On warm summer nights, both the locals and tourists of Lower Mainland Vancouver gather outdoors in Stanley Park’s historic Malkin Bowl for a 70-year-old entertainment tradition: Theatre Under the Stars.
In addition to delivering outstanding performances, this non-profit society provides amateur performers and technicians of all ages with a training ground to hone their skills. This year, viewers enjoyed two musicals: Bye Bye Birdie, featuring the lyrics of Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse, and Anything Goes, from composer/lyricist Cole Porter. These hugely popular shows both have a wealth of singing and dancing, so ensuring vocal clarity and projection presents significant technical challenges. The microphone of choice is the B3 Omnidirectional Lavaliere from Menlo Park-CA-based Countryman Associates.
Alex Livland serves as the sound manager for Theatre Under the Stars. After starting as the house mix engineer, he now handles all sound design considerations for the company’s theatrical productions. In preparation for the start of this season (which began in mid June), he purchased 68 Countryman B3W5 (red band) microphones, which are optimized for theatrical use—particularly when placed in a performer’s hair.
“Until you put on a costume and perform under the lights, you never really gain an appreciation for just how hot it can get on stage,” Livland said. “As the heat builds, perspiration occurs — particularly when there’s as much dancing as we have in these two shows. Perspiration and moisture, in general, are frequently the ‘kiss of death’ for lavaliere microphones. In past seasons, this was a huge concern because we never knew when a mic might just call it quits. After wrestling with this issue, I was determined to find a better solution, and we found it with the Countryman B3’s.”
“I’m really impressed with the reliability of these microphones,” Livland continued. “Between the costumes, the lights, and all the dancing, it gets really hot. I need a microphone that withstands perspiration and the B3 has proven itself an excellent choice. In addition to the mic’s ability to resist moisture, it’s ideal for placement among wardrobe and is terrific when you need to hide a microphone in the performer’s hair. The B3 is barely noticeable, if at all, and the sound remains constant as the performer’s head moves.”
“The sound quality of the B3’s is terrific,” Livland said. “These mics are extremely crisp and clear. The high end is just amazing. Further, the ability to change the plastic caps in order to get different high-end response characteristics is tremendously beneficial. With the Countryman B3’s, I can switch the cap to boost the presence of the show’s lead actors above that of the chorus members, and this has been extremely useful in helping me get the mix I’m looking for. In addition to the standard 0 dB caps, we have both the +4 dB and +8 dB caps to choose from, so there’s never an issue in terms of achieving suitable gain. This incredibly useful design characteristic helps me get that ‘Broadway sound’ we want.”
Livland is using the Countryman B3’s with Shure UHF-R series wireless systems and he reports this is a wonderful match, “I love using the B3’s with this equipment because they have a lower input sensitivity, which I use to keep the transmitter packs’ gain at 0 dB. This enables me to trim the mics down for those performers with loud volumes so that I get the best possible mix balance.”
“These mics have been nothing short of terrific,” said Livland. “Thanks to the Countryman B3’s; we didn’t lose a single microphone all season. In past seasons when we used other mics, we were literally contending with mic failures on a show-by-show basis. The B3’s sound exceptional, there’s plenty of gain before feedback, and their reliability has been amazing. I’m so glad that I no longer have the stress that accompanies not knowing whether the mics are going to last through the show. It’s very reassuring to know the B3’s will deliver when they’re supposed to.”