Small Church, Big Holiday Show

Published: December 20, 2013

For a relatively small church, one that seats 275 for each of its two Sunday services in its sanctuary in Hamilton, N.J., GraceWay Bible Church puts on one heck of a big show.

Four nights in December, groups of up to 50 visitors at a time are led through an 8,800-square-foot indoor and outdoor series of 11 vignettes on eight stage sets, each representing a familiar Bible story portrayed by over 300 cast members in an hour-long continuous show. The guides, dressed in Middle Eastern costumes, carry wireless handheld microphones that transmit to racks of receivers hidden on either side the building all streaming back to a central control room.

There, Nathan Schmalbach oversees a tech crew of 15 people working on one of the more complex AVL systems you’ll find in anything other than megachurches for their Christmas presentations.

Now in its fifth year, Christmas Live! is an immersive experience transporting visitors back 2,000 years to the very first Christmas. Nominally the show’s lighting and sound designer, Schmalbach, 22 and a recent B.S. degree graduate in Entertainment Business from Full Sail University, has run the technical side of the program for most of that time with a mission to consolidate show control from the individual sound mixers and lighting controllers at each of the stages, which is how it began, to the single master location he managed to achieve this year.

“Our goal over the past few years has been to centralize all of the controls for the entire program, which is no easy task when you are talking about remotely mixing and controlling eleven different shows, all of which are active at the same time,” says Schmalbach.

Lots of Gear

Remotely managing just the audio alone for a show of this scale is a considerable feat that requires a substantial technology complement. Schmalbach and his team use a binaural audio remote listening system composed of a pair of AKG C414 B-ULS microphones, mounted in a binaural configuration (simulating human aural perception) with an Earthworks M30 microphone mounted behind them, to provide a monaural comparison image. Together, these create the soundstage for each show site.

Other gear includes Genelec 1032A and 8030A monitors, XTA DP448s and Meyer Sound Galileo 616s processing systems, XTA DS8000/D splitters, and Rational Acoustics SMAART software. Binaural audio is mixed through a Midas Venice 240 console and the rest of the eight stages audio that the audience hears, is split between an Avid Venue SC48 consol and a Midas Pro1 mixer.

A total of 104 audio channels are distributed from the control center via a Riedel RockNet 300 digital audio network. The sound system consists of L-Acoustics MTD108As, 115XTs, SB218 and dB-SUB subwoofers, and Meyer Sound UPM-1Ps, UPA-1Ps and UPJ-1Ps. All of the L-Acoustics speakers are powered via Lab.gruppen fP Series amplifiers.

The show’s sound effects and music playback are managed using Figure53 QLab software running on Mac Minis with RME Fireface 800 interfaces. Lighting is controlled from a pair of ETC Gio consoles in the central control room transmitting DMX-over-Ethernet to the two hubs. Net3 gateways at each hub, linked by Cat-6a cabling to the consoles, distribute the DMX lighting control data to each scene’s dimmers, LEDs, and automated light fixtures.

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