For Phoenix-based Valley Youth Theatre (VYT), the performing arts are about much more than delighting audiences with their Broadway quality productions.
“Our mission is to inspire young people to be the best that they can be through a wide variety of performing arts opportunities,” said VYT artistic director Bobb Cooper.
Over the last few decades, he and his team have transformed VYT from a humble operation located in a shopping mall basement to one of the premier youth theaters in the country.
They’ve touched the lives of thousands of young actors along the way, including future Academy Award nominees, Broadway actors, and professional recording artists.
One of VYT’s alumni is Jack Karlen of Clearwing Systems Integration. Karlen, who participated in VYT productions as a teenager, has stayed involved with the theater as an adult volunteer over the last 15 years.
Now with the help of Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 wireless technology, VYT is ushering in a brand-new era of professional sound that ensures they can continue their tradition of performing arts excellence for years to come.
“It’s my time to get out of the office and play,” said Karlen.
Roots in Valley Youth Theatre
It was during one of Karlen’s volunteer stints that he pointed out to Cooper that some of his wireless transmitters would soon fall out of FCC compliance due to the 600 MHz band transition.
“I happened to be glancing at some of the gear in their rack and gave Bobb a heads-up that they would need to address these compliance issues,” he said. “That started the conversation about upgrading the system.”
Cooper and Karlen saw an opportunity to design a Sennheiser Digital 6000 wireless system for VYT that would meet the theater’s needs for years to come.
“Our standards are very high in the work that we produce and the gear that we use,” says Cooper.
Cooper received a grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust that facilitated the new system’s acquisition and Karlen began work on specifying a 48-channel Digital 6000 system that would match the VYT’s vision.
“There were some unique parameters we had to consider,” said Karlen. Paramount among those was frequency selection and assignment.
“VYT produces six professional-level productions a year—four at their own space and two at the larger Herberger Theater Center.
Inside the Installation
Both VYT’s main space and the Herberger are located in downtown Phoenix, across the street from convention centers, hotels, stadiums and the like, so it’s a crowded RF environment.
The Digital 6000’s ability to park digital frequencies so close together without any compromise in transmission power or risk of intermodulation is critical.
VYT’s Digital 6000 system includes 50 SK 6212 bodypacks.
“Unlike some other youth theaters, we don’t have kids playing multiple parts in our large-cast shows, so we absolutely utilize all 48 channels of wireless and need enough bodypacks to support that,” said Cooper.
“Sometimes they do two shows a day, so we’ve provided them with 96 batteries and a separate charging rack with 12 of Sennheiser’s L 6000 charging stations,” said Karlen.
While the Digital 6000 is powerful enough to perform in the 730-seat Herberger Theater Center, it is also compact enough to fit into the available rack space at VYT’s smaller 202-seat theater.
“There’s really limited rack space at their home space, and I needed to get as much in there as I could,” says Karlen. “Fitting the 24 EM 6000 receivers into only 24 rack spaces left me enough space for the signal and power distribution gear we needed.”
Karlen has taken full advantage of the EM 6000’s Dante connectivity for powerful and reliable digital transmission to front-of-house.
Despite the onset of the pandemic in the U.S. in March 2020, the VYT team has wasted no time in putting its new Digital 6000 into play.
“They have been hosting live streaming events using their D6000,” said Karlen. The theater’s 9.5 hour VYTal Affair-athon in August of 2020 was done using the D6000 system.
Musical performances were pre-recorded in compliance with social distancing and CDC recommendations. In this recent example, the hosts, storytellers and AV mixing all happened live.
To help create revenue and assist the community, VYT partnered with a local video production company, who sourced its facilities and equipment for other live streaming events, said Karlen.
“We so look forward to using this amazing system as soon as we are able to produce theater again,” said Cooper.
“They needed something that was complex in its capabilities but simple in operation,” said Karlen.
The Curtain Opens
The Digital 6000 wireless system made its debut during the VYT’s 9.5-hour VYTal Affair-athon in August, but it is the company’s production of “High School Musical” at the Herberger Theater Center this summer that will showcase its full breadth with a cast of 40 young actors.
“There’s an expectation that, when you come to see VYT production you’re going to experience something top-notch,” said Karlen. “That’s not something you can achieve alone, and Sennheiser and the Digital 6000 are an important piece of the puzzle.
“To be able to have 48 channels running that close together without degradation is really key. It’s crystal-clear, it’s clean and it’s rock-solid,” he said.
Karlen is also happy to have given back to an organization that has given so much to him and other local children.
“Bobb has been a great mentor for so many kids in this valley, whether they go into professional theater or take other career paths,” he said. “What they do at VYT is outstanding, and they deserve technology that matches that excellence.”
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