Staging Green Day's American Idiot

Jan 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Sarah Benzuly



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Dignazio adds, “This is the challenge of the job; it's the white elephant in the room. The drummer is the noise floor; that's my threshold I have to get above every night and I have no way of getting around that. Yet we found that just to have the drums acoustically wasn't enough; we still had to amplify them. So it became a challenge of amplifying the drums in the house, then create enough hard-driving guitar and bass and rhythm section sounds around that to give the punch needed, blend in strings, blend in a keyboard and then get the vocals on top of all of that.

“Brian worked really hard at finding the levels, the correct amount of amplification we needed for the drums to fit in the house,” he continues, “and then from that point forward, it was a matter of getting those vocals on top every night and keep the rest of the band punching along so that it has the impact of a rock concert every night.”

The cast is wearing DPA 4065 boom mics, “and that's one of the ways we are able to get away with what we're doing because they're not singing into handhelds,” Dignazio says. “With traditional Broadway miking, you would put the lavalier elements in the middle of their foreheads, but that wasn't enough [for this show]; we needed to have something a lot closer to their mouths to get that impact.” The band is on in-ears; the cast hears themselves through the house and five downstage monitors that Dignazio dials up a mix to.

When it came to choosing loudspeakers Ronan says, “As soon as I was presented with American Idiot, I had Meyer on my mind. Meyer systems allow vocals to cut through what I knew would be an aggressively mixed instrumentation. Then, when we decided to premiere the show in Berkeley, it was a fait accompli. Helen Meyer sits on the board at Berkeley Rep and [the loudspeaker company's headquarters] is a couple blocks away.” The system at the Roda comprises three M'elodie elements, UPJ rears and back row of the balcony, and UPM fills.

Another consideration Ronan had to take into account was the acoustics and dynamics inherent at Berkeley Rep. “It is a very live house that is probably great for straight plays that make up the bulk of their season,” Ronan responds. “To me, it added unwanted reflection. By keeping speakers focused off the walls, I reduced that as much as possible. The Roda is a shallow room, so the high volume of our show had very little chance of dissipation. By ducking out offensive frequencies, I was able to deliver the size the show required without attacking the audience's ears.”

It's a Wrap?

At the time of this writing, American Idiot was wrapping up its run at Berkeley Rep and had set its sights on Broadway; although no dates nor a theater were determined, casting calls had been open. In thinking of his overall strategy for the show, Ronan also had to keep in mind that American Idiot could have a run in other cities. Ronan says that most of his design is “expandable” to allow for this, and that the proscenium and center arrays would work in a variety of houses. However, he says, “I had a fortunate subwoofer situation at Berkeley that would be hard to re-create. The floor subs fit under our stage without encroaching into the first row. This is not always the case. Hard decisions have to be made to get the optimum low end without breaking fire-exit laws. There are fills that supply sound to the box seats and are specific to Roda. I'd have to revisit those choices in another venue.”

Dignazio concludes, “Hearing Green Day and knowing their music and then being able to mix it through different people, different voices, it's made me hear their songs in a completely different light. So much so that if I hear ‘21 Guns’ on the radio, I'll turn it off because I want to keep for my job the picture that I'm given and the picture I'm painting every night as pure and clear as possible. This show speaks to me as an individual and as a mixer as no other show has done. I am so honored to be a part of this, and it's really incredible to know that I am a cog in the wheel of something that is so special. And I think that's felt by the entire company. The music is so phenomenal to mix every night. You can't help but feel so alive when you're mixing it.”

Sarah Benzuly is Mix's managing editor.

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