The lights are bright, the acting superb, the story is engaging – then a singer’s microphone picks up the hum of a fax machine from the neighboring office, or the sound is too loud in one seat yet inaudible in another, or the sound goes out all together. These are some of the problems the local theater company, Playhouse 395, has had to deal with in what have been widely declared flawless productions otherwise.
It seems a solution has been found thanks to a $60,000 grant for a new sound system courtesy of the local Deininger Foundation.
The new state-of-the-art system was introduced to an invitation-only crowd of dignitaries on Wednesday, Sept. 28. The unveiling of the new sounds comes just days before Playhouse’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the Broadway Revue, with shows tomorrow at 7 p.m. and Saturday, at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets for the no-reserved seating event are still on sale.
Tickets will be available at the door an hour prior to the shows, or through Playhouse’s website at playhouse395.com or by calling (760) 920-9100.
The new system is also in place just in time for the upcoming Fall Youth Production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” coming in November.
Derek Olsen, sound board operator for Playhouse and long-time musician, said the sound system, including a new mixer board and speakers, designed by a sound structural analyst, is the best it can be.
The mixer board, a digital Yamaha LS9, has 32 channels – meaning it can have 32 separate microphones or other devices inputted at one time. Olsen said there are a maximum 20 or so mics being used at any one time on stage plus overhead microphones. The Myers speakers, specifically designed for theater use, are individually amplified and grounded. The grounding is what creates that fax machine buzz, Olsen explained, just like hearing an electric-razor hum through a radio speaker in a house because both electrical outlets are on the same circuit. The new speakers, and some volunteer-powered troubleshooting of other electrical interferences, should keep the buzz at bay. Olsen added the speakers alone cost approximately $12,000.
The new system is also user friendly for those just passing through town for a performance. Saxophonist Pat Powell of the local band Flashback, who brought his own DVD of accompaniment music and his own speakers and monitors, performed the night the system was introduced. Katharine Allen, marketing director for Playhouse 395, explained that the new system can accommodate for these sorts of off-the-cuff productions.
From a seat up-front and center, to far stage left, to far stage right up-front or back row, the sound, music and acoustic experience were equal throughout the auditorium. This writer sat in every seat he could and was unable to detect a difference in sound quality from any seat – something of which Allen said she was very proud.
The new system at the Dorothy Joseph Auditorium at Bishop Union High School is another step forward for the collaboration between the school and Playhouse, Allen said.
The collaboration includes the ongoing use of the school’s auditorium for performances, the new sound system and the school adding Playhouse as an official, credited elective at the school that, like many others in the nation, lacks arts education funding, Allen explained.
Allen said Playhouse has been working with the school for more than a year to secure accredited theater arts classes for students. She said that an opening in the class schedule came up in August and the class was added and quickly had enough students to proceed. The year-long curriculum is still awaiting approval from the University of California or the California State University systems as an approved “A to G” subject classes. These are classes that must be taken in high school in order for a student to be able to transfer directly to a UC or USC system.
These classes include, for example, four years of English, three years of mathematics, and a single year of visual or performing arts.
Keeping the momentum going and continually striving for better equipment, programs and productions does not come cheap. Playhouse will offer its second Broadway Revue tomorrow and Saturday.
“This is a very important fundraiser for us,” said Roseanne Higley of Playhouse. She said that the revue is an opportunity for local talent to get some “prime stage time” but also for the public to catch some great Broadway songs performed by locals and neighbors. Karen Keehn will direct the revue.
The performance will include 14 scenes and songs from 10 famous musicals such as “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Grease,” “Hairspray,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” according to Higley. Guests will also enjoy complementary desserts during an intermission “meet and greet” with cast members and musicians.
The Broadway Revue will be presented at the Dorothy Joseph Auditorium at Bishop High School 7 p.m. tomorrow, and at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are available at the door an hour prior to the show, or at www.playhouse395.com  or by calling (760) 920-9100.