The Mini-Z Speakers
Ever been to a play where an onstage phone rings and the sound effect is played through the house speakers above you? It’s distracting and in that moment you’re taken out of the story occurring in front of you and reminded that this is a play and it’s all just a bunch of make-believe. Localizing discrete sound effects like a telephone ring, an iPad notification or doorbell rings are common tasks for theatrical sound designers. Often the placement of these sounds in a realistic space can become complicated. Standard full-range loudspeakers or even smaller unpowered monitors are often impossible to hide on a set and small capsule speakers, meant to play music from you’re phone, just aren’t loud enough.
A couple of years ago I was hired to work on the play “Girls Talk” by Roger Kumble staring Brooke Sheilds. The play began with Brooke’s character, Lori, sitting in a chair connected to a breast pump when the doorbell suddenly rings and her sleeping baby begins crying from upstairs via a baby monitor on the other side of the room. It wasn’t possible (or desirable) to have the prop pump actually operating and the small set would leave very little room to fit a speaker for that or the other sounds happening one after the other.
I decided it was time to build my own speakers that would 1- be as small as possible, and 2 – be capable of being loud enough to reproduce most on stage events called for by the script (which, by the way, included a gate intercom, several cell phones, a computer, iPad, and an off stage toilet). What I came up with was the “Mini-Z.” A 3.5-inch square speaker made with an 8-ohm driver, protected by a metal screen and enclosed in MDF.
The speakers performed well on “Girls Talk” and have undergone small changes and tweaks since that time. This weekend they’ll be in performance with the opening of “The Boomerang Effect” by Matthew Leavitt. In that show they’ll play cell phone rings, “Words With Friends” game sounds, and a mini-fridge condenser hum all from their approximate location on-stage and not through the house mains overhead.