The Playgoer: What's the Frequency, Broadway?

Custom Search

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What's the Frequency, Broadway?

Perhaps one of the oddest theatrical controversies in recent times--but no doubt important.

You been reading lately all this talk about the FCC, Google, and a chunk of supposedly "free" airwave spectrum? Did you know the professional theatre industry is a player in it? Or at least, they're trying to be.

Here's the press release out of the Broadway League:

The Broadway League has asked the FCC to refrain from voting to approve new devices that will transmit in the “white space” radio spectrum, currently occupied by wireless microphones. Wireless microphones are an essential tool of the live performance industry, used in the daily operations of countless theatres and non-profit performance venues, sports arenas, and concert halls across the country.

These comments were filed in response to the FCC’s announcement that it will vote on an order potentially opening the white spaces to portable internet devices employing spectrum sensing technology intended to prevent interference with wireless microphones. However, a preliminary review of an FCC engineers’ report issued on October 15, 2008 demonstrates repeated failures of spectrum sensing to recognize wireless transmissions. While regulations that include reference to spectrum sensing technology would rely on unproven technology, the FCC may forge ahead and adopt new rules without allowing interested parties any prior opportunity to ensure the Commission took adequate steps to address the needs of all wireless microphone users.

Theatres in urban areas are at particular risk because the complex radio environment is beyond any measure of control. Not only is the quality of the performances at risk, but also the safety of all who work in these venues will be compromised.
This will be an interesting test of whether the theatre business in this country (yes, not just NYC, but USA--this is the FCC we're talking about) has any remaining clout at all. Considering they're up against, oh, Google, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, this will be quite a mountain to climb.

Good thing, then that they're not relying on drama-queens alone: "Many groups, including the National Association of Broadcasters and Sports Technology Alliance, also oppose the FCC’s actions." Ah, sports! Whew.

I do applaud the League for taking on the fight. Of course, they have no choice, give how it threatens their very industry. But, hey, at least they're not seizing it as a chance to encourgae more market-targeted texting in the audience!

And it's nice to see them in high gear for something not just about increasing profits, and something that is a common good for all Broadway employees. In this case the League's self interest really is motivating them to do the right thing!

(Call it, an Invisible Stagehand? Ha, that's punny for so many reasons.)

And not only is it for the good of the inhabitants of the Broadway League fiefdom, not only Off Broadway, but clearly every professional theatre around the country that uses wireless headset communication!

And just in case you're thiniking, see, I told you all that over-amplification mic-ing was evil!--remember this isn't just about mic-ing of actors. It's about SM's cue-ing their stagehands when to drop that ten-ton weight on stage. For example.

So it really can be about lives not just livelihoods.

By the way, is anyone else reminded of the old actors' joke (one apocryphal story or another) of performers using ear-pieces on stage when they couldn't get off book and ending up reciting taxi dispatches onstage instead of their lines?

1 comment:

Nick Keenan said...

Way to use the ol' roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote defense.

As a sound engineer, I will be the first to tell you that I can't wait to get rid of wireless microphones. Project, dammit! To the back of the house. I'm sick of dealing with the politics of "louder, softer."

But theaters have never been particularly safe places, and wireless communication is the only thing that makes spectacular shows like Cirque possible. I mean, 90% of the time you can hook up to a wired communication device and be just fine, but that other 10% can be really, really hairy.

There's also the argument... do we really need more cell-phone-like devices in the world? What concerns me about this VERY quick trend of the retailization of communication devices - which, make no mistake, is making a huge difference in the quality of life in developing nations - is that our global culture is not picking up the slack about being more responsible communicators as human beings. Oddly, cellphones and wireless communication devices are making us more likely to ignore or be distracted from more immediate and dangerous and rewarding forms of human contact - like theater. I feel like there's something deeper under the surface than the quiet indignance of a cell phone going off in a crowded theater.

Now where did I put that anvil? Oh CRAP...