Shaolin is the kind of touring production the monks have become famous for. Combining extraordinary feats of human endurance, martial arts demonstrations and traditional Chinese music, the theatrical spectacular serves to highlight exactly what is possible when you put your mind to it.

In a show such as this where miscalculations can have the most severe consequences, planning is key. This goes for every aspect from the choreography to the technical requirements. As such, it should not be surprising that the recent Big Concerts promoted Johannesburg run of the production was one of the smoothest jobs possible for local theatre specialists, Splitbeam.

'It's not really a complicated show for us to put together. Planning is always the important thing,' smiles Marcel Wijnberger, Splitbeam's senior A/V engineer and project manager on site for the setup. 'They pre-visualised everything about four days before they arrived so we had a really good understanding of what they needed, the positioning, all the channel counts and everything before everyone arrived.'

While the production knew what it wanted for the run at Teatro at Montecasino, building the right technical setup is a two way street. 'We do quite a lot of work in the theatres around Johannesburg and so Teatro is certainly one of the places where we do a lot of work. We've got to know it very well which is why we can foresee issues and tailor make a system to that space,' offers Michael Inglis, assistant technical manager at Splitbeam.

This helps with setup and with finding the correct mix of the PA system, the lights that work for where you need to put them and so on. With something like Shaolin, it's similar to dance where you have performers who have quite specific requirements in terms of the stage area and what's needed there. There is less focus on the set for a production like this; it's more focused on the performer.

'A production like this is not a lot different from other ones that come into the country,' continues Mr Inglis. 'There are specific needs, but a lot of the time it's about making contact with the production team on that show. Once you start talking, it's about getting to grips with their technical rider and what they require and then you start putting the details together. There is a lot that is common between a vast number of productions because you are trying to light the stage and you're trying to give good sound.

Those things are a base but once you interact with the people who bring in the production, they give you the details on how their production is unique and what the requirements are.'

For Mr Inglis it is this level of coordination rather than the technical input that is important for the success of a touring production. 'With a lot of the touring options, because they're not putting up the show for the first time, they are really quite specific. They don't need a lot of input on how to do it, it's more about time. So being able to realise technically in the space that you are in within the timeframe that you've got is really essential,' he reasons. 'Because it's a touring production, the time constraints are an issue, so being able to find out exactly what's needed and not having to guess on site is what you need at a really high level.'

In the case of Shaolin, having this information in advance saw Splitbeam deploy a Meyer Sound rig with L-R main hangs combined with a full surround setup to create the necessary soundscape. 'We have a whole bunch of M1Ds for surrounds, we are also using a couple on the stage lip for front-fills,' explains Mr Wijnberger. 'We've got two M'elodie stacks with four subs and then some Electro-Voice speakers for side-fill. Then on stage we have the Shure floor mics to pick up all the ambient sound and to mic the musicians. It's all mixed on a Midas Pro 1 and then the sound engineer is running QLab with eight channels out.'

Away from the audio, the lighting and video rigs needed to be extremely precise to provide the visual spectacle without distracting the performers on stage. 'Up on the roof for our FOH truss we've got quite a few ETC Source4s, then we're using a couple of Vari-Lite 3500s as well as the VL2500 washes on the front,' says Mr Wijnberger. 'On stage we're using 12 Robe 600s, some VL3000s and some more VL2500 washes. We have quite a few par cans as side lights and then we've got a couple of Atomics up there with everything controlled by a grandMA2. It's not a massive rig but it's really effective.'

The only area where Splitbeam needed to move away from the rider came with the video element. 'They would normally run an LED backdrop but purely because of the amount of time it is in here, two 21K Christie projectors with a pair of Catalyst V5 servers were the order of the day,' explains Mr Wijnberger. Despite this change, good planning meant everything was relatively straightforward for the setup. 'The Wysiwyg was pretty much bang on,' smiles Mr Wijnberger.

'There were a few things that they had to update because of heights and things like that, but pretty much the show was done. It's nice to see that guys have come and spent a bit of time on the Wysiwyg and the show is pretty much done bar a few presets here and there and a couple of timings. It's the sort of thing you would see on some of the bigger shows coming in from Broadway where they literally just pull in finished and ready to go.

'The setup has gone really nicely,' he continues. 'It was a really good coordination between all the departments for the load in, it was really smooth. There were one or two late nights, but that happens.' The level of planning and coordination that has gone into the making of the show is apparent as Pro Audio MEA takes its seat in the theatre. While the technology driving the show is a relatively simple setup, it is exactly what is required to enhance the experience and tell the story of the Shaolin Monks.

The overall effect is an environment which both focuses the attention of the audience on what is happening on stage while also transporting them to the monks' home in the foothills of the Song Shang mountain range. The Shure mics ably pick up the impact as the monks break metal bars or slabs of marble with various parts of their anatomy. At the same time, gentle birdsong through the M1D speakers and the subtle lighting effects creates a tranquil environment completely at odds with what is taking place on stage. It just goes to show, with detailed planning and a high level of coordination, anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

Story by James Ling and photo by Kevin Sutherland (courtesy Big Concerts) Reprinted courtesy of ProAudio MEA

Sep 19, 2016

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