Children’s television favourite Peppa Pig is currently on a major UK tour, bringing a first experience of theatre to thousands of toddlers and pre-school children. Coping with an inherently noisy audience without having volume levels too high is a tricky balancing act, but one which front of house engineer Colin Allen and a Yamaha LS9 console are well in command of.
The tour is a genuine ABC of Britain’s city and provincial venues, ranging in size from 500 to 1500 capacity. From having actors visibly working the puppet characters to a sound that’s loud enough, but not overly so, everything is geared to making the show enjoyable and interactive - but not overwhelming or frightening - to its very young audience. These are, after all, the industry’s customers of the future.
Designed by Ian Horrocks-Taylor and supplied by Blitz Communications, at the core of the audio system is a Yamaha LS9-16 mixing console, SB168-ES stage box and EtherSound multicore - offering maximum flexibility but minimum truck / seat space.
“We’re only touring one 45 footer and, with the venue sizes we’re playing in, we don’t want to be taking eight seats out for the FOH position,” says Colin.
“We’re also on a very tight schedule, so the size and portability of the LS9, stage rack and the Ethersound multicore are perfect. I don’t need to get four people round the desk just to move it.”
The audio setup for the show is fairly straightforward, six Sennheiser HS2 headworn microphones with SK50 beltpacks for the actors, an iPod and a PC (with laptop backup) providing a recorded narrator, all the sound effects and music for the songs, via an Edirol soundcard.
The PA comprises system six d&b E9, two d&b E18, EM Acoustics frontfills, with Tannoy I8s and V8s for onstage foldback.
“If we get to a venue and they have d&b or another system we know is of good enough quality, we’ll use that. But a lot of the time we put in our own system,” Colin continues. “I’m using pretty much every output on the LS9, bar four of the Omnis, which we save for doing house feeds.
“Another advantage of the LS9 is that it’s so easy to set up. Being able to set the delays in metres as well as milliseconds saves a lot of time - you can get a good gauge from that and adjust accordingly.”
All the relative levels for the songs are preset within the PC so, once Colin has set the house level, all the music levels naturally follow on without him having to do anything. The cast will warm up with a couple of songs, during which he can adjust the microphone levels and that’s it.
“There are about 80 cues in total. I trigger the PC via MIDI, but I mix the show on the fly,” he continues. “It gets quite interesting because the cast are putting on children’s voices for the younger characters, mimicking the TV series. The actors who play Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig also play Susie Sheep and Danny Dog, so they are changing between adult and childlike voices. They’re pretty good with keeping the levels consistent between characters, but obviously the frequencies of their voices change.”
The other major challenge of mixing the show is, as previously mentioned, the audience itself.
“Being a very young audience, they inevitably make a lot of noise and it’s at a pitch you don’t often have to deal with,” says Colin. “It’s a balancing act, because you need to get the stage sound over the noise of the audience but you don’t want to deafen them. It’s their first experience of theatre, so you don’t want them going away not having enjoyed it because their ears are hurting.
“In a lot of shows you can bring the levels down as a cue for the audience to quieten down, but very young kids don’t tend to understand that mentality, so most of the time I’m riding it just above the audience level.
“There’s a song at the end where it gets a little bit crazy, they’re all got up on their feet to clap their hands and stamp their feet, so you’ve got both the kids and the parents all making as much noise as they possibly can. That’s the only point at which I really have to turn it up and they don’t mind because it’s only one song. It gives them a high to go out on.”
Judging by dozens of sold out shows and universally positive reviews from parents, the Peppa Pig tour is proving a huge success, endorsing Colin’s approach to mixing the show and Ian Horrocks-Taylor’s choice of the LS9/SB168-ES combination.
“The Yamaha equipment has proved very reliable and audiences seem to be really enjoying it,” says Colin, looking happy but understandably tired from mixing three shows a day on a production which is continually on the move.
“It really is a unique audience, though, the stuff that gets left behind is a true eye-opener. I have never done a tour before where you’re tripping over used nappies post-gig.”