There was a time in the live theatre when actors did not wear microphones.  Actors were required to develop a strong ability to project their voice in song and dialogue.  It was magnificent to hear a live voice singing with a live orchestra.  Today, the actors wear microphones and, for many Broadway shows, the entire orchestra is artificially amplified because the stringed instruments are playing live from a different floor in the theatre and they watch the conductor via closed-circuit television.


This artificial and unnecessary amplification of everything in the live theatre has made every performance a radio play.  There is no longer any subtlety to the ear.  Everything is mixed and microphoned to the nth degree.

You no longer need any imagination in the live theatre because all the hearing is prepackaged for you by a soundboard and an engineer.

When you remove the natural voice from the live theatre, you remove the essence of life from the performance.  The mechanical is favored over the fleeting and the ethereal is made nothing in the permanent recorded.  We don’t attend a live theatre performance to watch a radio play.

We must, at every opportunity, disconnect the microphones and the loudspeakers, and root the live theatre back into necessity of the barrel-chested singer and the actor who knew how to project a voice in a stage whisper from the front row to the balcony.

Today, a whisper is a whisper, and there is no magic in just speaking instead of making your entire voice and body perform to be heard as more than just a cry in the dark.

4 Comments

  1. We certainly aren’t interested in radio plays, David. As productions get bigger and bigger, the effect gets worse. Perhaps it would behoove us to stick to small productions with small budgets?

  2. When I started in the theatre at as a child, you were always instructed to “project to the back row” and that sort of stylized performance and effort is what made the live theatre special. Today’s Broadway theatres are the original Broadway theatres — so the only thing that’s changed is the ability of the performer and how we now choose to have sound provided to us instead of working to hear it ourselves.

  3. Last night I saw a wonderful performance of Billy Elliot, but the noise level made it a painful experience. I am getting to the point where I prefer opera to any other form of performance for that reason alone.

    1. Hi Len!

      Welcome to United Stage!

      Can you tell us more about the noise level? Was it music or voices or something else that seemed out of whack to you?

      I agree that natural sound is much more agreeable to the ear and it is more aesthetically pleasing to the whole body experience.

      Theaters are constructed to carry natural, non-amplified sound, and to treat a concert hall or a live stage like an open auditorium is just nasty.