Author Topic: Running sound cues in rehearsal  (Read 4605 times)

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Stuart Plymesser

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Running sound cues in rehearsal
« on: Apr 05, 2012, 07:43 pm »
I am curious to get the experience of my fellow SMs on this subject.  Currently, I am in rehearsals for our production of The Brothers Size at Syracuse Stage.  As with most shows here, the resident sound engineer has given me a laptop for the rehearsal hall for running a session of QLab as I get cues from our sound designer.  As rehearsals have progressed, there have been many times where our director has responded to some cues with, “Could we loop those drum beats until __________?”  or, “What if that cue cross-faded more slowly into the next cue?”  All of this is being done with the idea of putting together a cue list and session that I hand over to the sound designer before tech for him to refine and make changes to as needed.  Throughout rehearsals, I am in close contact with the designer (who I have a good relationship from previous productions) and he is taking note of the things we are doing.  A similar thing happened to me with a production of The 39 Steps at a different theatre where I would make changes to the cues on SFX (but not the sound files) throughout rehearsal on a show that had well over 400 cues to run. 

Our former Artistic Director, Bob Moss, was a Broadway SM from a time before there were regular sound designers.  He has told me how a director would hand the SM an album and say, “For rehearsal tomorrow, could you take the first 5 minutes off of the first song for us to use?”  The SM would take it home and record it on their reel to reel and add it to the rehearsal tape – splicing it where it needed to go in the sequence for the show.  When the show got to the theatre, the SM would hand the master reel off to the sound technician so it could be used in the show.  I started thinking about how now that technology has made the modification of cues as easy as cutting and pasting or dragging and dropping, we seem to be coming around full circle.  We no longer have to wait for someone to hand us a new set of cues on a CD or MiniDisc.  All of this gives us a great jump on tech and certainly helps the director’s process.  The key for me is to making sure the sound designer is being kept in the loop and not feeling like their toes are being stepped on.

I’m curious to know how many stage managers have seen an increase in what they are expected to be able to do in rehearsal with sound cues – going past just the average “play the cue and fade it up or down.”  As someone who also teaches, I am seeing the need for my SM students to learn how to run QLab and SFX before they graduate - to be prepared to do more than just run a cue.  Thoughts?
Stuart Plymesser
Production Stage Manager, Syracuse Stage
Adjunct Faculty, Syracuse University - Stage Management Program

loebtmc

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #1 on: Apr 05, 2012, 09:09 pm »
Honestly, I would take those notes from the director and hand them to the sound designer to do. It is not the SMs responsibility to know how to program Qlab or SFX, let alone do it, and that director will think it is the SMs job if this continues. In union work, this would require additional payment as well as skill set.

I get it, with students or others who are computer facile it's easy for them to do, but we have enough to do and I am concerned this director and others will start making assumptions that will create issues in the future for the SM (who will be stepping on the sound designer's toes) and the director (who will have unrealistic expectations of their SM and who clearly does not understand what our job entails). Because this is really, clearly, not my job. I will gladly run rough cues in rehearsal, but not build them or adjust them. That's the sound designer's call.

I know there are Bway and other union SMs who have done far more than required - we each have what we are and are not willing to do over and above - but this, to me, is way way over the line into the designer's territory. And getting it during rehearsal or the next day, while the show is still in flux? I am guessing pretty much only in a university setting.

My sound designers make CDs for me to play so the actors get used to hearing their noises/music, but even when things are run in Qlab (and, in university shows, on my computer), someone else is doing editing/fixes. And with most of the designers I've worked with, if I tried to make the adjustments on my own - as with lighting cues - it would be a fire-able offense.

Just my 2cents.
« Last Edit: Apr 05, 2012, 09:12 pm by loebtmc »

ReyYaySM

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #2 on: Apr 05, 2012, 10:58 pm »
I'm working with a QLab session for the production of The 39 Steps that I am currently working on.  Our sound engineer setup my computer with a remote desktop application that allows me to control the sound computer in the theatre and setup a base level for the sound system in the space .  The sound designer has uploaded a QLab file into the Dropbox folder we setup for the show.  I am only hitting the GO button on the cues; I put all notes the director has for the designer into the report and the designer makes all of the changes.  It has been incredibly helpful to the cast and director to have sound in rehearsal this early.  Sound is a major component to our production and I'm thankful we've been able to work with it from day 2 of rehearsal. 

I think a basic understanding of QLab as part of a well-rounded undergraduate theatre education is worthwhile.  However, I do not believe the SM should be making adjustments to the cues in rehearsal; that is a conversation for the director and designer. 


missliz

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #3 on: Apr 05, 2012, 11:24 pm »
I encountered this on a recent show as well...I have a basic knowledge of Qlab and could play with some effects (crossfading etc) so the director could see if that's what he really wanted, but then would pass the note along to the sound designer. However, he'd often approach me during previews and ask me to create/mix new cues on the fly. I think being from a more computer-savvy generation, my director just assumed I'd have no problem doing it. A reminder that "I'm the stage manager, not the sound designer, unless you'd like to pay me for that too! :)" was helpful.
I personally would like to bring a tortoise onto the stage, turn it into a racehorse, then into a hat, a song, a dragon and a fountain of water. One can dare anything in the theatre and it is the place where one dares the least. -Ionesco

dallas10086

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #4 on: Apr 05, 2012, 11:59 pm »
I SM'd a show that incorporated videotaped interviews into scenes and transitions, sometimes with the actors 'conversing' with the interviewee, so I had to be the one running the DVD in rehearsal. Not quite the same, but I found that I wasn't able to accurately take notes during certain moments because I had to watch the DVD counter or wait for a cue line. I ended up with black holes in the prompt book. I imagine it would be the same situation constantly having to worry about sound in rehearsal. I hate to put it this way, but if a director requested me to use QLab in rehearsal and basically start building the cue list, I would either eventually say 'that isn't a part of my contract' or I would play dumb. You have enough to keep track of in rehearsal...why add sound designer/engineer to the list?

MatthewShiner

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #5 on: Apr 06, 2012, 12:34 am »
I assume that you were a team of one?

In reality, there are productions where having the video and sound being in the rehearsal - and I don't think we can just OPT out, but I think if you really have trouble doing all you need in the rehearsal hall, then you need more help - and that's between you and your bosses.

I mean you can argue, "Oh, since I have to take blocking, I can't track props" - it seems like the  would be the same argument as not able to run sound cues. 

We would alter a rehearsal prop for rehearsal?  We wouldn't wait the scenic designer to make the alteration, right? 

I don't mind a member of the stage management team doing basic alternations, but you need to work out the ground rules - and work it out with production management how to handle it.

Yes, we are going to find there are more and more technically elements being added into rehearsal.  On my last show, in the rehearsal hall, we had 7 wireless mics, 12 stand mics, amps, several musical instruments, a tele-q, a reel-to-reel to be operated, a sound board . . . we started "teching" the show on the VERY first day in the hall - it's different, it's new, and I feel like it's the way we are moving - all this technology makes us very impatient. 

Ultimately you have to make up your mind what your style is and how much of this you want to do.

We all have our comfort zones.

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #6 on: Apr 06, 2012, 12:41 am »
I have run sound cues in QLab in rehearsal for a few shows, but have never edited any cues.  I got that job as the "on-book" ASM and our in-house sound engineer programmed everything for us.  Any changes requested by the director would be sent to the designer and then the engineer would come in and load the new cues for us.  I would be hesitant to give the go-ahead for complicated sound cues in rehearsal if I was the only SM in the room- I've been there and it's no fun, but when you're a team of 2 or 3 it's much easier to have someone running the sound cues and not end up with blank pages in the prompt book.

I think that a working knowledge of QLab is helpful and a valuable skill for SMs to have- QLab seems to be more and more the new CD player in the rehearsal room- but there's a fine line between the director saying "Can you fade that out after 20 seconds" and "Can you loop that and add more drums."  It's SO easy to move from being helpful and efficient in the rehearsal room to "not my job" and "stepping on toes."


 
You will have to sing for your supper & your mortgage, your dental coverage & your children's shoes, over & over again while people in desk jobs roll their eyes the minute you start to complain. So it's a good thing you like to sing.

EFMcMullen

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #7 on: Apr 06, 2012, 12:58 am »
For the most part, I now use QLab in the Rehearsal Hall because it is much easier than using a CD or iTunes or whatnot.  Once it is set up, I hit the space bar, and then I can get back to being a Stage Manager.  I have never however been handed a show file, only the source cues.  So I am building my own playlist.  And I do not hand over what I have been using to the sound designer for tech. I have enough knowledge to make timing adjustments and then I pass along notes as to what I am doing or what we have discovered, but not an actual file.  Most of the directors I work with seem to understand that these are still "rehearsal cues".  Yes, it has allowed for "sexier" sound in the rehearsal hall (easier crossfades & looping), but I don't think the expectation is for "show quality".  (At least not yet)  So at this point, I don't feel I'm doing anything more than what I first did way back when with a two tape deck boom box.  It just now is a heck of a lot easier.  However, if I was handed a show file, I might feel differently, especially if I was being charged with making adjustments.  That to me is when the sound designer needs to be in the rehearsal hall with you if it is that important.

I think QLab or SFX is a good thing for a SM to have knowledge of whether just to make their lives easier in the rehearsal hall or to help in an emergency situation.  Like a laptop or a hammer, it is a tool.  And if it can make our lives easier, I'm all for it.   

BayAreaSM

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #8 on: Apr 06, 2012, 11:16 am »
I too am a fan of QLab. A few years back, I worked on The Triumph of Love, a new adaptation by the director of the show. There were a lot of gags in the show, including a fountain of Eros that peed. As others have mentioned, the Sound Designer would give me CDs of new cues, and sometimes during production meetings, he would actually load the cues up into my laptop (there wasn't a house sound computer at the time) for me. Then I would run sound, as it was easier for me to hit the space bar than to ask my PA (no ASM required in Lort-C non rep) to do it, since she was busy tracking props.

For some reason, I've really never had trouble taking blocking and running sound during rehearsal. I think my training during my internship of taking line notes really helped me with having my hands, eyes and mind being several places at once. I wasn't one to keep my eyes in the book constantly: I would spot memorize, look up at my actors and be prepared to feed the line up to them, instead of burying my face in my script. Coming from years of working with actors who don't always say "line", it's been really important for me to look up at them for visual cues for them wanting me to give them line. And, after spot memorizing, feeding the line, I would immediately begin to write the line note down for them, while reading ahead and watching the next person for their potential line call. For me, this "3 places at once" feel has made it easy for me to read the script, watch the actors to take blocking, and have my other hand poised on the space bar to hit the next sound cue.

When it comes to editing the sound, I did as others have said: take notes into the rehearsal report for the designer. It was understood that I couldn't do everything the director wanted right away, and that hopefully tomorrow we would have what the director wanted. Though I will say, if the director told me "have this song start 20 seconds into the track" or "have this fade out after 20 seconds" I always opted to punch that into QLab right away, and then take the note for the designer in the report. For me having done that right then, I didn't have to take my eyes away from rehearsal, or watch the counter. QLab had it taken care of for me, and I could continue with rehearsal as usual.

I will say, going back to TOL, I had the most difficult time with my director regarding sound. We had worked together before, but this peeing fountain had become a rift between us. She required the sound of the fountain to only come out of the speaker on SL of the rehearsal hall. There was a back and forth play between the peeing fountain and Arelcchino who "played" the guitar on SR (actually a sound cue). She wanted it working now - so the best I could do "right now" was run the cues, but switch the faders on the sound board with my other hand. It wasn't the cleanest, and it broke up my ability to write blocking notes with my right hand. In an effort to make my own life easier for comedic moments like these (as there were plenty in the show) I had to spend my dinner break that day figuring out how to make the pee sound come out from just one speaker, while the guitar cue came out of another speaker, and then repeat what I'd figured out on all of the other fountain peeing cues.

Yes, I feel that particular situation should fall in the "I'm sorry, I don't know how to do that" category, but I am a sucker for making the director happy - and generally, in my personal experience, if the director is happy, my life is easier. Granted, I could've run the sound as it was, and switched the faders for that scene, but then I would've had blocking holes in my script, and that wasn't going to be acceptable. The show was moving to another theater after a month-long run at my theater, and I would be handing it off to a new SM team. And for comedic moments like this, there were full pages of hand written blocking that did not correspond to any text, and had to be inserted into the script as a new page, for a series of cues to be taken off of. I had to be precise and not miss a thing, so that the blocking for these moments could be as exact as possible.

Years later, I've found myself helping out a small theater company who has leaned heavily on my knowledge of QLab and treated me as the SM/Sound Designer. Granted, these are staged readings with 8-20 hours of rehearsal, a tech, one show and we're out of there. The pay is low, but the expectations aren't as high as a Lort theater. I will admit, I'm not a fan of doing it for a theater that is well-equipped and funded, but for the short gigs where it really is about the love of the book, I don't mind doing a little extra to make a reading extra special.

loebtmc

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #9 on: Apr 06, 2012, 01:04 pm »
Just to be clear - hitting a GO button in rehearsal is fine. Expecting me to have a computer that has room for and plays QLab is negotiable but I've done it a couple of times. Changing/altering cues other than starting later or ending sooner in something already loaded, which is simple - and helps with choreography when we don't have a rehearsal pianist? That's the sound designers job.

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #10 on: Apr 06, 2012, 09:10 pm »
I use a PC so QLab is not an option for me and unless the theatre wants to buy me a Mac, I'm not going to worry about.

That said, I've been using Nero Wave Editor and SoundTrax to make cues for the last few years that are purely for rehearsal.  I typically get the mp3s or WAV files from the Sound Designer and then play them in Winamp.  I only mess around with "building" cues when I get the time because I enjoy doing it.  But I always explain to the director that these are just rehearsal cues and anything specific will go as a note to the Sound Designer. 

Rebbe

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #11 on: Apr 07, 2012, 01:31 pm »
The expectation I’ve experienced has still been just to be able to play the CD or sound files provided by the designer.  If there are lots of them, I may assign them to an ASM to run, but often it works better for me to run those ques in rehearsals so the ASMs can run their prop/set tracks.  Even though I have a background in radio I have not been asked to edit, nor felt the urge to do so to speed up the process.  I’ve been in a couple rehearsal processes where the sound was so essential the designer sat in on many rehearals to work with us, I wonder if that will become more common.

A key here is that the sound designer is being paid to bring their sound sensibility, creativity, and talent to the production, and basically be on equal footing with the director in doing that.  When the SM does a sound edit that is exactly what the director wants, it may not be the best the show can get for sound for that moment, because the designer isn’t there to add their magic to it.  Their magic might not be exactly what the director thinks they want to hear, but often it turns out to be better.  That’s why we need sound designers; they push, experiment, and negotiate the aural feel of the production, and that isn’t exactly the director’s job or talent.   With the rehearsal props example, we may alter it as best we can for rehearsals, but that tends to be with the understanding that the prop or set design staff will polish it later or make the real thing better.  If everyone can get on the same page that sound will also be improved incrementally in rehearsal by the SM and replaced by a finished product during the tech process, maybe it all works out.  But with sound being so much less tangible than other elements, I think it is easy to get used to what is thrown together by the SM and director, and lose the full value of the sound designer’s input.  I’m not sure we’d have this conversation about lights, ex:  if the rehearsal space has them available and the SM knows how to program a board, why can’t the SM build light cues as we rehearse. 
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MatthewShiner

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Re: Running sound cues in rehearsal
« Reply #12 on: Apr 08, 2012, 01:10 am »
But, I think the difference is we are putting together the show cue, we are doing an edit so we can rehearse.  And you, the director, the cast and the sound team need to work out the rules and level of comfort.

I think this is the same as pulling some rehearsal props.  Pull a rehearsal costumes, or going to the wall and flashing lights on and off for lightning.  And I have had my rehearsal props end up on stage (the scenic designers goes - OH THAT'S GREAT, I had my "projections" use in a show, I had my rehearsal costume end up on stage . . . it happens.)

I think everyone understands that my bad loop job, or jagged cut is to just get through that day's rehearsal . . . and something better will come along.

But, if you don't feel comfortable with it - then don't do it.

« Last Edit: Apr 08, 2012, 01:12 am by MatthewShiner »
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