HOLOPLOT X1 makes musical theatre debut for Atlantic Theatre Company’s Buena Vista Social Club
January 11, 2024
A combination of HOLOPLOT’s unique sound control capabilities and creative sound design by Jonathan Deans let the vocals shine for this brand-new off-Broadway production. Based on the true story of the legendary Cuban ensemble, Buena Vista Social Club (BVSC) brings the iconic 1966 Grammy-winning album, rich with pulsating Afro-Cuban music, to the Atlantic Theater Company. Produced by Cuban American playwright Marco Ramirez, the show debuted mid-December at the Linda Gross Theater and has received rave reviews in publications from the New York Times to Rolling Stone Magazine. Highly acclaimed sound designer, Jonathan Deans, known for work on Broadway hits and Cirque du Soleil productions, collaborated with music supervisor Dean Sharenow and director Saheem Ali to create an unforgettable auditory experience, with global technology provider PRG furnishing a comprehensive audio and lighting solution for the production, including the first HOLOPOT X1 system to grace a musical theatre production.
Deans recalls Sharenow reaching out about the project, piquing his interest because of his familiarity with the Buena Vista Social Club album. Working with a new team and venue, Deans aim was to gain both a deep understanding and respect of the music's origins, blending this with his expertise in theatre sound design to create a cohesive audio experience.
“My role is to take the musical ideas, performance ideas and actors, and put it into some kind of shape and structure for the audience to respond to,” Deans says. “I specify the equipment, make it work for the production and work with everyone involved.
The Atlantic Theater is a converted church, with architecture that poses acoustic challenges. “The theatre itself has undergone significant modifications to become a delightful space for any show,” continues Deans. “However, accommodating live percussion instruments on stage, including congas, bongos and timbales, sometimes just six feet away from the audience, means it inevitably gets loud. The one thing that I was very concerned about was the vocal presence of the actors.”
Deans needed precise audio control over the seating area, with vocal clarity amid live percussion being his main priority, which is why he specified HOLOPLOT. “I’d been watching, learning and going to the demos from HOLOPLOT for some time and arranged for us to see if they could shape and create localisation that was available within the coverage of the whole seating area.”
Utilising the proprietary 3D Audio-Beamforming and Wave Field Synthesis technology, X1 allows for the creation of precise coverage zones for the audience as well as sound localisation in 3D space. The combination of this proved essential for managing vocal presence in a tight and potentially loud space without overwhelming the audience and led to Jonathan Deans using the small X1 deployment in a unique, creative and impactful way.
“HOLOPLOT has a different approach to line array and point source speaker coverage that’s very successful for treating our vocals in this very tight space and, potentially, very loud situation,” Deans notes. “Our audience is a full demographic, so we can't just turn it up; we wanted to make sure that we had the best coverage and the highest level of control. So, I reached out to HOLOPLOT to see if they could make their system work in a theatre environment.”
HOLOPLOT technology allows the user to optimise the sound within a room so intelligibility is increased without needing to increase the volume, making for a comfortable listening experience that allows for all elements of the show to be audible.
Reese Kirsh, segment manager of performing arts and live at HOLOPLOT, explains the system set-up: "A single central mono cluster of three X1 modules is configured horizontally, and exclusively designated for vocal reinforcement. Jonathan opted to trial HOLOPLOT in this way due to the theatre's compact size and the steeply raked seating, employing HOLOPLOT 3D Audio-Beamforming to minimise space requirements. Three beams are formed from the cluster: one optimised coverage beam covers the entire audience area, while two further beams function as virtual sources placed behind and alongside the array, delivering stereo ensemble vocals. This approach produces subtle yet impactful results. The system design creates space within the mix, letting the vocals shine within a complex musical arrangement. It's a unique concept for a traditional mono cluster and something no other system could achieve."
Deans acknowledges PRG's pivotal role, ensuring the availability and suitability of equipment within budgets and timelines. “PRG not only supplied all requested equipment but also provided essential support. They always adapt to the needs of the built environment, supporting designers, crews, assistants and the intricate process of assembling a show.”
“We were so excited to work with Jonathan Deans and the team from the Atlantic Theater Company to bring the first theatrical application of HOLOPLOT to life,” said Alex Donnelly, VP and general manager, theatre at PRG. “In the last 18 months, PRG has redoubled its commitment to the audio segment of the business with sustained investments across facility, equipment, and of course our people. This collaboration exemplifies our steadfast commitment to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the theatre and actively contributing to the realisation of our designers' ambitious visions.”
Timothy Jarrell, A1 production mix engineer and in charge of mixing each performance was pleased with the system. “X1 allows us to get multiple audio fields to the audience so we can provide a lot more clarity. Matched with the microphones that are right at the actor's mouths, it provides separation from the instruments, which are right behind them,” he explains. “HOLOPLOT’s technology is an interesting concept and very cool. It was great to work with their engineers to get insight into both the software and hardware. It keeps our audio pattern tight in the room, not bouncing off the walls and we're able to control the image to cover the seating area and get separation so that we're not having to deal with reflections.”
"Working with Jonathan Deans and PRG on this project was exceptional. The show has achieved precisely what it was intended to from a HOLOPLOT standpoint,” Kirsh concludes. “What Jonathan has created with X1 for vocal reinforcement is truly remarkable. The organisers, production crew, and PRG team have all worked together to deliver an amazing show. We’re thrilled to have introduced HOLOPLOT to musical theatre for the very first time. It has demonstrated our value and our pioneering technology to the performing arts sector."
Buena Vista Social Club has already been extended and is playing at The Atlantic Theater until 289 January, 2024.