The phrase “taking the show on the road” is not always meant literally but when describing The Public Theater’s current use of Clear-Com technologies it comes close.
Like all performing arts organizations dealing with the COVID shutdown, The Public Theater in New York City has turned to remote productions, recording projects and livestreaming to stay connected with its audiences. That means production and technical teams are communicating with each other mostly from home. The theater is keeping those teams connected through a combination of Clear-Com’s Agent-IC® mobile app and FreeSpeak II® digital wireless intercom system.
The Public Theater produces a diverse range of programming across New York City spaces: the landmark theater on Astor Place, which houses 5 theaters and Joe’s Pub, The Delacorte Theater in Central Park and programs that travel to remote production locations throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
The team has used the FreeSpeak II system for several years, relying on it as the main source of theater communications during shows and rehearsals.
“During technical rundowns and previews, it allows easy and clear communications among stage managers, designers, backstage crews and technical teams,” said Corrine Livingston, Audio Supervisor, The Public Theater. “The wireless aspect gives everyone so much more freedom to move around without being connected to a cable. At The Delacorte, our 16 channels of FreeSpeak allow our teams to walk around that 1800-seat amphitheater and focus on getting their jobs done: props, handoffs, automation, whatever they need to do.”
As shows grow more elaborate and complex, the FreeSpeak II system has kept pace with the theater’s expanding production requirements.
“Audience expectations are increasing,” Livingston said. “There’s more video and multimedia now incorporated into shows. We’ve seen our design teams grow in numbers. Comms used to be just a designer and A-1 [primary audio engineer] talking to the stage manager. Now it’s full design teams, programmers and others who also need to be in contact on a system. Our level of communications had to progress and FreeSpeak gives us the flexibility for this growth.”
Even before the COVID pandemic shut down daily life, hitting the events community especially hard, the team was already exploring mobile communications technologies like Zoom or internet chat applications to complement its use of the FreeSpeak II system. The shutdown accelerated that search and once remote workflows became a necessity; Agent-IC proved to be the perfect solution.
“We’re theater people essentially trying to do broadcasts now, but not in a studio situation,” said Malachy “Mack” Kronberg, Associate Audio Supervisor, The Public Theater. “We’re doing them from remote locations and from home. All the actors, the creatives, the designers are home. We’ll have stage managers calling cues from their homes. We needed a system that was easy to use but also reliable enough to base our show communications around.”
The group started using Agent-IC in late summer 2020, and Kronberg recalled one virtual event where he was able to troubleshoot audio issues remotely just as easily as if he had been on site.
“Someone texted me, asked me to hop on Agent-IC and I was able to jump in immediately and help them work through a problem without having to do the cell phone dance,” he said. “I could talk to multiple people at the same time, everybody could understand what I was saying and they didn’t have to drop their show communication. I just logged in from my house and was able to troubleshoot remotely.”
Compared to other available mobile options, Agent-IC checked all the boxes for the group.
“It’s low latency and high quality, which is essential for theater communications,” said Kronberg. “And it doesn’t require additional equipment because it’s a phone app. Everyone has a phone and a pair of headphones. With any mobile communications, you will encounter blips and hiccups in your connection while walking down the street. But Agent-IC does a really good job of eliminating those blips or at least not having them interfere with the communications.”
Looking ahead to when the pandemic eventually subsides, The Public team is confident theater performances and live events will return, bringing audiences with them. They are also confident their communications infrastructure will continue to be a combination of FreeSpeak II and Agent-IC.
“FreeSpeak remains our proven source of theater communications,” Livingston said. “Complementing that with Agent-IC enables people to work out of their homes and still do a show virtually so we can keep our theater operating, visible and relevant. It’s helped us pivot and adapt to a new way of operating. This is a game-changer.”