The Game of Ur at the Cathy Sharp Dance Ensemble

Thomas C. Gass, Switzerland
November 2007

I work as a composer and sound designer for theatres, ballets, and shows. In May 2007 I was responsible for the sound design of "The Game of Ur", a ballet production of the Cathy Sharp Dance Ensemble, an internationally known Swiss dance company.

"The Game of Ur" production took place in an arena theatre with the audience seated on both sides of the stage. It involved a huge number of sound cues and speaker systems. The soundtrack started 30 minutes before the main show and conjured up the acoustical surrounding of an archaeological site, changing slowly from day to night with many sound effects (joggers, traffic in the distance, animals, planes passing by etc.). The performance itself came up with many delicate challenges for the audio: tracks that got trapped in loops, giving the dancers the possibility of improvisation, tracks that had to be shortened (and not faded out!) on the spot according to the stage action. Parallel to the soft beginning the soundtrack merged with the applause and ran on after the show, building up to a thunderstorm with rain and thunderclaps—until the last spectator had left the theatre. Things may have gone a bit too far, 'cause at the end we came up with a huge number of cues distributed over 4 cd players... It was obvious that we were definitely in need of a good sound cue system to guarantee a flawless run through all the planned performances.

I googled the internet and finally found QLab. I quickly set up QLab on my G4 iBook, transferred all the sound cues onto an external hard disc and programmed all the cues right before we changed from the rehearsal stage to the real (and much bigger) theatre stage. From the very beginning QLab was not only a reliable and easy to use cue system, but also a great help when it came to the so-called "spacing"" (which is adapting the timing of cue sequences and length of tracks with regard to the bigger dimensions of the real stage in comparison to the smaller and familiar rehearsal stage.) Unfortunately there was not enough time to set up a synchronization between QLab the lighting desk and the video floor projection, but nevertheless QLab and its integrated capability of using video streams on external monitors was of great help: triggered at the right moment a short video clip with a count-down timer appeared on a separate monitor just in front of the lighting desk, giving the lighting engineer a perfect visual cue for manual lighting changes.

In all performances we never had any issue with QLab—it simply ran "like a Swiss watch". It was right after the last performance of "The Game of Ur" that I decided to never ever use CD players again for theatre performances.