A good sound makes for a great theatre production. You might be staging an award-winning play, and the actors might be exceptional in their craft, but if the audio is substandard, it will not captivate the audience as much as you expect them to. The impact of the performance is highly dependent on the quality of the sound so that the emotions behind every word, sigh, or whisper will be captured. Of course, you also would want to pick up the background or ambient sounds to enhance the intensity of the performance and complete the experience. In this regard, the type of microphone used, its proper placement, and securing and protecting it all play a crucial part.
1) Wireless Microphone
A wireless or cordless microphone is simply a battery-powered mic without a cable that connects it to the amplifier. The transmitter is contained in the body of the handheld mic or in a bodypack that is connected to a lavalier or headset mic. Many claimed to invent the device since 1945, but the first one to apply for a patent on record was an American electrical engineer named Raymond A. Litke in 1957 for television, radio, and classroom use; the U.S. patent 3134074 was approved in 1964. The handheld and lavalier mics were the two types of microphones made commercially available in 1959.
In the 1960s, it was the American theatrical director and producer Joseph Papp who first used a cordless mic during Shakespeare in the Park’s early days. The first Broadway show to have used the body mikes was the musical, “Funny Girl,” in March 1964. In a theatre setting, you want something that frees the hands, so the cordless mic is impractical for the actors as they need to perform without restrictions or limitations of movements. The body mic or headset mic is much more convenient for theatre use.
However, the use of wireless mics was not without controversy or problems, especially when it was first introduced or used in theatre. Some complained that the use of wireless mics depersonalized the musical theatre and that the performers were no longer learning to project well. Some critics of this device said that it somehow ruined the art of projecting to the audience as the delivery of lines would be different as it does not sound natural when you are using the mic to be heard. Problems also arise with the wearing of mics that include vanity for some discomfort for others, and feedback, and other technical issues for the production. However, all of these can be solved.
Adapting to change for some is difficult, but it cannot be denied that the use of wireless mic improved the quality of performance of the actors as they can focus more on acting rather than ensuring they can be heard by people farthest from the stage. It is said that the closer the mics are to the source of the sound, the better the sound will be. The lavalier or headset mic positioned so close to the mouth makes it ideal for theatrical play because you can expect sound clarity even as the artist moves freely across the floor while talking or singing. The use of wireless mic can also allow producers to cast actors with a soft voice or voice that does not stand out.
The lavalier mic is a small microphone that enables hands-free operation when speaking as it is fastened to clothing using clips. The mic is connected by a cord to the frequency transmitter that is clipped to a belt or pocket, or directly to a recorder or mixer. It is also known as a personal mic, lav, body mic, lapel mic, neck mic, collar mic, or clip mic. The word lavalier was initially referred to as a jewelry worn around the neck with a pendant. The term was also used to refer to a type of mic that was hung around the neck for practical purposes dating back to the 1930s.
It is usually concealed in the hair or wig but sometimes visible at the forehead. It might be a distraction for those who might see or notice it, but it is something that one can get used to and would soon forget as you become engrossed with the play. The lapel mic can also be positioned on the chest area about a hand span from the mouth and hidden under the clothing. The cord can be glued, taped, or sewn on the costume. The use of lav can be quite expensive as every cast member will have to wear one.
The headset mic is a headphone with a microphone, and also known as a headworn mic. It has a lightweight design and comfortable to use. With this one, the mic is closely positioned near the mouth, so it captures the sound directly from the source with less chance of picking up noise from the background.
2) Overhead Microphone
This type of microphone is positioned overhead and dispersed throughout the stage, so it would pick up the voices of the actors wherever they are standing. It is also referred to as the shotgun type of choir microphone. It is cost-effective as it can cover the whole stage; it does not matter how many performers there are because it can capture sounds coming from everyone. The actors can perform unencumbered by mics on their person, but the overhead mic has the likelihood of picking up reverberant sounds. However, proper placement would eliminate this problem.
3) Boundary Microphone
It is a small condenser mic that is mounted on the floor or scenery. Back in the 1950s, the use of mic is limited to foot mikes or mics that were in a fixed position near the footlights. With the advancement in technology, mics can be placed almost anywhere on the stage that will not obstruct the performance. A boundary mic can pick up sounds coming from great distances, so the performers need not be near the mics to capture their voices. There is also no need for multiple mics because it can record sounds from multiple sources that are in different parts of the stage. The mic can be omnidirectional or cardioid.
How to optimize the use of theatre mics to get the best sound
It is best to read the instruction manual for optimal use of each type and brand of mic. You have to know the problems or limitations of microphones used in theatre so you can address each one to prevent it from ruining the actor’s performance and subsequently ruining the experience for the audience. Proper maintenance and storage should also be strictly followed so that the devices will last a long time and will continue to deliver as promised.
For wireless Lavalier & Headset Microphones:
Keep the mic securely fastened on the clothing. There should not be any danger of loosening or causing the mic to drop that would inconvenience the actor while performing. As for the discomfort, the cord and transmitter may cause the costume designer should find a way to incorporate it into the design of the costume so the actor would hardly notice it.
The mic should not be able to pick up noise from the clothes that rub together. The lavalier mic taped on the face can be covered by makeup. The headset mic should be secure and comfortable, so finding the right fit is essential. The mic should be checked the moment the wearer is off stage for actors who sweat a lot. With the wireless mic dependent on battery life, new ones must be used at the start of the play.
For overhead Microphones:
The mics must be placed far enough from the speakers to avoid feedback. It should be pointed up instead of downward to avoid sounds that are reflecting back from the floor. Spreading them out and keeping them far apart will help lessen comb filtering or phase cancellation.
For Boundary Microphones:
The diaphragm of the condenser mic should be placed parallel to the large enough surface it is mounted on so it picks up the vibration or the reflection of the sounds off the surface.
In theatrical productions, a wireless microphone is used to amplify the voice of the actor or singer. As the lavalier or headset allows close-miking, it ensures delivery of quality audio. The overhead or boundary microphones can be a suitable alternative as they are more affordable. The quality of the sound should be stable and consistent throughout the play, so it is advisable to find the right brand and model that would be ideal for the performance. It should also be durable so it can withstand the demands of performing. Everything should be in order so that the drama or tragedy would not turn into a comedy because of a malfunctioning or unstable mics. A good sound engineer would make everything work together.