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Delivering Seamless Crew Communications For Sight & Sound Productions

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With its spectacular live stage shows, Sight & Sound Theatres has been astounding audiences and bringing Bible stories to life since its founding in the 1970s. Based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Sight & Sound operates two theatres: one in Ronks, Pennsylvania, and the second in Branson, Missouri. With an annual attendance of more than a million people from around the world, the shows get more elaborate and technically sophisticated every year.

The 2,000-seat Sight & Sound Theatres auditorium in Branson lives up to its billing as a place "where the Bible comes to life on stage," and the realism is truly exciting. The theatre includes a million watts of lights, 60,000 watts of sound, and a massive 20,000-square-foot stage that surrounds the audience on three sides. Each production employs more than 600 crew and cast members and features dramatic performances, four-story-tall set pieces, and live animals to tell popular Bible stories, including the currently running 'Samson'.

A critical requirement for such a complex production is a reliable and seamless communications system for the cast and crew. "Our latest show, 'Samson', uses a significant amount of automation that requires a greater number of comms channels and a wireless intercom that can deliver outstanding voice quality anywhere in the auditorium," said Luke Bates, ESFX Supervisor, Sight & Sound Theatres. "And of course, from a safety standpoint, it is absolutely essential that the system is rock-solid for those working with and around the animals."

After evaluating several wireless intercom systems, Sight & Sound Theatres chose Riedel Communications' Bolero to meet these requirements in the Branson facility. Bolero is an expandable, full-roaming, DECT-based intercom system in the license-free 1.9-GHz frequency range. In the Branson auditorium, Bolero leverages an existing Riedel Artist digital matrix intercom system to deliver comprehensive, integrated, and crystal-clear communications for the entire production team including wireless two-way communications for all backstage crew.

Bolero features exclusive diversity receiver technology that reduces sensitivity to multipath RF reflections, making it particularly effective in challenging RF environments such as the 330,000 square-foot Branson auditorium. The system is also unique in that it operates over a standards-based AES67 IP network, with signals from Bolero backpacks transmitted by decentralised antennas connected to AES67 switches. Enabled by these features, the crew can use Bolero's seamless handover to effortlessly move throughout the auditorium without worry of dropouts. A total of 56 beltpacks, providing including six full-duplex channels, covers an equipment room, a large area under the stage, the catwalks, the animal holding area, and the dressing rooms.

One particular requirement mandated that 50 beltpacks be able to operate simultaneously on the stage. With the ability to handle up to 10 beltpacks per antenna, Bolero was up to the task. Bolero also provides the flexibility for the Sight & Sound Theatres crew to manage beltpacks remotely and change settings on the fly, even during a live show. With the addition of a stage lift next year, the addition of just one more antenna will provide coverage for the entire basement area.

"We're glad to continue our collaboration with Riedel. Not only are their technologies extremely reliable, but the Riedel support staff can be counted on to answer any questions and walk us through any configuration changes we might need," Mr Bates commented. "Our installation is a great example of how the teaming of Riedel's Bolero and Artist can deliver the industry's most reliable communications in highly complex live production environments."

This article is also available in the September edition of Broadcast Film & Video. Here.

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