Trying to think positively, I am reminded of the off-stage english horn in Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. The off-stage trumpet in Fidelio also is a famous work that needs coordinating. Someimtes, we have played works with two conductors and of course, there are many a piece from the Renaissence or Baroque Eras which use different groups of players in different parts of the hall. And of course, there are many theater pieces from bygone days in which the stage is divided into three levels,present, future,and past, or present prior and after. All kinds of examples abound, but this is something I think is quite new, though reflecting the meanest aspects of Charles Dckens characterizations.
As many, I have played in the orchestra or the ensemble for many many theatrical productions. Full or chamber orchestra down to a small ensemble. All musicians especially wind players, find this work to be attractive and sometimes highly remunerative.Earlier I have written of accompaniment for an entire show limited to five or six players making the sound of almost an entire orchestra. The many ways we sample and record music and in that way, we compete with our very selves for playing assignments. Sampling is the most striking example of self-competition, the result down the line always being less “work” for live musicians playing live music in front of an audience.d The The latest experiment in New York theater is taking place in a tiny, L-shaped third-floor room with water-stained ceilings and dirty gray carpeting that served for decades as a dumping space for props The actors are onstage a floor below, The music is piped in and corrdinated by the conductor using a loystick and a tiny screen
It is music by remote control: an orchestra playing not from the traditional pit wedged between audience and stage, but from a distant room or even a separate building. It’s an approach that appeals to some producers because it allows them to sell high-priced tickets to more choice seats, or to use the old pit space for bigger and fancier stage sets — and because technology means they can. Is there something Dickensian aout this scenario? One may wish to think so.
Artistic communication comes through speakers and television monitors. It can be a challenge.
“At “Carrie,” the conductor that night, Paul Staroba, waited for a red light to blink by his piano keyboard to signal the start of Act I. “O.K., we’re gonna go,” he yelled. Just above the light was a 16-inch monitor showing a black-and-white view of the Lortel stage, where the grainy outlines of actors began to appear. The video quality was too poor to see the precise movements of lips, but the musicians upstairs had trained for weeks to know every beat of the singing without visual cues. The ensemble’s two keyboards and three guitars were barely audible, their sound pumped through speakers in the theater; only the cello and drums provided a road map to the score of “Carrie” in the old storage room.”
“All we can really do is hope that we sound good,” Mr. Staroba said during a lull between songs. “You miss feeling the actors breathe a few feet away from you, to sense where they will start and end each song. But doing this for eight performances a week, I think we get the music pretty precise with what the cast is doing.”
Still, glamorous it is not.
The $75 million musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has the highest budget on Broadway, yet its 18 musicians have some of the grimest quarters in the theater district: the band has been split in half and plays out of two windowless rooms in the basement of the Foxwoods Theater. The “Spider-Man” musical supervisor, Kimberly Grigsby, conducts the guitarists, drummer and keyboard player in one room, with two small cameras attached to her podium; about 20 feet down the hall, the brass and string sections of the orchestra watch her image on small screens attached to their music stands.
Ms. Grigsby uses a joystick on her podium to pan cameras inside the theater to follow the flying sequences in the show and to zoom in on actors during certain scenes. While she said she missed working in a pit, which here was converted to fit a hydraulic system for some of the massive sets in “Spider-Man,” Ms. Grigsby said that sophisticated audio and video equipment “make the music feel and sound like it’s being played right by the stage.”
Theater critics and audience members have not made a fuss over the piped-in music of either show, but the union for New York theater musicians is sharply negative about the sound-mixing methods.
“There is no way the quality of the sound is as good over amplification speakers,” said Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. “By not seeing a conductor’s head in the pit, or a pit itself, theatergoers may also be left wondering if the music is even live or whether it’s simply recorded.”
Mr. Gagliardi said he was especially appalled by the piped-in music last June for the televised Tony Awards; the band played nearly 50 blocks south of the Beacon Theater, which helped alleviate the crowding in an already crammed auditorium. (The Tonys will be held at the Beacon again this spring.)
Creating new orchestra pits for the “Spider-Man” and “Carrie” bands would have deprived the producers of ticket revenue because seats would have had to be sacrificed. Bernard Telsey, a producer of “Carrie” (which just announced an April 8 closing date), said that putting the show’s band in the mezzanine section was considered, but factors like lost revenue and acoustic challenges scuttled the idea.
So there we have it. We wre cramped, squeezed hidden, yet we must play our very best. Keep practicing, and stay well.