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Award-Winning Musical “Billy Elliot” Launches Simultaneous U.S. Tours With Customized DiGiCo SD7T & SD8 Consoles In Starring Roles
After dazzling audiences on Broadway, and scoring a total of twenty prestigious Tony and Drama Desk Awards including Best Sound Design, the theatrical adaptation of the popular movie, “Billy Elliot”, will hit the road on two simultaneous U.S. tours later this year. Based on the New York production, both touring productions will employ customized DiGiCo SD7T’s at front of house and substage, and SD8’s to mix the band’s monitors, as specified by sound designer Paul Arditti.

Since its original debut in London in 2005 the show, about a coal miner\'s son who dreams to dance, has enjoyed continued success over the years with numerous adaptations. For the Broadway production, which launched in 2008. Arditti configured a DiGiCo D5T system from the ground up with help from associates John Owens (UK) and Tony Smolenski (US), and Masque Sound, the US-based theater sound specialist. For the two new touring outfits, Arditti chose the SD7T / SD8 combination with the guidance of Masque Sound as well as DiGiCo’s Product Specialist, Dan Page.

“Once the ‘T’ software for the SD7 was released, which happened at the end of 2009 when Andrew Bruce of Autograph Sound Recording used an SD7T at the National Theatre in London for \'Mother Courage\', the time was right for making the move,” Arditti explained. “I admit that I am committing to the SD7T earlier than I would normally prefer but I felt confident specifying a console that is at the beginning of its lifespan, enjoys the full attention of DiGiCo’s designers, and is still undergoing software development. These tours might still be running in three years or more, and I would like them to be mixed on a current, rather than legacy, console. In preparing the new console, Masque and DiGiCo, as usual, have been great to us. Dan Page from DiGiCo flew over and spent a week with us here in Chicago, bringing us all up to speed with the capabilities of the new software, teaching us techniques for good programming, and helping us iron out a few bugs. The SD7T works quite differently from the D5T, so it was not just a simple transfer of the same show from one console to the other; there was something of a learning curve for all of us. At the end of the day, we found the T software on the SD7 to be very elegant and integrated.”

The SD7T offered Arditti greater input and output capacity with which to manage all of the production’s 137 inputs within the one console—comprised of an Orchestra/Band Rack of 43 channels, an RF Rack of 49 channels for radio mics and other miscellaneous mics, a Local Rack for 11 channels of outboard reverbs and AES, and 34 MADI channels which handle sound effects and music playback. “Some of the 34 channels of sound effects and playback were previously sub-mixed on a DM1000,” he added, “but now we’re able to accommodate these on the SD7T. The only remaining submix is the mix of our 96 tap mics. These are built into the show deck, and arrive as a stereo pair at the SD7T via a DM2000 located substage. We have also cut some outboard reverbs this time round, and I am now also using some of the onboard reverbs and effects on the DiGiCo SD7T, which sound very good. The extensive crosspoint delay matrix within the SD7T has also allowed me to eliminate one of the two DME64s I was using for loudspeaker control. For the production period of Tour 1, we also have a DiGiCo EX-007 Expansion Surface next to the main surface front-of-house, and this allows me to access all parts of the console without disturbing our excellent mixer, Brian Moore. For Tour 2, I am cutting both DME64s from the design, and I will make even more use of the matrix in the SD7T.” 

Output requirements for the show include 21 matrix, 22 mono aux, 6 stereo aux, and 6 AES outputs to outboard reverbs. In addition, they’re using separate vocal and band systems made up of Meyer Melodies for the vocal systems, divided into 6 large arrays, and Meyer UPQs for the band. All the delays, front fills and side fills handle both band and vocals. The 106 individual loudspeakers for these systems are delayed within a DME64 into three vocal zones and a stereo band system, with Meyer Galileo\'s for the system EQ. “All the onstage effects speakers, stage monitoring systems, and surround speakers are balanced, delayed and EQ\'d within the SD7T,” Arditti elaborated. “That\'s another 66-odd speakers. We\'re very pleased not to have to provide extra processing for these speakers; we can do everything we need within the console.”

In addition to the plethora of onboard effects, reverbs, dynamic EQ, and the two onboard engines available within the SD7T, Arditti cited numerous other features that have been a boon to the production process. “We like the big new touch screens, the Digi-TuBe drives, the crosspoint delay matrix, and the new quiet fans in the audio engine… this is theatre after all, not rock and roll! We very much like the integration of the cue editor within the console software as it makes programming much quicker. We like the new macro procedure, which makes it much easier to produce usable macros. We have also been able to dispense with a number of external A/B mic input switches, as we can now switch between a performer\'s main wireless mic and the backup from the smart keys. Masque has been particularly helpful with regard to the custom buttons we have installed on the surfaces. We have a set of four buttons drilled into the SD7T surface near the control groups, which cue sound effects. Another set of four buttons provide backup to the MD\'s control in the orchestra pit for music playback. Both sets of buttons are duplicated on the expander surface. There is also a big red button for DME mute. I\'m glad to say that there is just about enough space on the SD7T\'s metalwork for all these custom additions, and the people at Masque are peerless at this kind of problem solving. They understand the ergonomics of operating a complex show reliably, and their custom work is always well-thought-out, and professionally executed.”

Arditti has been extremely pleased, too, with the overall sound of the mic inputs, both on the voices and the instruments, as well as the overall transparency of the console—even with 100 or more channels live at once. “This is a very difficult show for vocal clarity,” he added, “because of the small voices of the children, the unfamiliar \'Geordie\' English accents, and the brassy arrangements. Providing the actors and musicians give us a good quality input, the SD7T has no problem in reproducing all the audio to high volume levels with crystal clarity.”

But perhaps the biggest impact the console has had on the production’s ‘bottom line’ has been its efficiently compact footprint. “Every seat of space taken up by the sound console can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a show,” he emphasized. “The SD7T is an incredibly compact package, and therefore, we have been able to reduce our front-of house footprint by about 30% by cutting outboard equipment.”

In addition, the use of the SD8 in the band pit, has allowed Arditti to eliminate mic splits, and the gain tracking between the SD7T and SD8 also helped to speed up building their front of house and band monitoring balances.

The particulars for each of the simultaneous tours are shaping up, but Arditti says that Tour 1, which opened in Chicago in April, is likely to stay there for a year and then move to Toronto in 2011, with subsequent shows to include San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston in the following years. As far as Tour 2, dates are in the process of being confirmed. “We expect both tours to play most of the venues currently served by ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ and ‘Wicked’ over several years,” he offers. “Tour 1 will typically have a couple of weeks to move from city to city, but Tour 2 has to close on a Sunday and perform the following Wednesday in another city. Tour 2 will necessarily have a more streamlined equipment list, but we are not compromising on the quality or capacity of our mixing consoles.”

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