprising a pair of their EMS-126s which cover the Stalls, three EMS-81s for the Circle and two EMS-51s as front fills. Low frequencies are reproduced by a pair of EMS-115C subwoofers and the entire system is powered and digitally processed by just two Lab Gruppen D-Series amplifiers, a 40:4L and an 80:4L respectively. The new mixing console is a digital Soundcraft Si Performer 3, supplied with a Mini Stagebox and MADI-USB and Dante interface cards, while the new microphone stock includes a Sennheiser E901 Boundary Condenser Microphone plus Shure SM57s, SM58s and SM-81s. Autograph also specified and supplied a complete Sennheiser RF distribution system to improve the performance of the theatre’s wireless microphones.

The theatre’s former AV Group Leader Simon Smith was closely involved in the tender process and remarked, ‘As an entirely voluntarily run amateur theatre, with no professional staff, Autograph's knowledge and experience was key to helping us to address significant issues that we were having, particularly around vocal clarity in musicals.’

‘The project was put out to tender, per RT regulations and we received three responses. Autograph's response sat in the middle in terms of cost, however that was only one factor in the decision to select them. Other factors included their receptiveness and understanding of our issues, the combination of a system designed precisely around our needs (no more, no less) and the outstanding references from other clients which demonstrated the level of support that we felt we needed, the level of detail that they included in their response and their ability to communicate and demonstrate complex concepts to both sound technicians and lay-members.’

Simon summarises, ‘While the other companies who tendered could have supplied the equipment with no issue, it was only Autograph who filled us with confidence that we would be guided through to a solution which would allow the theatre to push our standards ever closer to professional levels - one of the principal objectives of Rugby Theatre.’

Luke McMaster has recently assumed Simon’s role and added, ‘The first major test of our new system was during our October production of the musical Jekyll and Hyde. As soon as the band fired up for the first time we could immediately hear the difference. The overall mix was stunning and any instrument could be picked out by ear during any number, a vast improvement on our previous system.’

‘The new digital desk gave us the flexibility and processing ability we required when it came time to add vocals to the mix. The ability to add dynamics such as a compressor to a channel at the press of a button, without having to rummage around with jack leads in the back of a rack unit, saved a massive amount of time on setup. Then to be able to apply it to all 24 mics we were running? The possibilities are endless! Blending the vocals into the mix was far easier than ever before, but the biggest improvement came when it was wound up to show volumes with a full house audience. Especially at higher volumes, when the previous system would have merged into an incoherent mess, the vocals were still crystal clear even in the big chorus numbers.’

Luke concludes, ‘A big thank you to Adam from Autograph, whose input and expertise during the tech rehearsals was very insightful in giving us some tips and tricks in order to get the best out of our system, all while making a few tweaks to the setup to ensure it’s working at its best. The new system is a vast step up in quality and will allow us as a theatre to further develop and improve our skills as well as hit those high production values that we strive for.’

Autograph Sales & Installations gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Simon Smith, Luke McMaster and Martin Upjohn for their assistance in the preparation of this article. The production images are courtesy of Martin Pulley, Rugby Theatre.

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