Photo: Sound Designer Russ Haynes at CDT's new DiGiCo SD9T (credit: Jay Reilly)
The Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (CDT) in suburban Minneapolis is the largest professional dinner theatre company in the United States and a gem for musical-theatre enthusiasts. Home to many national and global premiere performances, CDT focuses on musical theatre and comedy shows as its mainstays, and has been the launching pad for a number of notable careers for actors, including Ron Perlman, Loni Anderson, Linda Kelsey, Don Amendolia, Grant Norman, Amy Adams and Laura Osnes.
Since opening in 1968, CDT has grown into a sprawling 90,000-square-foot entertainment complex with four stages. The largest of those and its first stage, the Main Dinner Theatre, with seating for 560 guests, is now also home to a newly installed DiGiCo SD9T digital FOH console. Supplied by locally based Audio Logic Systems of Eden Prairie, the console has been deemed a "game-changer" for the theatre, which is known for producing all of its shows completely in-house, including set design, props and costuming.
"Our old analog console was at the end of its useful life, and we knew it was time to make the move to digital, so John [Markiewicz, owner/CMO of Audio Logic Systems] took me to a number of their installations in the area to look at and listen to various digital console brands," explains Russ Haynes, the veteran sound designer at CDT. The choice of console was critical as it would be the first piece in a planned move to upgrade the main stage's sound.
Haynes says he was looking for a sizable I/O count in a compact form factor that also offered flexible configurability and comprehensive DSP. The DiGiCo SD9T with its theater-specific software more than met all of those goals. Developed in conjunction with world-class sound designers, including Andrew Bruce (Les Misérables, Chess, Miss Saigon, Mary Poppins), the DiGiCo Theatre Upgrade software package provides the tools needed to address the highly demanding discipline of live theatre sound reinforcement.
"For instance, some of the biggest problems in live theatre sound are EQ changes caused by comb filtering," Haynes describes. "As performers move around the stage while donning hats, their sound can be profoundly affected due to the hat's proximity to the headworn microphones. Once programmed, the theatre variant of the SD9's Auto Update function instantly updates the channel parameters to all those new cues and, by using Aliases, affect only those cues where those parameter changes are desired.
“Additionally, as theatrical shows make much more use of VCA control groups, DiGiCo provides a visual VCA programming interface. This, along with the SD9T's 12 VCA channels, allows the engineer to maintain control of the constantly changing cast on stage, by quickly assigning and un-assigning VCA members with reference to the cue list."
Another feature, the Players function, allows the engineer to quickly deal with cast changes on stage. What was once a process of recalling the proper preset for each Alias is now simply a matter of selecting the actor performing that role. The show is then automatically updated with all the settings for that actor. The theatre software allows them to easily drop in understudies at a moment's notice and be flexible enough to deal with the many changes that can happen during a theatrical event, such as a mic slipping in the middle of a show and making the necessary changes on the fly to remain for the rest of the scenes for the show, explains Audio Logic Systems’ John Markiewicz.
Haynes says the SD9T was installed in the short window between the end of a six-month run of The Little Mermaid and the beginning of Hello, Dolly, and with a single day's training he was ready to take CDT's main stage digital.
"I'm getting into the software one feature at a time, but the ease of use of the console is great," he says. "I'm trying out the advanced features as I go along, and we’ll be able to use more of them in the future as the PA system gets upgraded. But I've already been using the virtual sound check features on show recordings that I've done in Logic Pro through the DiGiGrid MGB MADI audio interface that lets me easily shoot tracks back and forth. That's really been a game-changer here. Matt Larson's training session was excellent and the console is a dream to use."