Three Secrets About the A.C.T.’s Orchestra Pit

By Erik Verduzco, Queena Kim
July 24, 2011

Here are a few things you might be surprised to learn about the modern orchestra pit.

First off, there’s no “orchestra” and the name might be a bit outdated. At least that’s the impression we got from our night in the pit at the American Conservatory Theater. Instead of violins and french horns, we saw a six-piece rock band with each member playing multiple instruments.

“Orchestras are getting smaller and smaller,” said “The Tales of the City” Music Director Cian McCarthy. That’s “mainly because shows are becoming more pop rock.”

That’s certainly true for the A.C.T.’s musical Armistead Maupin’s “The Tales of the City,” which was co-written by Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters fame. The score, for the most part, riffs off of 70s glam and disco rock.

The second surprise is that the pit is very quiet or in other words, none of the music you hear in the theater actually comes out of the pit.

The drummer is enclosed in a plexi-glass-like isolation booth, which muffles his big sound. So too are the horns. You can’t even really hear the guitar and keyboards. All the sound from the instruments is fed to a booth where sound engineers fiddle with it and pipe it onto the speakers in the theater.

The third surprise? Well you’ll have to watch the video to find out. By the way, it’s the closing week of “The Tales of the City” so if you want to check it out, buy your tickets now. (Pst… if you use the code word “citizen” you can get a discount) (- Queena Kim)

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