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With various dynamic movements happening at the same time during a theatrical play, one could say that knowing how to best mic a stage play is an extension of the performing art itself. As each stage play and artist may need a special microphone requirement, miking and recording theater productions and stage productions will need extra work on the part of a sound designer to ensure that the sound quality of the production can be excellently heard by the recording engineer, audience, and performers themselves.
Although it may sound daunting and tiresome, miking a theater production can be quite simple once you get the hang of it. In this guide, we will teach you the best miking setup and microphone placement for varying microphone types often used in stage plays.
Microphones act as the extension of the performer. Using the right microphone will allow the audience to hear every line, song, and even whisper of the performer. Thus, using the best microphone intended for miking stage plays only makes sense. Otherwise, the audience will fail to comprehend the voices of the actors and they won’t be able to understand the entire performance.
With all that said, the three best and most commonly used mic types for miking performing arts applications and performers are stage floor microphones, wireless microphones, and hanging microphones.
Stage floor microphones are also called boundary microphones. Although they are often used in boardroom tables, office settings, and classroom settings, floor or boundary microphones are also a favorite for sound reinforcement of theatre stage productions and the performers.
Floor or boundary mics have a half-super cardioid or half-cardioid polar pattern that allows them to reject sounds and noises from the rear, which is where instruments from the orchestra area are situated in. In that case, a boundary microphone can pick up the voices of actors while rejecting the sounds coming from the orchestra or audience.
These mics are also nearly invisible so they won’t be seen from the theater stage and distract the audience from watching the performers. You can even spray-paint the microphone to make the less unobtrusive. Some of the best boundary microphones can even be stepped on so actors will not have to worry about going near them in the performance area.
For a flexible and hands-free performance, performers often go for lavalier microphones or head-worn mics as their wireless mics of choice. Since each performer will need to have a lavalier mic of their own, these mics are often used by productions that have the budget for it. The investment is worth it though as the best lavalier microphones can ensure great sound quality that can truly cover each of the performers.
Since these mics can be attached to the actor’s head or worn near the mouth, a lavalier can capture sound straight from the source giving audio quality that is direct, clean, and loud enough for the entire room to hear.
Opposite to floor microphones are hanging microphones. Hanging microphones are hung up and designed to capture an audio source that’s farther upstage. In that sense, a theater play with a choir ensemble would benefit from hanging microphones.
Since hanging microphones come in two parts — the microphone and its mic connectors which are the electronics module and a long cable, these mics are directional. With such a design and polar pattern, hanging microphones can reject sounds from the rear, pick up sounds from the front, and reduce feedback.
Now that you know the three best types of microphones to use when miking a stage play, it’s time to learn the best way to mic them for sound reinforcement in a theater play.
Given that these microphones are placed on the theater stage’s floor, sound reflections and floor vibrations can be picked up if the proper placement for miking is not followed. When this happens, the audio that will be picked up by the mic can sound hollow and the recording will have a colored tone that can muffle out the entire performance. To avoid all these, here’s how you can place your stage floor or boundary mics.
The design of these microphones itself helps capture the direct and reflected sounds to prevent any hollow and comb-filter effect in the performance recording. Thus, the proper placement of these mics can help turn them into loudspeakers that can produce clear and natural sound.
For a 20-foot-wide stage, a single mic setup placed at the center can already do the job. However, if you want the best results, you can place a series of mics that are 12 to 15 feet apart from each other for optimal speaker performance.
To enhance gain-before-feedback with these microphones, you may also do the following:
Since wireless microphones are worn or placed directly to the sound source, we need to keep an ear out for unwanted noises that can be picked up from the actors themselves. Such nuisance sounds can be wind noise, plosives, and any thuds.
For optimum gain before feedback and clarity, here are some placement tips to follow:
Hanging condenser microphones upside down will not only prolong the lives of their diaphragms and capsules, but it will also produce a full-body voice sound for the performers while reducing plosives.
A hanging microphone can be hung from the gridwork over the stage, near the front edge, and upstage actors. Just keep it away from the lights so that they may remain invisible. Hanging one to three miniature microphones can give the best results so the entire group can be heard.
For performing arts artists, the preferred microphones used on stage are the type that can give them mobility. For this reason, wireless Lavalier microphones or body mics are the preferred type as opposed to mics with stands. Although microphone stands have their pros, for performing arts applications, they may not be recommended.
Lav mics can be attached to the actors’ heads, ears, clothes, or other parts of the body. Since these mics are close to the sound source, they can provide a consistent close-miking setup with clear gain-before-feedback. Just make sure that the cable is tightly secured.
A first-hand recount written on the Shure website shared how one’s work on the Broadway My Fair Lady in the West End caused nightmares thanks to the poor securing of the mic where the ear hanger of the actor was flying during a big dance number.
To further eliminate unwanted noise, a Lavalier microphone with a cardioid polar pattern is useful. A cardioid polar pattern can cut the sound from everywhere except the front of the mic — in this case, the actor. With a cardioid pattern, the mic can reduce feedback and external noise that may come elsewhere or from the viewers.
When miking a stage play, there are three microphones you can best choose from: boundary or floor mics, wireless mics, and hanging mics. Each of these mics requires different miking setups and placement techniques. Although it requires more effort from your end, the result is worth it.