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It's 2012 why are actors' mics still so visible?

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finebydesign
Broadway Legend
joined:7/17/07
I was just watching Sister Act clips (never seen the show) and noticed the exposed mics. I've seen plenty of shows where the mics were hidden very well and several where they are completely visible. Sometimes they look like air traffic controllers.

While I understand the importance the placement of the mics, I just wonder why they have to be exposed. It's 2012 shouldn't there be smaller less obtrusive technology? Is this a cost issue? Costume change thing, wigs?



Updated On: 4/23/12 at 01:39 PM
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Chickiequotes85
Chorus Member
joined:4/23/12
Haha . . . This is a good point
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JoeKv99
Broadway Legend
joined:12/27/04
It is? I can't recall a show where I could see mics from the audience. You see them in close up pictures but- well, so what?
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
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philly03
Broadway Legend
joined:9/20/07
I brought a friend to Sister Act who doesn't attend much theatre and they asked me immediately what was the "thing" at their hairline. Most shows I don't notice (wigs or not). I assume its because of the nun habits later on, for Deloris anyway, why its not hidden under her wig before.
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finebydesign
Broadway Legend
joined:7/17/07
Seriously JoeKv99? Where were your seats? I remember now where I recently saw the air traffic controllers Priscilla has those mics. So ugly. I don't believe they ever wear them for press photos.


The mics were a mess in Leap of Faith, but that's still in previews (and they lip sync the last song).
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BrodyFosse123
Broadway Legend
joined:2/27/06
That STILL baffles me to no end. I've been seeing shows on Broadway since 1972 (first show was PIPPIN; I was 7 years old) and mics were hidden completely back then.

If memory serves me right, the first forehead 'wart' mic I remember seeing was when SUNSET BLVD. first arrived in 1995. After that, EVERY actor in EVERY show had that 'wart' mic on their foreheads. After RENT, many shows started using that stick headphone type of mic.

Seems technology is going in reverse on Broadway. You'd expect them to have gone from perfectly hidden mics to virtually invisible -- not more visible than a third arm on their bodies.

So what does that make you, Brody? A zero-trick pony? - Wanna Be A Foster .........................The only power brody wields is in his own mind, joe. But it's amusing to watch him pretend nonetheless. - tazber
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BrodyFosse123
Broadway Legend
joined:2/27/06
That STILL baffles me to no end. I've been seeing shows on Broadway since 1972 (first show was PIPPIN; I was 7 years old) and mics were hidden completely back then.

If memory serves me right, the first forehead 'wart' mic I remember seeing was when SUNSET BLVD. first arrived in 1995. After that, EVERY actor in EVERY show had that 'wart' mic on their foreheads. After RENT, many shows started using that stick headphone type of mic.

Seems technology is going in reverse on Broadway. You'd expect them to have gone from perfectly hidden mics to virtually invisible -- not more visible than a third arm on their bodies.

So what does that make you, Brody? A zero-trick pony? - Wanna Be A Foster .........................The only power brody wields is in his own mind, joe. But it's amusing to watch him pretend nonetheless. - tazber
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SondheimFan5
Broadway Legend
joined:6/20/10
It's the "Andrew Lloyd Webber Syndrome" as Forbidden Broadway called it. Many principles have 2 mics at the hairline - 1 for regular, 1 for affects/backup.
CATSNYrevival
Broadway Legend
joined:3/1/04
I'm curious to know how big and heavy the newer mic packs are now. Shouldn't they be about the size and weight of an ipod nano at this point?

The only mics I've worked with have been old mic packs and they were heavier than my ipod and not always easy to conceal. There have been shows like Tarzan where Josh Strickland had to hide two mic packs under his wig and I just can't imagine doing that with the old heavier mic packs. I HOPE he had a "nano pack."

Updated On: 4/23/12 at 03:13 PM
roadmixer
Leading Actor
joined:7/28/07
For all of those people interested in microphone technology:

The size and placement of mics hasn't changed appreciably for the simple reason that physics is involved. The same principals that dictate the size of speakers (which aren't invisible either) dictate microphones. A mic. is a speaker in reverse essentially. As long as shows have "contemporary" orchestrations (pop, rock, gospel etc.) and the vocals need to be present in the mix, mics cannot be placed so far away from the source (a mouth) that they amplify as much of the background noise as they do the actual sound from the actor.
roadmixer
Leading Actor
joined:7/28/07
Hats, habits and bald-heads present additional challenges to hiding mics...
ChildrenwillListen
Featured Actor
joined:3/12/12
I have never noticed any of the microphones. Granted I am in the mezzanine half the time.
roadmixer
Leading Actor
joined:7/28/07
An iPod Nano-sized mic. pack would be great but is not achievable. The transmitters put out around 10-50 milliwatts and the circuitry for this takes up a fair amount of space and eats a fair amount of power. The battery compartment alone accounts for at least 1/3 of the size and weight of the pack.

The packs today are as small as they have ever been but they still weigh around 4 Ounces including the battery.

Updated On: 4/23/12 at 03:29 PM
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GlindatheGood22
Broadway Legend
joined:7/17/07
Little Women was the first show I saw that I remember, and I distinctly remember twelve year old me sitting in the front row of the mezzanine at the Virginia Theatre wondering what that thing was on all the actors' foreheads. It was distracting for maybe half the first act, and ever since then I've just been disregarding mics. I don't even remember if half the shows I've seen had head mics, mostly because I just don't look for them.
I leave the room smiling.
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Mister Matt
Broadway Legend
joined:5/17/03
I remember noticing them in Les Miz. I did think it was clever to make Javert's mic look like a mole on his cheek.
"What can you expect from a bunch of seitan worshippers?" - Reginald Tresilian
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TheGirlUpstairs
Understudy
joined:4/22/12
For anyone interested in the size of head mic packs, this video shows Stephanie J. Block having hers put on for Anything Goes. They hide it well under her wig, but it is pretty sizable. And it has antenna sticking out of it and everything!
http://www.playbill.com/multimedia/video/4973/Stephanie-J-Block-Quite-Becoming-as-Reno-Sweeney-in-Anything-Goes
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ClapYo'Hands
Broadway Legend
joined:11/29/09
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egghumor
Broadway Legend
joined:3/9/11
Better yet, why not just surgically implant power packs and mics in actor's upper lips, gums, chins, as soon as they join Equity?
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Patash
Broadway Legend
joined:5/27/08
Thanks for that link, GirlUpstairs. I had wondered recently a couple of times where the mic packs were when I could see on a few actresses that there was no cord going down the back and seemingly no pack in their back side. I honestly hadn't thought about disguising something that large in the wig.
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newintown
Broadway Legend
joined:3/3/10
I always find that the wires running down the backs of shirtless men (like in Ghost) sort of ruin any sort of illusion of spontaneity.
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JoeKv99
Broadway Legend
joined:12/27/04
I guess that while I am suspending disbelief enough to accept the paper-selling orphans breaking out in song and dance I can tune out the teeny tiny dot on their cheek or forehead.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
broadwayguy2
Broadway Legend
joined:5/18/03
There are some mic packs that are smaller than the size of your hand (Shure Audio manufactures one that comes to mind) and the actual mic element can vary in size and shape as well. Sennheiser currently has one mic that is about the size of the head of a match.

Choice of mic and placement involves many many many factors, and size of the mic element isn't the CHIEF concern, but certainly a factor for the sound designer.
The closer to the mouth, the more natural the sound pick up will be. The mic CAN be concealed completely with an actor's natural hair, but with a wig, you want the mic element to not be covered by the wig lace, which could create the sound of static if it moved and rubs the mic. Forehead placement or a 'headset' mic (I don't get why people here refer to them as air traffic controllers.. hyperbole much?) provide a better sound pick up that doesn't distort the voice, where as over the ear, certain sounds / pitches can be distorted. if the actor has to change wigs, that is also a factor, since you don't want the microphone accidentally ruined during the wig change if it is in the way..

Personally, I don't MIND visible mics in pop / rock / modern / non-realistic shows, but a noticeable mic can be awful in a show staged in a more naturalistic fashion.

As far as microphones in rain scenes, there ARE microphones that you can get wet. DiCappo manufactures one such element. I've seen it used to stir a glass of water and it worked just fine immediately after.

Part of the issue, to me, also seems to be the frequent use of the same stable of designers and the union contract and the producers. Certain designers - Scott Lehrer comes to mind - who do a great job, especially in hiding microphones and making the show natural. However, a LOT of designers who have been around for a while don't always like to delve into newer technologies and stay with what they are comfortable working with... the union contracts for designers also only requires them to speak to a couple of shops to supply the various elements, so they stick with shops they know. Sound systems are rented, so a lot depends on what the shop has in stock. if the shop doesn't have it in stock, the Producer can chose to buy new elements for the system and the rental house may buy them at a discount after closing, but that depends on what the producer has in budget and if the rental house agrees.
raker
Stand-by
joined:12/27/08
I hate seeing those telemarketing-type headset microphones on actors only slightly less than I hate hearing cell phones ringing in the audience.
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My Oh My
Broadway Legend
joined:6/29/07
I have major issues with the super visible headset type in most shows. It's OK in Rent because it was part of the show's "look" and itself makes a strong statement that gels with the themes (nonconformist, nontraditional, rock/pop, rebellious, yada yada...The purpose there was to integrate the mics with the show's overall design and spirit, which was achievable by simply showing instead of hiding them.

But I can't stand seeing those types of mics in shows where integrating them as part of the visual message is not only unimportant but unnecessary. Not to mention a far stretch since I can't think of how a show not distinctly like Rent would benefit from the aggressively visible little arm pointing at every cast member's mouth onstage. It gets on my nerves because the rationale behind that is usually that it looks "cool."

Which is why 99.9% of high school productions have casts composed of telemarketers. It's so effin kewl, man! Rockstar. *eye roll*

As for people who cry over that "wart" on so-so's forehead or cheek, I bet they're also the type of audience members who just don't "get" theatre and are then easily irritated by anything that tells us THIS IS LIVE THEATRE.

How frustrating it must be to not "get" what you're watching, not because it's somehow confusing, but because they're oblivious to that "so fake but somehow manages to be more real than the real thing" aesthetic that is just one of the features that makes live musical theatre so incredibly thrilling and unique. To think that a small lump on a noggin readily shatters some illusion makes me glad I'm perceptive enough to anticipate a lack of boring reality upon that stage--where it doesn't belong in the first place!!!! LOL.
Recreation of original John Cameron orchestration to "On My Own" by yours truly. Click player below to hear.
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finebydesign
Broadway Legend
joined:7/17/07
It doesn't "shatter" an illusion to me, it just looks aesthetically stupid to me. Most of these shows have incredible design elements including hair, wig, makeup and costume, to see these mics sometimes is weird.

We've gotten some great input from sound guys on here. It's fascinating learning about the logistics.
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booth0882
Stand-by
joined:11/16/11
It varies so much from show to show, and from performer to performer even within the show. Prime example is in How to succeed. The male chorus wears mics over the ear. Ellen Harvey wears hers just bellow her hair line, and Nick Jonas wears his on the front of his dress shirt. (While Daniel wore his just bellow his hair line)

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