About halfway through each rehearsal process, actors in a Lean & Hungry production get stuck spending 20 minutes alone in a room with me. As a non-actor and non-director who has more experience attending theater than making it, I may seem like an illogical choice to be part of a theater production. But Lean & Hungry’s productions throw in an extra twist: microphones. As a staff member at WAMU 88.5 FM and liaison between the station and Lean & Hungry Theater, it’s my job to work with the individual cast members to get them comfortable talking into a microphone.
Talking into a microphone may sound like a simple task, but there’s more to it than just standing there and speaking. Each actor is responsible for “mixing” his/her own audio levels, moving closer when quiet and farther away when loud. This is made more complicated that the fact that actors often play multiple characters with distinct voices and relationships to the microphone.
In our 20 minute crash course, actors find the ideal distance and angle from the microphone for each volume of each character. We also work through avoiding common microphone pitfalls such as popped plosives (when the air from a P, K or T causes an unpleasant popping sound on the microphone), sounds that may not translate well over radio (whistling, crying, screaming, etc.) and moving heads away from microphones.
All of this combines to make an impressive personal choreography for each actor: moving forward, backing off and changing axis with the microphone as his/her character necessitates.
If you’re able to attend The Scarlet Letter at Artisphere on February 28th, I hope you’re able to see the work the actors are doing to control their audio levels. If you’re listening to it on the radio or stream, try to keep in mind the fact that the broadcast engineers are hardly touching their boards, since the actors are in manipulating their own audio levels.
Join Lean & Hungry Theater for our 1-hour performance of The Scarlet Letter on February 28, 2014 at 8:00 pm in Artisphere’s Dome Theater. The performance will be broadcast live on WAMU 88.5, Washington’s most-listened-to radio station.