For over 60 years, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has presented masterful theater performances and has consistently expanded its commitment to its patrons from Greater Cincinnati and those who come from far and wide to experience its wide-ranging programming.
With the installation of Clear-Com®’s Arcadia® Central Station, FreeSpeak Edge®, and FreeSpeak II® Wireless Intercom Systems as part of their 2023 expansion, the multiple Tony Award-winning facility has increased its ability to communicate fluently across its entire campus.
Following a large capital-raising campaign, the Playhouse just opened a new building in March. “It was a total campus renovation,” explains Aaron Stephenson, A/V Supervisor for the Playhouse. “It was a big investment for the build, but also [for] the technology needed to make it functional.”
Aaron explains that the large, nonprofit theater frequently aspires to transition shows to Broadway, and has won a Tony Award for a show they successfully transitioned to New York. Because of this, they needed a backstage communication system that could handle very different needs for productions ranging from dramas, jukebox musicals and farces to big Broadway shows with a 26-person cast and 20-person orchestra.
“We need to be able to facilitate communication between all of those,” Aaron says. “And we often have specific channels where you have one team talking about one thing and another team talking about another thing, so we can work efficiently to get these shows up and running to make great theater.”
Ultimately, the Playhouse installed Arcadia because it could handle all their comms in the 537-seat Moe and Jack’s Place – The Rouse Theater and the 172-seat Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theatre. “Arcadia combined all the functionality we required in one device,” Aaron says. “No matter what we need, we can facilitate it in both spaces, which none of us expected we'd be able to do with one base station. So it has exceeded our expectations.”
The Playhouse always strives to provide patrons with the best possible experience via cutting-edge technology and by dedicating the necessary resources to ensure their shows are great on a local, national, and global scale. “That requires a lot of personnel,” he continues, “light and sound operators, stage crew, automation, spotlights, and stage management and design teams from around the country." All require constant, detailed communication at every stage of the process, from tech rehearsals to performances.
“That's where Clear-Com comes into the picture,” Aaron continued. “Their technology is so flexible, modular, and scalable. With Arcadia and FreeSpeak II, we're discovering features we didn't even realize we wanted until we found them in the software and realized, ‘Wow, we can route it this way, then change it on the fly as needed’.”
Arcadia was up and running when staff got into the new building in February 2023. “Even though we had minimal training on the system, when we set it up, it worked on the first try, which is rare. Right off the bat, the cross-platform functionality – using all these different Clear-Com technologies together and being able to communicate between them – was tremendous.”
The system consists of FreeSpeak Edge, FreeSpeak II, and a previously-used analog 4-channel wired system – all of which are run simultaneously through Arcadia, allowing for fluent, reliable communicating between digital and analog, wired and wireless, comms. “We can also create custom groups/channels that we can change to meet the distinct needs of tech rehearsals, previews, and production, which serves us very well,” Aaron adds.
“We’ve been devoted Clear-Com acolytes for years,” he continues. "Moving to Arcadia, FreeSpeak Edge, and FreeSpeak II offers substantial benefits in meeting the Playhouse's unique comms needs.”
That’s evident in the Shelterhouse venue, their original, smaller space where the Playhouse sees more intimate work. “It’s a historic park department stone-walled shelter house, so working on the 1.9 frequency is really useful for us,” Aaron explains. “FreeSpeak II with one antenna covers the entire space, including the lobby, even through the stone walls, and FreeSpeak Edge is useful for the Rouse.”
Facilitating discrete communications is critical. “If we’re linking lights and sound together on a show, for example, we'll switch them over to a group that allows them to communicate without bothering someone programming automation or working through a particularly challenging scene change on the deck.”
Although adding a back-of-house system like intercom isn’t something patrons can see or hear, being able to communicate ensures the highest-quality production values and keeps people safe. “We've talked a lot about the quality of the shows, but the primary function of comms, in my mind, is safety, the fact that people can communicate with who they need to efficiently and quickly. The new theatre is a fly house, so we have moving parts overhead, set pieces flying in and out, automated scenery, trap doors, all manner of motorized moving objects that can be dangerous if you don’t have constant and vigilant communication.”
Clear-Com’s audio quality addresses and sufficiently solves that problem, he concludes. “Noise, interference, ringing, buzzing, or just being unable to hear what people are saying – eliminating that helps us focus and communicate more clearly.”