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Keeping live music alive at the Young Vic

By AimeeDickinson 24 Apr 2023

The outside of the Young Vic at night

The magic of live theatre relies on integrating the latest technologies to maximise space, improve access provisions and bring the highest quality performances to audiences. With the generous support of Bloomberg as part of their Digital Accelerator Program, the Young Vic have connected multiple spaces in our building, from studios to the main house, together, using recently installed fibre optic infrastructure. Most recently, this was used in the musical Mandela to instantaneously relay the music from the band performing in the Clare Studio to the cast and audience in the main auditorium on the other side of the building. It was also a vital development to facilitate our Best Seat in Your House worldwide broadcast of the show, in which we live streamed from every room within the building, from the band in the Clare Studio to the BSL interpreter in the Maria Studio and of course the show itself from the main auditorium.

About the Bloomberg Digital Accelerator Program

The Young Vic is amongst the first cohort of organisations to take part in the Bloomberg Digital Accelerator Program. The program provides arts organisations with grant and pro bono support to make strategic improvements in their technology infrastructure, to both enhance core operations and to devise and deliver bold cultural projects. Areas of focus for our participation in this program are increasing the accessibility of and in our theatre-making spaces through the use of technology, and enhancing the technical abilities and facilities of these spaces to create work on the intersection of theatre and digital arts.

Comment from Sean Mayes, Musical Director of Mandela  

“This is actually not the first time that I’ve led a band performing in a different space to the main auditorium, as it’s becoming increasingly more common. As theatres move into modern age and receive structural updates, often times, pits at the front of the stage are removed in order to maximize the performance space. Being remote has its disadvantages but also many advantages – it enables us to achieve a very tight sound because we have full control of all the levels with the micing, an element we sometimes lose with having the instrumentalists live in the main performance space where there’s only so much acoustic control you can have.

I think this could be the future for more musicals, as it helps economize space and gives sound designers more control over the full sound in the theatre space itself. In a musical, the music is the driving element throughout that ties together all the others. It’s important for the integrity of the liveness of the music to be maintained, and this technology is a great way to facilitate that.” 

Comment from Kyle MacPherson, Head of Sound at the Young Vic 

“Leading the installation of the new fibre optic infrastructure was an exciting project to work on. Working closely with the install team from A&M Productions we had to plan how the system would be used immediately but also how it could be used in the future. With the flexibility of all the spaces at the Young Vic we had to make sure that where we placed each connection point would be useful in any show configuration.  

The fibre installation was firstly designed to support our live streaming service, Best Seat in Your House. The new installation allowed us to transmit 4k digital video from our main theatre space to another space in the theatre where the director could cut between cameras or allow the user to select a camera to watch. Part of Best Seat in Your House is making sure each show that is live streamed is accessible to all, by providing Audio Description, Captioning, and British Sign Language, on every stream. Having the fibre infrastructure has allowed us to meet the requirements of each of the experienced providers by being able to move them into different spaces around the theatre and still provide high quality video of them, to the stream, and a copy of the stream to them.  

The fibre infrastructure has also allowed us to overcome show specific problems. On Mandela we were struggling to find space for the band on stage or within the theatre. Several options were thought through but everyone agreed putting the band in another room was the best way forward, known as remoting the band. Once we had decided to have the band in a separate space, the layout of the musicians became a very simple discussion for Paul Gatehouse, the Sound Designer, and Sean Mayes, the musical Director. Although this is not the first time any of us have worked with a remote band, this was the first time we could achieve it so simply through the fibre infrastructure made possible through Bloomberg funding.  

The band being in a separate space, not only allowed the design team to have more control over what the audience heard, but it also meant we needed more equipment in the space to make sure everything was picked up for the audience. Having the fibre infrastructure meant we could easily increase the number of microphones in the space without worrying about running cables through the building or the number of connections required to broadcast to the Main House.  

If it wasn’t for the fibre installation, I don’t think it would have been possible for us to put the band in the Clare Studio. This would have had a massive effect on the staging, audio, and the space of the show.” 

Click here to find out more about the Bloomberg Digital Accelerator Program