Bolero & punQtum power communications at Birmingham Royal Ballet  

Riedel Bolero & punQtum digital partyline keep Birmingham Royal Ballet en pointe

Birmingham, March 2023 – Based at the historic Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) is one of five major ballet companies in the United Kingdom. Known for its intensive touring schedule, the company required a reliable communication solution that could be easily deployed in a variety of venues. As audiences continue to expect more from live performances, Birmingham Royal Ballet company craft increasingly complex productions, requiring maximum precision and clear cross-department communications. The solution came in the form of an innovative punQtum and Riedel solution, which has provided flexible and reliable communications for the BRB team since its adoption in October 2022.  

Prior to the upgrade, the production team were using a two-stage system, composed of a one- or two-channel hard-wired system and a Motorola radio system. Not only did this rely on third-party venues to maintain and update the system, but also posed problems of interference and missed communications for team members using the portable radios. “Depending on the venue, we often found that their hard-wired systems were far from being able to accommodate the size and complexity of our productions,” says Johnny Westall-Eyre, Technical Manager of Lighting/AV at Birmingham Royal Ballet. “That meant we had an in-house system we couldn’t rely on and that wasn’t maintained by us and our own Motorola system which only allowed for one person to speak at a time. It wasn’t ideal!”    

Having made the decision to upgrade, Andrew Wilson, Head of Lighting & AV at Birmingham Royal Ballet, contacted Riedel Communications to learn about their solutions. “We were looking for a reliable, adaptable and flexible solution that would minimise risks of interference across channels and enable shows to be run in a safer and more efficient manner,” he explains. “It needed to be future-proof, multi-channel and easy to use, especially whilst the company is on tour across different venues. It was also important that it be completely self-sufficient so that we no longer have to rely on third-party systems.” 

Riedel’s UK Sales manager, Nacho Lee, put Birmingham Royal Ballet in touch with their integration partner, Autograph, who offered Wilson a unique solution combining Riedel’s wireless Boleros and punQtum’s digital wired solution, catering for both team members in fixed positions and those who need to move around during production. The scalability of punQtum and Riedel Bolero together was appealing and ticked the box of a future-proof system that would adapt to a variety of venues. “Technology transitions can be difficult for users who are familiar with particular cables or set-ups, but with punQtum, the system works on any switch, making it quick and easy to set up,” explains Lee.   

For real-world demo purposes, the recommended system was installed in situ at Plymouth Theatre Royal as part of the set-up for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Coppélia performances in October 2022. The system proved to be a good fit and the Birmingham Royal Ballet team committed to the punQtum and Bolero solution which consisted of Bolero belt packs, wireless antennas and headsets from Riedel and speaker stations, belt packs and headsets from punQtum.   

When it came to onboarding the new system, punQtum’s digital wired partyline was reserved for team members who maintain a stationary position throughout the production. This included key team members such as the Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager, who also benefit from the reliability of a wired communication system in case of signal drop-out. On the other hand, hard-to-reach positions, such as Follow Spot Operators, were assigned wireless Riedel Boleros due to cabling limitations. The flexibility of the two product ranges and the ability to interface the Riedel and punQtum systems together ensured a smooth transition.  

On the importance of a reliable communication system, Senior Lighting Technician Scott Smith comments, “Our intercom system is critical because it’s our lifeline to connect to each other – we work in the dark and in the quiet. Our communication system allows us to talk to each other. We move items and scenery around and without reliable comms, it wouldn’t be safe. This new system allows us to talk, anticipate problems in advance and come up with solutions, without affecting the running of the production.”  

A scalable communication system is invaluable for big performances, such as those around the busy holiday season. The ability to add more belt packs and daisy-chain up to eight punQtum belt packs together means that no matter how much the BRB backstage team grows, everyone can stay in touch during production, whilst taking advantage of the multi-channel functionality to avoid interference.   

On tour, Birmingham Royal Ballet now has a system that is reliable and familiar to the crew. “The system we’ve built with Autograph means we simply roll the rack in, plug in some cables and do a little testing before it’s ready to play,” confirms Smith. During performances, there is no longer interference on the vital stage channel, a welcome relief for members of the Stage Management team: “The Stage Management team are loving the ability to talk to different people at the same time, and not have a lot of chatter on just the one show channel, which is what we had previously,” explains Westall-Eyre.   

Furthermore, the Birmingham Royal Ballet team are confident that the Riedel and punQtum solution will grow with them as their productions increase in size and complexity. PunQtum has recently released a quiet environment mode, which adapts to the hushed surroundings of a theatre to avoid cutting users out in auto mode, a helpful addition for the BRB technical team. “The guys at punQtum have been very happy to listen to us and adapt the system to our needs, and the system has really evolved since it was first installed here in October 2022,” comments Smith.   

The end result is better communication backstage and improved performances on stage. More conversations can take place between key players in the team, leading to greater collaboration. On the success of this project, William Cottrell, Technical Sales Engineer at Autograph, explains, “Not only does this installation bring better communication, but it also allows Birmingham Royal Ballet to tour with confidence. They can plan their comms in advance and enjoy a level of consistency from one venue to another.”  

Kit list: 

    • Riedel PRO D1 Dynamic single-sided headset (4 pin Fxlr) x 9 

    • Bolero Wireless Antenna x 2 

    • Bolero 6 Key Beltpack x 7 

    • Bolero 5 Bay Charger with rack mount kit x 2 

    • NSA-002A interface with rackmount kit x 1 

    • Bolero Standalone Application x 1 

    • punQtum Q210P Speaker Station x 5 

    • punQtum Q110 Beltpack x 9 

    • punQtum Q910 single-sided headset x 5