Author Topic: Improvised com system?  (Read 657 times)

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JJtheStageManager

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Improvised com system?
« on: Mar 03, 2017, 07:40 pm »
So recently I've worked on a few shows that took place in improvised venues(ex: abandoned churches, public parks, old dance studios) and none of them have had comm systems. I've tried using a phone call with my ASM using a pair of headphones with a mic, and I've also tried walkie talkies connected to headphones, but in both cases, the reception isn't nearly good enough to pick up me whispering into my mic(in most of these cases, there also wasn't a booth, instead I sat right behind the audience). In each case the issue has become severe enough as to affect my ability to do my job properly.

Anyone have experience with situations like this? What solutions did you come up with?

Mac Calder

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #1 on: Mar 03, 2017, 11:19 pm »
Almost any sound hire company (or av company) should be able to hire you comms - and they are generally not too expensive. If you need wireless comms, that is a bit more expensive but also generally hireable.

If 2 way communication is required then there really is no substitute.

loebtmc

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #2 on: Mar 04, 2017, 01:15 am »
I have had a lot of open (or nonexistant) booths and hate walkies. One thing I've used a lot is messaging w my asm, but for silent cues to board ops, visuals or touch works really well.

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KMC

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #3 on: Mar 14, 2017, 03:06 pm »
Rent wireless comms. 
Get action. Do things; be sane; donít fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

NewTheatrePSM

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #4 on: Oct 11, 2017, 02:14 pm »
I wanted to hop on this thread because I think my situation relates.

I work at a theatre that just opened last week, and we currently have no com or much money in order to purchase an awesome one. We tried Zello (phone walkie-talkie sort of app) and Facetime, but neither are great options. Zello was particularly poor, and one of my tech staff doesn't have an iphone, so Facetime won't work when he runs the show.

Thoughts on options? Are there any other phone apps that could work? Inexpensive but effective com options?

Maribeth

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #5 on: Oct 11, 2017, 10:05 pm »
I would be surprised if there are any reliable phone apps- for one, you're going to have cues that are late if someone's service is bad. You can also use cheap walkie talkies, but they are really not well suited for this.

Have you considered using cue lights? It's pretty inexpensive to create a simple cue light system- all you need is a box with some light switches, cable, and some small bulbs (you can use Christmas tree bulbs, which are small and easy to hide on a set). An electrician can wire up a simple system. It's standard practice to put 2 bulbs on every switch, right next to each other, so that if one burns out, there's always a backup.

If your theatre is looking to purchase a system, you might see if a larger theatre in the area is upgrading their comm system and looking to sell their old one. Or, look into renting a system.


NewTheatrePSM

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #6 on: Oct 15, 2017, 10:40 am »
Thanks! Cue lights are a good thought. However, that doesn't help to talk through any issue. It's a community theatre so I'm deck chief and calling some cues while we have one person running lights and sound together at the back of the theatre.

We will be getting some walkie talkies from a local high school with headphone jacks, so that should help for now. And then hopefully we'll be able to purchase an effective com system.

KMC

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #7 on: Oct 16, 2017, 08:23 am »
If your theatre is already cabled for it (and dear god I hope it is if it's brand new) an entry level hard-wired comms package really is not terribly expensive.  If money is really tight you may even contact a rental house in your area to see if they've got anything they're looking to retire and sell or donate.
« Last Edit: Oct 16, 2017, 12:51 pm by KMC »
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Mac Calder

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #8 on: Oct 18, 2017, 03:09 am »
I would be surprised if there are any reliable phone apps- for one, you're going to have cues that are late if someone's service is bad. You can also use cheap walkie talkies, but they are really not well suited for this.

There is actually a really good phone based coms system - Unity. It is IP based - and you can either cloud host or run the server on an apple computer) so you can use wifi and they sell a range of accessories (like propper headsets and a little bluetooth push-to-talk button). We've used the cloud version for multi-site realtime co-ordination and it is really reliable.

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Maribeth

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #9 on: Oct 18, 2017, 10:58 am »
That's good to know, Mac. The licenses look kind of pricey for some community theatres but there are a number of scenarios that I can see a package like that being very useful in.

KMC

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #10 on: Oct 18, 2017, 11:13 am »
That's good to know, Mac. The licenses look kind of pricey for some community theatres but there are a number of scenarios that I can see a package like that being very useful in.

I'm not intending this to be confrontational but I would say this is about as cheap as you're going to get for a reliable, purpose-built wireless communication system.  It's certainly not free, but aside from a mac mini and a wireless router (a few hundred dollars) it leverages existing hardware, i.e. the cell phones of the end users, so minimal capital outlay is required up front.  As the license fees are per seat the cost scales proportionally with the size of the deployment (versus a traditional intercom system that requires a large capital outlay up front for base stations, cabling infrastructure, etc... and lower costs per beltpack/headset).  All of these are distinct advantages for smaller organizations that don't have the capital to purchase a more traditional intercom system up front.

Having a system that is both purpose-built for entertainment / events / broadcast and free (which seems to be what many people mean when saying "cheap") is an incongruous proposition. 
Get action. Do things; be sane; donít fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

Mac Calder

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #11 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:48 pm »
I would certainly not recommend unity to a community theatre (there are some execptions, not many though) - the cost of unity is on par with wired comms - it needs a good wifi infrastructure and someone to administer it. I provided it's link mainly to show that yes, it can be done... but just because it is using commodity hardware there is still a degree of expense there.

That said, it is another tool that some people may have use for.

Maribeth

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Re: Improvised com system?
« Reply #12 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:50 pm »
I'm not intending this to be confrontational but I would say this is about as cheap as you're going to get for a reliable, purpose-built wireless communication system.

Having a system that is both purpose-built for entertainment / events / broadcast and free (which seems to be what many people mean when saying "cheap") is an incongruous proposition.

I definitely would not disagree with either of these statements. To be fair, I haven't really done any work in community theatre, but even some of the smaller professional companies that I have worked for in the past have been unwilling (or unable) to shell out the money that it takes to get good, reliable comm equipment- wired or wireless.

I can think of a couple of shows (like site-specific pieces for a larger organization) that Unity would have been great for- but they were for companies with larger budgets. Good to know the option is out there!

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