Small Church, Big Holiday Show

The Christmas pageant at GraceWay Bible Church built its central control solution over the last five years.

Dan Daley
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This kind of equipment isn’t what this or any other mid-sized church generally has on hand. Schmalbach relies on a pair of rental houses for the sound equipment, with most of the gear coming from Masque Sound in New York, such as the Sennheiser 2000 Series 24-channel wireless kit and six domed helical antennas from Professional Wireless Systems (PWS), buttressed by supplies from nearby Pro Audio of New Jersey. Lighting equipment is supplied by 4Wall Entertainment’s New York location.

Not surprisingly the rental costs eat up most of the show’s $55,000 budget. Although, Schmalbach can reach into the annual budget for some headroom if he needs to, sometimes using some of it acquire new pieces of equipment the church will use year-round.

Centralized Control

However, the result was what was hoped for. Schmalbach can switch between each of the stage sets, hearing the audio for each one discretely and viewing them on security camera monitors. Those same monitors also act as program monitors for crew members who are working sound and lights for each stage, allowing them to hit their cues accurately.

“This is a much better solution than having individual AV controls at each stage,” he says. “It’s a much more efficient use of manpower and we always have an accurate idea of how each stage is going.”

As smoothly as this complex control configuration is, it’s worth noting that it didn’t suddenly appear like manna from tech heaven. Rather, it’s the result of constant experimentation over the course of years of performances, with each new iteration scrutinized and refined for the next time. And while practice makes perfect, it’s not like they get to do this more than a few times a year. Schmalbach points out that the first full technical run-through takes place during the dress rehearsal the night before the first show, and even that is open to the public.

“If problems are going to come up, that’s where we find them,” he says. “And then we have one day to fix them all.”

Thus, the real takeaway from the GraceWay Bible Church production is that complexity in the pursuit of a more coherent central control model is desirable, but it’s also an evolutionary process.

“We had a five-year run-up to get it to this level,” he cautions. “There’s no way to pull this off at this level unless you work your way up to it.”