MARKHAM, ONTARIO: Over its 30-plus years in operation, Frontier Sound & Light has provided a huge array of systems for a wide range of clients; always with the ethic of serving the unique needs of their artists, clients, and audiences they work with top of mind. It’s an approach the company shares with GerrAudio distribution, says Frontier’s Technical Director/Senior Account Manager, Michael Kerwin; one that’s partially responsible for his choice of DiGiCo, Clear-Com, and Outline system elements – all lines Gerr represents – for Together Apart Summer Cirque: A Summer Tale, the first large-scale outdoor, seated event of its kind in Ontario this summer.
“My relationship with Gerr goes back well over 20 years,” Kerwin says. “They understand the business and that the show has to happen no matter what, and their support is just unbelievable. We were one of the first Canadian companies to use DiGiCo and now have one of the largest DiGiCo inventories in Canada.” Frontier also maintains a substantial Clear-Com inventory, he adds, but while those products are undoubtedly familiar to everyone in the audio industry, Italian manufactured Outline loudspeakers may not be. In fact, Kerwin adds, he wasn’t entirely familiar with Outline when Gerr first began representing the line in Canada. “But I bought an Outline rig I’d never heard, based on my relationship with Gerr.”
Outline is a known quantity in Europe and has been deployed for a wide range of concerts by artists including Peter Gabriel in Italy and Foo Fighters in England, exceedingly large, 300,000-capacity religious events in Africa, and a wealth of high-end corporate events elsewhere in North America, he continues: “It’s one of those boxes that punches well above its weight, so you can get away with smaller hangs. Although it’s not as well known in Canada, anybody who’s heard the rig won’t turn their nose up at it. There are other great PAs that are more rider-friendly, but I personally don’t think there’s anything that sounds better, pound for pound.”
That made Outline a perfect fit in terms of size, weight, power, and reliability to reinforce this particular show – a unique performance featuring high-flying aerials and acrobatics created and produced by Tony Award-Winning cirque troop, 7 Fingers, and mounted at Markham Fairgrounds in July 2021.
“It turned out to be a complicated design because it had to be in the round, and had to be freestanding from a large outdoor truss structure, but that’s something we’ve done a lot of on events like Wakestock on Centre Island and other, big outdoor festivals.”
One of the primary challenges was a tight timeline and balancing what 7Fingers, their Technical Director, Jérémi Guilbault-Asselin, and The Concierge Club’s Production Manager, Calvin Mitchell, “wanted to see happen,” Kerwin adds, against “what was physically possible. That, coupled with challenges presented by the size of the venue and pandemic restrictions, required a highly collaborative process. “Jérémi and I did a lot of CAD work and design in a very short time – from the start of the design to when we started to build the systems was probably about five weeks, but it was exhilarating because this was one of the first events in Ontario where people could actually be there in-person without having to remain inside of a vehicle.
Billed as an outdoor show to ‘Bust Ontario’s Pandemic Blues’ the Together Apart Summer Cirque show began Canada Day weekend and ran throughout the first three weeks of July, presenting ‘a never-before-seen outdoor, live theatrical cirque show… to amaze audiences’. “Ontario has experienced some of the world’s most severe lockdowns and we’re staging an outdoor, safety-compliant, live entertainment event to bring some joy to everyone that has sacrificed so much,” explained Monica Gomez, President/Founder of The Concierge Club.
The key to that was the sheer scale of the Markham Fairgrounds Complex (MFC) was ideal. “It’s a huge outdoor venue that’s been, until now, fairly underutilized, but the pandemic has allowed them to take advantage of some of those hundreds of acres of land to do large-scale drive-ins,” Kerwin says. “In this case, the audience was seated in socially distanced pods or platforms. But once things return more to normal they plan on doing large 30,000-plus capacity events.” All of that factored heavily into his choice of DiGiCo, Clear-Com, and Outline equipment for the shows.
“At the start of the chain, we used a pair of DiGiCo SD9s for main and backup consoles. Normally we wouldn’t have two, but the artist wanted true redundancy and the DiGiCo desks make it easy to provide systems that mirror each other. Basically, we had the two networked SD9’s and a D2 Rack and 7 Fingers were using Q Lab for their audio tracks. The form factor of the SD9s was great because we had to put video, lighting, and audio all on that stage, so having a powerful desk like the SD9 that doesn’t take up a ton of room – and has a really good workflow, processing and dynamic EQs – was important.”
Given the scale of the venue, and a need for rock-solid reliable comms, Clear-Com was a no-brainer. In all, the comms system was comprised of a Clear-Com FreeSpeak 2 Base Station, 3 FreeSpeak 2 FSII-TCVR-19 1.9Ghz Transceivers, 10 FreeSpeak FSII-BP19 belt packs and 2 AC60 Quick Chargers for wireless communications across the venue, and a Clear-Com MS404 4-channel wired Base Station, 8 RS-702 2-channel and 6 RS-701 1-channel belt packs for stationary wired comm.
“It was a massive stage area, with two performance areas connected via a 160-foot catwalk - a 40 x 30-foot ‘B stage’ area with two 40 x 12-foot rings and two 34 x 12-foot ramps on either side. And there were hoops and aerials and lighting and audio all hanging on this giant 38-foot-high truss. It’s tough for photos to capture the scale of it because it’s about 300-feet wide. So having the wireless FreeSpeak system was critical to maintaining constant contact.
The scale and the ‘in the round’ nature of the performance, and the ‘cube-shaped’ stage also made Outline a lock for the shows. “Because we were dealing with an outdoor truss structure of a certain size with a certain trim height we wanted to maintain, we couldn’t have a long hang. But we needed high fidelity audio quality throughout the entire area and for every audience ‘pod’.”
In total, the PA was comprised of 24 Outline GTO C-12 and 12 Outline Butterfly Line-Array Elements – all mounted on the manufacturers model-specific flying frames and powered by 5 FSL GTO Amp Racks (1 x Lake LM26 Processor, 4 x Outline T11 Stereo Amplifiers) and 2 FSL Outline Butterfly Amplifier Racks (1 x Lake LM26 Processor, 4 x Outline T9 Stereo Amplifiers), respectively.
“We had four hangs of 6 GTO C12s, which is a medium format box but definitely provides large-format output. Those were placed on the four corners of the ‘cube’ on a 45-degree angle. Then we added 6 Outline Butterfly boxes – on the east side and the west side between the GTO hangs – for centre fill. The Butterfly is a smaller format box, but it’s voiced in such a way that you really can’t tell the difference when you’re walking from one zone to the other. It’s an amazing rig,” he continues; “very clear and transparent and one of few products that could provide even coverage with only a six-box hang.” That was critical, he adds – both for weight restrictions and to ensure excellent sightlines on and above the deck.
For additional coverage Kerwin deployed 2 GTO DF Down-Fill boxes, (one at the bottom of the North East and South East main GTO hangs): “It’s specifically designed to take the place of three or four boxes (in a line array), allowing us to hang 6 boxes for distance and only 1 box for down fill - so you get really good coverage everywhere, but cut down on weight while maintaining the trim height.”
In addition, Kerwin deployed Rational Acoustics’ SMAART V8 system (with 4 RTA-420 calibrated measurement microphones) – another of Gerr’s lines – so they could keep constant tabs on any issues arising owing to humidity and other environmental factors to ensure an optimal audio experience regardless of the type of day it was.
One day, however – specifically the first of only two scheduled for dress rehearsals before the July 1st opening – threw more at them in terms of ‘environmental factors’ than they expected…
While the PA is rated for outdoor use, and Kerwin and everyone involved knew it was unlikely they’d get through the entire run of shows without some inclement weather, no one expected it to be biblical in nature. “It was like a monsoon. The entire site was flooded with two feet of water. So you can imagine the chaos. Every structure had to be inspected and re-leveled. Every cable with power in it had to be taken apart and dried. So the second day of dress rehearsal was a 16-hour marathon, but we got everything done and the system held up great.”
Given the success of this first event, the Outline PA will remain in place at the MFC upcoming shows, Kerwin sums up: “The client, the venue, really everybody involved was impressed. I think the best thing is that nobody mentioned the system,” he adds, laughing. “We didn’t get a single complaint from anybody that they couldn’t hear the show from anywhere in the venue, and it’s huge. Basically, if the PA is doing its job, no one says a thing.”
Written by: Kevin Young