Sounding Off

Theaters, Actors, Etc.

May 14, 2008 at 2:06 pm

One e-mail from an angry theater fan declared, "I am done going to the Aronoff." Another wrote, "The worst theater for sound, by the way, is Gallagher Hall at Xavier. It's impossible, and I have vowed never to go back to that hall."

I was surprised at the vehement reactions I received after my April 30 column, "Can You Hear Me Now?" "Do a column on sound," one reader had urged me, "and I bet you will get a huge response." He was right.

In the column I wrote, "I'm a Baby Boomer on the threshold of a birthday, so when I fuss about having trouble hearing in a theater, I wonder if I'm suffering from too many years of loud Rock music or perhaps just too many years of, well, life. But what I have been hearing recently are complaints from others about theater sound." Boy, did I get an earful.

"I could not agree with your column more.

The P&G Hall at the Aronoff Center could not suffer from worse sound quality," wrote one reader. "I've seen numerous shows in that theater and never once been satisfied with what I've heard. Thanks for voicing what I've been thinking for a long time."

Another opinion came in from a percussionist who's played in several theaters and who manages sound for his church. "Doing sound is a very difficult thing," he explained. "I'd equate it with playing an instrument. It takes years of training and practice to become even mediocre at it. And since most everything that reaches the audience's ears goes through that one person, they are a very critical part of how the production sounds."

The drummer/audio engineer added that too often the management of sound is an afterthought or a victim of tight budgets. In fact, he pointed out, "quality sound systems cost an outrageous amount of money." Most smaller theaters can't afford such systems, "so the sound people are in a hole to begin with."

He also offered an interesting observation: "As our society becomes accustomed to stunning sound and visual quality ('How come that doesn't sound and look as good as my 5.1 Surround-Sound DVD flat-screen system at home?') they are expecting it everywhere they go."

Another reader had this to say after she and a group of friends saw a production at Know Theatre: "We all agreed vehemently with your assessment that if, in fact, tickets are purchased for a fun evening out, the words need to be heard and understood. It's a major problem, and thank you many times over for addressing it. Keep it up."

I'd like to do just that, so I'm moving this conversation to CityBeat's Arts & Entertainment blog ( You can read fuller versions of these comments and reactions from others — and leave your own thoughts. We're listening.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]