top of page
  • Writer's pictureLive team

The Intercom Revolution

A little more conversation

Communication technology in the AV space serves as a vital link between production teams. LIVE discovers how certain intercom providers are revolutionising live entertainment

Words Katie Kasperson

Communication is the key ingredient to a successful relationship. This applies both professionally and personally, with information exchange between the key departments allowing businesses to work effectively.

Our means of communication have improved over time; from the written letter to the telegram, then from phone call to text message. There is now a rising expectation for instantaneous connection. In the exciting world of live entertainment, this immediacy has become essential.

Most live productions use an intercom system to synchronise cues, maintain safety and address issues in real time. Whether it’s an international stadium tour or a small-scale performance, a lot can go wrong without a quick, clear connection established.

Perfect production

Covid-19 briefly sparked the remote concert, an at-home experience that brought the stage to our screens. Though we once believed live music would be changed forever, it quickly bounced back in full, surpassing itself in scale and scope.

Pop superstar Ed Sheeran is among those whose return broke records, with his Mathematics Tour representing the culmination of a musical era – and sometimes bringing in over 89,000 attendees.

Sheeran, who had humble beginnings performing pub gigs and one-man shows, swapped a once simple approach for an ambitious five-stage set-up, combining his artistic dexterity with technological spectacle.

Each night sees him on a circular stage surrounded by four separate platforms, with a 42-ton, 360° screen rigged up above him. To top it all off, each show features pyrotechnics, while the finale is an explosive fireworks display of immense magnitude.

In other words, the Mathematics Tour is no easy feat from an operational perspective. Enter Clear-Com.

To pull off 115 shows across four legs, each department must be in constant contact – not only to ensure efficiency, but also to address the obstacles that accompany an event of this scope.

Lighting, audio and video operators, security guards and other employees implement a Clear-Com solution. This includes the FreeSpeak II Wireless Intercom System, HelixNet Digital Network Partyline remote stations and LQ Series IP Interfaces.

Designed by David White, Sheeran’s appointed looper and RF technician, and Adam Wells, audio systems engineer, the intercom system is essential to the whole Mathematics team. With five stages and six cameras, crew members are spread throughout the various stadiums, with some backstage, some out front and others outside the venue entirely.

To ensure a smooth operation, the Mathematics Tour needs to be carefully rehearsed – of course by Sheeran himself – but also by the entire production team. Sheeran’s production manager Chris Marsh borrows from his background in live theatre, providing cues for lighting, audio, video, pyrotechnics as well as the massive halo-shaped screen. In order to orchestrate all this, the crew employs HelixNet beltpacks.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a show with this many bells and whistles and moving parts; it’s an absolute necessity to have a level of clear communication,” states Wells, particularly when dealing with fire and other natural elements at outdoor arenas.

For example, Sheeran’s show in Denver, Colorado began with a thunderstorm, which caused an evacuation before he even made it onstage. “Clear-Com was essential in helping us get back up and running,” shares White. “If something does go wrong, we can solve it very quickly.”

Sheeran’s team has been using Clear-Com for some time, though it didn’t adopt FreeSpeak II until 2018’s ÷ (Divide) Tour. FreeSpeak II replaced an analogue system halfway through the circuit, with the crew touting its ultra-low latency, clear sound and durability. “Clear-Com’s systems are robust,” declares Wells. “It turns on and works seamlessly every day, allowing all the various crews to collaborate with ease.”

All the world’s a stage

Inspired by England’s most influential dramatist, Shakespeare’s Globe is a performing arts venue perched on London’s River Thames. First built in 1599, today’s playhouse is a modern reconstruction of the centuries-old Elizabethan theatre.

Plus, situated just next door and celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the city’s only candlelit theatre. Riedel Communications has supplied its Bolero intercom system to both theatres, allowing the show to go on with minimal disruption.

As with live music, live theatre requires collaboration between several different departments in real time, from the AV booth to backstage, or the green room to front of house. The Bolero system addresses these communication challenges, making for more effective stage management during rehearsals and performances. “This system has proven to be an essential tool for our stage management teams,” begins Charli Hurford, senior technician at Shakespeare’s Globe, “enabling us to provide unparalleled support and deliver outstanding performances.”

The Bolero system has streamlined operations at Shakespeare’s Globe in a number of ways. First, by expanding the range between beltpacks, Riedel is reducing the Globe’s reliance on antennae. Theatre teams can now troubleshoot in real time, ensuring shows stay on schedule.

The updated intercom system is also financially beneficial, as it eliminates the need to have extra staff on standby. Perhaps most importantly, it promotes a failsafe performance, allowing crew members to synchronise cues, never missing a mark.

The Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse each enjoy a consistent line-up of classic productions – by Shakespeare or not – such as Othello, Hansel and Gretel and The Duchess of Malfi. Last year’s calendar included The Winter’s Tale, a performance which spanned both Shakespeare’s Globe and the Playhouse. Thus the Bolero system was crucial in providing connectivity between the two venues.

While not necessarily falling under the live AV umbrella, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre also offers a digital viewing library called Globe Player, allowing audiences to stream pre-filmed productions at their leisure. Riedel’s intercom system additionally has a role in recording these live events, which are later edited, uploaded and then made available to subscribers.

Despite its roots in the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare’s Globe has evolved with the times – with Riedel in part to thank. A major player in the world of London theatre, the Globe can now enjoy greater efficiency, clearer communications and a smoother experience from doors open to curtain call. That’s show business.

Scaling up

As major players in live AV, both Clear-Com and Riedel offer various intercom solutions, meeting the diverse needs of individual productions. From fundamental – but nevertheless essential – systems to far more complex, tailored arrangements, there’s something for all projects.

Despite a brief hiatus, the world of live entertainment is ever-growing, and greater scale requires more effective communication. Clear-Com and Riedel are among those up to the task.

This feature was first published in the Spring 2024 issue of LIVE.


Latest posts

bottom of page