Sydney Theatre Company selected the digital wireless comms system from Clear-Com to replace an ageing wireless comms system for their theatrical productions.

An important element of live theatre, communication between the stage manager, sound and lighting operators, stage hands, fly crew and all the other people behind-the-scenes, brings a show to life. In an environment where half a second can mean the difference between an audience crying or laughing, it’s absolutely vital that the command to ‘go’ on cue comes through clean and clear.

Ben Lightowlers, Head of Sound at Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Theatres, had been searching for a digital replacement for their aging wireless comms system, but kept coming up against the recurring problems of sound quality and digital signal latency. He recalled that digital wireless technology had teething problems and latency was an issue across many brands, which was not only distracting but also impacted the audio quality.

Late in 2014, American comms giant Clear-Com, already the industry standard in theatre communications, released FreeSpeak II, a digital wireless comms system operating in the globally license-free 1.897 to 1.933GHz range. Ben trialled a demonstration system provided by Australian distributor Jands.

Ben was impressed with the system’s low latency, clarity and wireless coverage. Sydney Theatre Company invested in one FreeSpeak II-Base base station, eight FreeSpeak II beltpacks, two AC-60 battery chargers, and three FreeSpeak II Active Antennas.

Ben and the team have configured their FreeSpeak II system to run four communications loops: show loop, stage management loop, sound loop, and lighting loop. Each beltpack is capable of receiving five separate loops, and accesses them through four programmable push buttons. Ben has programmed most of the packs to receive two loops only, customised to each user group – show loop plus lighting loop, and show loop plus stage management loop. Production management receives all four, as does sound, who are responsible for monitoring and maintaining the comms system, a task made easier by the built-in remote monitoring via Ethernet.

According to Ben, the base station is hooked into their corporate network and can be accessed from their office at the other end of the building to check on status.

The FreeSpeak II system has integrated effortlessly into the Wharf Theatre’s existing Clear-Com wired system, giving technicians the option of staying wired at control positions or going mobile.

The improved performance has inspired Ben to upgrade and extend the system. In addition to upgrading their wired system to Clear-Com’s digital system HelixNet, he would like to get more FreeSpeak II Active Antennas to extend their wireless coverage further down the wharf.

As touring crews and guest artists have come through the STC’s venues, Ben has noted that the FreeSpeak II system is accepted and used intuitively by a wide range of theatre practitioners. Clear-Com’s FreeSpeak II is allowing Sydney Theatre Company’s staff and guest technicians to concentrate fully and act together seamlessly to create an experience that is real, dangerous, live and electrifying for their audience.

Jands is a leading Australian distributor of professional sound systems as well as lighting and staging systems.