Sunday, February 04, 2007

All Miked Up and Nowhere to Go

“The body mike won’t make you sound better. It will only make you louder.”

The often repeated words of a great sound engineer I have worked with various times.

He is correct, of course. But it never ceases to amaze me, (nor, it would appear, said sound engineer) how often the proximity of a microphone seems to discourage high quality vocal performances. People who otherwise might be right on top of things from a vocal standpoint all at once suffer from poor inunciation and decreased projection. (Yes, you do still need projection, even when using a microphone.)

Perhaps that is only a problem experienced by amateurs, (and not all of them at that.) But I think perhaps that is part of the point I wish to make. I have to wonder if the use of audio enhancement devices in today’s community theatre encourages lazy performing, thus becoming a breeding ground for future professionals of less than stellar vocal quality.

I do not advocate a complete elimination of electric devices in theatre. General sound enhancement devices placed above the stage for overall volume increase are permissible. Allow me, however, to state the obvious; theatre existed, and even flourished, for eons without the aid of electronic audio devices, personal or general. Everything from opera stars performing at the Met, to diddy croakers in burlesque shows understood the importance of reaching the back row. The good ones still do realize it, but if you are dealing with anyone less than 100% dedicated to the work, personal body mikes have the potential to deaden many aspects unique to live theatre.

No doubt some would ask me why I should lament to end of needing to strain to hear a performer while on stage. I have two answers to that.

The first answer is that I often find myself straining to understand what a performer is saying, even when they are “miked”. That problem underscores my point quite well. If annunciation and diction are in the toilet, the biggest microphone in the world will not fix the problem.

My second answer to the question requires one to drop the assumption it is all about simple volume. True, that is the scientific function of a mike, to increase volume. But in the days without such paraphernalia, there was, by force, a more visceral quality to a performance on the stage. With the need to project, came also the need for big emotions, bigger than life moments of drama, exaggerated comic timing, and most important of all, huge energy. Unless an actor possesses all of those qualities anyway, they will not be encouraged to develop them if they have what amounts to a shortcut in many cases.

Microphones are tools, not methods of presenting. I work with many people who realize it. But just as many, if not more, do not. Or if they do, they are not inspired to take the extra step. True, a lazy actor would perhaps be a lazy actor in any era, regardless of available technology. However, if the presence of microphones instills laziness in just a few actors who otherwise would not have been, directors ought to be vary cautious in their use of them.

No comments: