A poll for live-theater goers: Do mike wearing performers bother you?

I think RENT was the first show I ever saw where most of the cast was miked with headsets. Since then I’ve seen it in many professional and amateur musicals. Sometimes it bothers me, especially when it’s a musical like CABARET or RAGTIME that are set long before such technology existed, but I suppose it’s worth it for the superior sound quality. On the other hand, you’re already pretending that a universe exists where people burst into song and that the obviously painted backdrop is a house, so just go with it.

OTOH, I’ve known a couple of people who say it takes them out of the show, especially when it’s not a musical. It was done in at least one Shakespearean play I saw (King Lear) which bothered me more than it does in musicals.

Anyway, just curious if others are bothered by it or not.

There was a period when people wore mikes that were very obvious black disks attached to their heads and close to their mouths. Those took a little getting used to, but this technology period was pretty brief.

Before that, they wore microphones on their collars or whatever, like talk show guests. Could barely notice them.

Nowadays the technology seems to be mostly those tiny little forehead dots that stick out from under the wigs. They don’t bother me at all.

I’ve seen a coupla shows where an actor turns around and you can see the rectangular outline of the battery pack which makes me laugh and the show becomes a little more amateurish but in general I’m not too broken up about it. I rarely get that deeply involved in a show where a mike will make me freak out. I’m pretty good at buying into the artificial world of the play and not sweating the verisimilitude.

I vastly prefer the wig mics to the ones that go down the cheekbone (sorry, I don’t know the name). Even the small “flesh colored” ones cast shadows which interfere with the actor’s expressions, and that bugs me a lot.

Sadly, with the shape of theaters and the (lack of classical) training of actors these days, I do prefer microphones to no microphones just because I can’t hear the unmiked actors. But I’d really prefer to hear the actors without amplification if I can, y’know, *hear *them.

If you are going to act on stage, learn to project or go back to Akron.


Project all you want, but if there’s a 22-piece orchestra rolling along behind you, no one will hear a word or a note without a microphone.

Tell that to Richard Wagner. Or Gilbert & Sullivan. Or Ethel Merman.

No - it is the responsibility of the musical director to ensure that the singers can be heard over the orchestra. The idea that the music automatically overwhelms the performers is utterly false. Opera orchestras can weigh in at 90 - 110 pieces. Opera singers performing in shows like ‘Magic Flute’ or ‘Carmen’ (dialogue version) have to project their dialogue to the back row in 2,000 seat houses. Musical directors need to tell the amplified instruments to cool it, and contemporary singers/actors need to learn how to project.

I need to disagree with you, Sampiro - there’s nothing ‘superior’ about the sound quality of a miked singer or actor. In fact, it’s the change in sound quality that bugs me the most about miking.

Well it is possible for a singer or actor to project over an orchestra if necessary and to fill a large space with just their voice. But at the same time, if you’ve got a singer or actor who blows your socks off and they lack that ability, and you have the technology to make them heard in such a way that 95% of the audience doesn’t care except that they can hear the performer, can you blame them for choosing that option? As a bonus, at least for theater, if you have their voice running through the soundboard, you can apply effects that can support the production. Even the ancient greeks modified their masks to aid in amplification. If artificially increasing the power of a voice is good enough for the ancient greeks, it’s good enough for me.

It always bugs me at least a little, but a well-miked musical in a big house only bothers me for a few moments until I adjust. But in a small house, actors should just frickin’ project. In a straight show, microphones are an unwanted distraction. And if a musical is miked badly, with badly balanced, tinny, or screechy vocals mixed with static and feedback, it’s worse than not being able to hear the actors. Microphones in small houses, microphones in shows that are not musicals, and microphones that are handled badly by the sound guy make the show seem amateurish.

I honestly don’t care about being able to see the mic; I can suspend disbelief easily enough. For me, the sound of the mikes is more important than the way they look.

I heard on Science Friday last week that the guy who developed a lot of the technology for Guitar Hero is also working on a very long, very thin speaker that can make the listener believe that the sound is coming from the actor (singer) not from the sound system.


Actually, even Akron deserves better.

I just saw a production that was in a house small enough that no one should have needed to be miked, but they all were. And it was distracting on its own, and made worse because the person running sound couldn’t balance it right. The sound was distractingly bad.

I can understand it, and why people think they need it, I guess. But it just seems wrong and a bit lazy in a lot of productions.

If it’s something unobstrusive like a lapel mic (the kind talk show guests wear), or if it’s fixed microphones at the edge of the stage, I don’t mind (but they still shouldn’t be strictly necessary, if the actor can project properly). But an actual headset, with a microphone coming down on a wire arm next to the actor’s cheek? That’s not just a tool any more, it’s a part of the costume, whether it was intended that way or not, and unless the character is a call center operator, air traffic controller, or football coach, it’s going to distract me.

Oh do they look like the FM device/ body worn hearing aids that deaf kids used to have to wear?

I answered before I realized that you were talking about obvious microphones. I was thinking about the talkshow type mics or the wig mikes. And I thought your complaint was going to be about how old style theater used natural amplification, a complaint I’ve heard about miked operas.

I’m not a fan of blatantly obvious headsets, but small lapel mics or something along those lines doesn’t bother me at all.

Forbidden Broadway’s You Just Can’t Sing, a duet between Ethel Merman and Alan Campbell as Sunset Boulevard’s Joe Gillis (After Sunset closed, it became the Phantom).

Ethel: What’s that weird thing on your forehead?
Alan: It’s my microphone
Ethel: Oh, that’s that weird Andrew Lloyd Webber disease I keep hearing about:

You don’t need amplifying
You’ll be loud as a lion
Be like me, use your diaphram.
Take that thing off your forehead.
It looks like a nuke warhead,
And you sound sheepish as a lamb.

Lyricist Gerard Alessandrini deserves a medal for rhyming “lion” “diaphram” and “lamb.”

I’ve never seen an actor wear a headset like that. It’s usually more like a very thin nude colored wire that sits around the ear and the mic extends down to the mouth while the other end slips under the shirt collar and towards a battery pack/wireless transmitter on the waistband. If you tried to put an air traffic controller in that, you would get a lot of very weird looks from people.

No, it doesn’t bother me at all. As long as I can hear them correctly, I don’t care.

Ethel Merman was loud, but that’s all she was. IMO she was a horrid singer and I’d rather tear my ears off than listen to her caterwauling. If actors being miked means we get less singers like her, then thank God for mics.