No Lose Talking with Britannia Row and Al Pacino

“It’s a voice that’s so distinctive and familiar. You don’t even need to see him. The minute Al Pacino steps on stage and utters his first word you are instantly transported to any number of characters he has played. For me it was Michael Corleone in the Godfather: softly spoken, and with that stillness the camera loves, he conveyed enormous power.” With a description such as this, it is no wonder Front of House (FoH) engineer Chris ‘Privet’ Hedge was excited. “I have to say I was as nervous doing this as any of the big rock and pop shows I regularly do, certainly more nervous than I have been in a long while.”

Britannia Row, Al Pacino, DPA 4060, DPA 4080, Midas Pro 2

The event was three live interviews with Al Pacino staged variously in Dublin, Glasgow and London theatres. Britannia Row Productions (Britrow) was responsible for the sound, drafting in the deft hand of Hedge to manage the show. As Director Bryan Grant said at the time, “This was an unusual challenge and Chris was definitely the right man to take it on.”

Bearing in mind Hedge’s earlier observation about Pacino’s voice, microphone selection was at the front of his mind. “You could hear a pin drop in the three venues, such was the respect of the audience. Fortunately Tom Brown, Britrow’s project manager, had anticipated the focus on a natural vocal and contacted Sound Network, UK distributor for DPA Microphones. Caleb Hill recommended a combination, the regular DPA 4060 omni, and the discreet 4080. A two mic option was essential anyway but it was great that Caleb was able to arrange the demo of the 4080 supercardioid. I experimented with them the first afternoon, ending up with them mounted side by side on the same clip on his lapel. I varied the ratio of what I took from each during the show, depending on how softly or loudly he was speaking, and it worked very well. A 40/60% mix (4080/4060) was the default as it gave me more mid-range, adding weight to the voice around 500-600Hz. The result was very natural. Because the audience were so quiet I never needed to push that low end, another contribution to the natural sound.”

Britrow provided a Midas Pro 2, mics, an L-acoustic monitor system, and a Helixnet comms system, Hedge using house PA at each venue. “We had Meyer in Glasgow, the installed K2 system in London (Hammersmith) and the Bordgáis Energy Theatre in Dublin was a d&b Q-Series. These are all systems I know well and all performed as I needed; the K2 in Hammersmith was especially good as it was already set-up primarily to support the comedy shows in there, which are all of course, speech based. The show was a mix of monologues from Pacino and direct interview – him with Mark Kermode in London for example – illuminated with scheduled films clips illustrative of the wider points being made. In total, including moderators, audience Q&A and spares, we had 4 DPA and eight hand-held mics.”

“Unusual in my experience, the comms system was big, two video stations; lighting; the teleprompt runner who was based FoH, the Stage Manager who also called the VT, and the house lights as they were very much part of the show going up/down for the VT pieces. And of course there were follow spots. That’s not an experience I’m accustomed to. How often does a front of house concert engineer end up on the stage manager’s call system? Britrow’s new Helixnet comms system was very solid, I was for example, easily excluded from the lighting to follow spot circuit, but needed to know when the VT would run. Very good for a two wire system, and very clean sounding, especially as Mr Pacino’s Stage Manager Carol Avery, had to whisper cues very quietly throughout.”

A rare event indeed, and not one Hedge is likely to forget, “when he walked in and said, “How’re ya doin’ Privet?” at the second venue I was like a starstruck kid. He was also quite playful with all the crew, so it was fun to do. When he did the monologues his roots in theatre really became apparent, the whole theatre would come alive. Fantastic.”


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