Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Taps Clear-Com for Comms

Aaron Stephenson relies on new gear from Clear-Com for comms at two new theaters at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, . (Image credit: Clear-Com)

CINCINNATI—From the very beginning of my tenure at the Playhouse (a large, regional, nonprofit theater in its own right) it was clear that there were frequent aspirations for transitioning shows to Broadway. We’re a regional Tony Award winner and have also won a Tony for shows we’ve transferred to New York. So, we have a profile in the region and we’re beholden to our patrons to provide the best possible experience with cutting-edge technology and by dedicating resources to our shows so that they’re great, not just on a local scale, but on a national, global scale.

Recently, the Playhouse had a huge capital campaign and opened a new building in March 2023. The theater we were in had been in place since the 1960s, so, this was a total campus renovation that required a big investment, not only for the build but also the technology needed to make it functional.

New Build, New Clear-Com Tech
We’ve been devoted Clear-Com acolytes for years. Previously, we’d been using CELLCOM, but coming up to this build, we decided to upgrade to an Arcadia Base Station, FreeSpeak Edge, and FreeSpeak II. Arcadia handles comms for the entire campus, which has two spaces: the 537-seat Moe and Jack’s Place—Rouse Theatre and the 172-seat Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theatre.

The Shelterhouse is our original theater. It’s literally a historic park department stone-walled shelter house with unique comm needs because it wasn’t built as a theater. Using FreeSpeak II there—with one antenna that covers the entire space even through the stone walls—along with FreeSpeak Edge, works well for our bigger space.

Getting shows up and running requires a lot of personnel who require constant, detailed communication. So we needed an intercom system that could handle a variety of needs for productions ranging from dramas and jukebox musicals to farces and Broadway shows with a large cast and orchestra. That’s where Clear-Com comes into the picture—their technology is so flexible, modular, and scalable; and with Arcadia and FreeSpeak II we’re discovering features we didn’t even realize we wanted.

Digital Comms with Arcadia
Now we’re running digital wired comms, FreeSpeak Edge, FreeSpeak II, and an old analog 4-channel wired system simultaneously through Arcadia. It’s pushing the whole system. We can communicate between digital and analog, wired and wireless, digital and digital comms. No matter what we need, we’re able to facilitate it, which I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams expected we’d be able to do with one base station—especially for multiple spaces.

We can also create custom groups/channels that we can change depending on where we are in production. In tech rehearsals vs. previews vs. production, our needs are distinct, so being able to quickly and efficiently switch between those stages of production serves us very well. 

Even though we had minimal training on the system, on the first try, it all worked, which is rare. We just opened the web browser, set it up the way we wanted, tested it, and it worked immediately. Right off the bat, the cross-platform functionality—using all these different Clear-Com technologies together and being able to communicate between them—was tremendous.

But to me, the primary function of comms is safety. This new theater has many moving parts overhead we didn’t have before: set pieces flying in and out, automated scenery, trap doors, and all manner of motorized, moving objects that can be dangerous if you don’t have constant, vigilant communication. The fact that people can communicate with whoever they need to efficiently and quickly is very important.

Clear-Com’s audio quality also plays into that—noise, interference, ringing, buzzing, or just being unable to hear what people are saying. Eliminating that helps us focus and communicate more clearly. 

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Aaron Stephenson is A/V Supervisor for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.