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Anyone want dedicated software for theatre FOH communications.
Old 24th November 2015
  #1
Gear Addict
 

Anyone want dedicated software for theatre FOH communications.

I do a lot of musical theatre with lots of radio mics and a radio mic assistant back stage, but communications between FOH and radio mic land (to handle broken mics, mics succumbing to sweat, mics in need of turning on or moving to a different position of the actor etc.) has traditionally been by walkie talkies, which is not optimal for the following reasons:

1. Difficult to hear over the music
2. Too noisy communication during quiet passages
3. Stressful to have to handle that communication while busy with running the show

I've been dreaming of having made a dedicated software solution to handle this, and I just had a meeting with a couple of developers about this. Now we're interested in knowing if anyone else out there would be interested in buying something like this - and if anyone knows something like this that already exists.

The solution we're looking into right now, would likely be a small HTML-server based thing, that could be accessed from any browser so it could be platform independent - possibly having the server run on a Raspberry Pi and then using whatever laptop, tablets or phones you want to access it on a local network - wired or cabled as you wish.

It would have a "technician mode" interface to be used at FOH and by the radio mic assistant and probably an "info screen mode" that you could run on tablets mounted all over the venue - back stage and in dressing rooms.

It would work like this:

When the FOH or radio mic assistant spots a problem with a radio mic, it's as simple as typing the number of the radio mic (rarely, if ever, more than 2 digits) and then hitting one of 8-10 dedicated buttons with assignable issues. These buttons would be configured with labels such as: "Sweat", "Bad Cable", "No Output", "Turned Off", "Move Mic Closer to Mouth", "Move Mic Further from Mouth" etc.

With just these 2-3 keystrokes a new "issue" will be opened, and will appear flashing on a list of currently open issues on all terminals connected to the server, and the radio mic assistant can press "Acknowledged" and the flashing will stop, then go on to solve the issue.

In the meantime, as soon as a new issue is opened, all terminals connected in "Info Screen"-mode, will go from a complete blank, black page to having the issue displayed in large text while flashing the background of the screen to attract attention. This will alert all actors hanging out backstage or anywhere else, that there's an issue, and the actor involved can be quickly located and instructed to go to the radio mic-area, turn on his/her radio mic or whatever action may be appropriate.

When the radio mic assistant has solved the problem he/she will close the issue, which will be reflected on the terminal at FOH to let the FOH engineer know the problem has been fixed and the info screens around the back stage and dressing room areas will go blank once again.

A small free-text chat interface on the terminals in technician mode will accomodate all eventualities and allow communication of complex unforeseeable issues. The radio mic assistant could f.inst. use this to write: "We're swapping radio mic 5 for radio mic 31" etc.

The question is: what do you theatre guys think of this? Would anyone be interested in paying for this software?
Old 24th November 2015
  #2
Lives for gear
 

Absolutely, great idea. I had almost the exact same thought myself while doing a show a few months ago. I was on a comms headset at FOH relaying cues to the FOH guy so he could get the cues without having to listen to a headset. I also ran the comms line to another guy side stage so I could request fixes like you describe. This was the same comm line as the stage manager was using for cueing so I had to be careful to time my talking between those cues. It worked perfectly well but it would have been nice to have a dual circuit comm system so I could talk to him when I wanted without interrupting anyone else.

It had occurred to me that I could have set up my touch screen laptop with an application that would present me a grid with all the mic numbers (possibly overlayed on the cast headshots) on one side of the screen and a grid of problems elsewhere on the screen (batteries, RF, tape etc.) and with a big "send" button.

In my mind these touch-buttons would be connected to a "virtual keyboard" with pre-programmed text strings which would be entered into an IM chat window as the buttons were pressed. I could hit the box for "Mic 14", then hit "tape" then hit "Send" and it would send an IM message reading "Mic 14 tape".

It would basically be the same as the smiley faces on this forum where you click on them and it enters a predefined set of characters, imagine each of those smilies as a picture of a cast member. You could even think of the "post icons" as problem types.

As I was on comms this wouldn't have been as necessary, but if you're cueing yourself it would be great. I could have kept comm chatter down by using a dual circuit system, but we didn't have one and this would have solved that.

If needed at short notice I would realistically have just typed it in manually on a LAN messenger system. Via Cat5 is possible, but failing that WiFi would have probably been fine.

A purpose built system like you described would be much more streamlined, the version I thought of was going to be an improvisation from available tools as I don't know how to write software.

I'd want the option to add cast images to the mic numbers and to be able to create custom problem types, along with a text box for more complicated issues such as "check this, but if it isn't the issue do this instead".
Old 24th November 2015
  #3
Lives for gear
Sounds good, but i can see it struggling to gain any traction against the entrenched partyline comms systems (rts, telex etc..) that we are all so used to using. I know I for one would have a hard time giving up the immediacy of feedback you get, as well as the ability to operate the system by touch with one finger (not to mention the comms banter)

As an aside, have you tried using headsets or earpieces with those radios you are using? It sounds like it would offer you a much better solution than you currently have, or look into the 'blue clone' system on blue room as an affordable wsy of doing partyline comms
Old 24th November 2015
  #4
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What the comm systems don't have is the ability to put a mic number on various backstage screens to alert the cast member that they are being looked for, though I suppose that side of things could be considered the domain of the back-stage mic fixer.

Chris
Old 24th November 2015
  #5
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by azlan121 View Post
Sounds good, but i can see it struggling to gain any traction against the entrenched partyline comms systems (rts, telex etc..) that we are all so used to using. I know I for one would have a hard time giving up the immediacy of feedback you get, as well as the ability to operate the system by touch with one finger (not to mention the comms banter)

As an aside, have you tried using headsets or earpieces with those radios you are using? It sounds like it would offer you a much better solution than you currently have, or look into the 'blue clone' system on blue room as an affordable wsy of doing partyline comms
I see the off-line nature of the chat-like communication style as one of the large benefits of the system. The FOH engineer doesn't have to hear what the radio mic assistant is saying at the exact same time as he/she's saying it and vice versa, which I find to be a pain during a busy part of a show. Radio mics always break down at inconvenient times.

I don't like using headsets, as I need to hear what I'm doing - much easier for lighting guys. But I do when I have to, currently.

I like the idea of making 3 button presses on an iPad placed right on the console (I'm using a CL5) and know the problem is being handled.
Old 24th November 2015
  #6
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris93 View Post
What the comm systems don't have is the ability to put a mic number on various backstage screens to alert the cast member that they are being looked for, though I suppose that side of things could be considered the domain of the back-stage mic fixer.

Chris
I think it would be much quicker if everyone, everywhere is immediately alerted instead of the backstage radio mic assistant having to run all over the place looking for a particular person. Could cut down the time it takes to fix the problem dramatically, which might be crucial if the actor has to go on stage in a short while.

I like your idea of having pictures of all the actors in the system, though I think the complexity it will add to this otherwise rather simple system, would make it not a top priority. The current plan is to implement a name list, so the system automatically adds the name of the actor to both the technician screens and the info screens, so everyone knows whom to look for.

Last edited by Dog Boots; 24th November 2015 at 07:05 PM..
Old 24th November 2015
  #7
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Cool idea, lots of potential there. I do think you could do a great deal of it with TouchOSC and midi messages. Then any tablet or phone could display the info. You could even generate messages direct from your console for certain things.
Old 24th November 2015
  #8
Gear Head
I would be somewhat interested in this. My main concern is I seldom go to an event with more than 3 iPads/tablets present. Having these littered around backstage seems like a costly investment.

What we usually do at all our plays is set up a IEM system with face mics for the crew. This gives us wireless communications all across the venue between everyone. We run this through our standard monitor desk and if any changes need to be made the monitor engineer can make them in between handling stage monitors. This also allows us to be routed through the PA or performers in ears during rehearsals if we need to say something.
Old 25th November 2015
  #9
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Dutchy15's Avatar
Sounds like a great idea, but it also sounds like something that should be cross-platform and be able to run on a browser. It should be networkable and function over wifi as well. This allows you to run it over the CAT cable that is already there in most situations and also allows you to use Raspberry Pi's to turn the ethernet info straight into video info to go into backstage screens.

I don't see this replacing a traditional partyline intercom, though it would be a great add-on.


Dutchy
Old 25th November 2015
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dutchy15 View Post
Sounds like a great idea, but it also sounds like something that should be cross-platform and be able to run on a browser. It should be networkable and function over wifi as well. This allows you to run it over the CAT cable that is already there in most situations and also allows you to use Raspberry Pi's to turn the ethernet info straight into video info to go into backstage screens.

I don't see this replacing a traditional partyline intercom, though it would be a great add-on.


Dutchy
There are affordable RPi touchscreen kits that could be a great platform for this kind of thing. Check out the stuff at Adafruit.
Old 25th November 2015
  #11
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Dutchy15's Avatar
Those Adafruit PCB's are pretty awesome, but for some backstage screens you don't need touch capability, they just need to display which actors are carrying faulty equipment and need to go over to wireless world. Having video over ethernet for this is probably the easiest and cheapest solution. An ethernet-to-video converter might be a bit cheaper than a Pi, but they don't always work with switches. Since the Pi is just a computer you can have a whole bunch of them in a network, making connectivity a lot easier.

As long as it's cross-platform and networkable, users can develop custom solutions for their specific situation.


Dutchy
Old 26th November 2015
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanLotz View Post
I would be somewhat interested in this. My main concern is I seldom go to an event with more than 3 iPads/tablets present. Having these littered around backstage seems like a costly investment.
I'm thinking that with the amount of super cheap tablets in the stores and old laptops that are filling up closets and attics and can be had for almost or literally nothing, it won't be too much of an investment.
Old 3rd December 2015
  #13
Gear Head
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dog Boots View Post
I'm thinking that with the amount of super cheap tablets in the stores and old laptops that are filling up closets and attics and can be had for almost or literally nothing, it won't be too much of an investment.
I have been doing small scale theater, about 2 plays a year for 5 years now and it is a lot more cost effective for us to hire a party line comms unit most of the time for 3 nights than to source that many devices.

Maybe it's just cause the plays I do are small scale.
Old 3rd December 2015
  #14
Gear Nut
 

everyone's eyes are on stage, not on screen. If text is better than voice, something like a chatroom could solve this problem.
Old 7th December 2015
  #15
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Dutchy15's Avatar
This is not a system that would be used for short productions, we're talking about broadway stuff. This is interesting for any show that is performed in only one theatre for a longer period of time. Here in the Netherlands we have a show called "Soldaat van Oranje" which is played 7 times a week in an 1100-seat theatre. They've been running for over 5 years now (1600+ shows). This is the kind of situation where you'd want a system like this.

A chatroom is not an option. Typing text takes (way too much) time and makes annoying noise, especially at FOH. This system would allow the FOH engineer to send a silent message to wireless world with two gestures; select the wireless channel (i.e. beltpack 27) and select the problem (no sound at all, broken-cable-cracking, mic position changed because of a dress change, etc.). If the problem is more complicated there is always the partyline intercom to fix it.


Dutchy
Old 5 days ago
  #16
Here for the gear
 

Hi all did this ever get made and if so where do i get it from
Old 5 days ago
  #17
Lives for gear
Several Digico consoles already have a text chat feature.
IRC with an on-scren macro keyboard (or actual macro keyboard) would get very close in functionality to what the OP suggested.
Old 4 days ago
  #18
S21
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I don’t think it went anywhere. Reading the thread for the first time I thought that it would be nice to have some form of distributed troubleshooting flowchart/wiring-diagram so that the operators were guided through the fault and could see what the fault symptoms were from multiple operator’s perspectives.
Old 3 days ago
  #19
Gear Head
 

I can see this being useful for comms during loud arena shows where sound covers the intercoms.

In my example a video director would need to send messages to media server operators on stage, a number if preset messages would make everyting easy.

We usually run a number of stuff on tcpip network so this app being network based would be the most logical thing.
Really great idea!
Old 2 days ago
  #20
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i mostly opt for matrices/mix minus busses with a couple of tb mic's (and whatever else is needed) going into shout boxes at various places and my pfl speaker - faster than typing in any text or programming buttons imo.
Old 2 days ago
  #21
S21
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Agreed. But a really well thought out app (that doesn’t exist now) could work too.

Most comms troubleshooting follows a fairly predictable pattern.

In the absence of such an app, things get fixed ok.
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