Theatrical shingle Masque Sound can certainly attest to the fact that Broadway doesn’t sound like it used to.
While purists may bemoan the rise of amplification, which now includes wireless mics and digital audio Masque, which has been in existence for 75 years, was around in the days of phonograph sound effects and slide whistles, says topper Geoff Shearing, grandson of one of the founders.
The New Jersey-based company — which provides audio tech and support for current Main Stem shows including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Book of Mormon” — feted its longevity with an Oct. 17 shindig at the New Amsterdam Theater, and has tapped designer Milton Glaser to create an anniversary logo.
Masque was founded by three former stagehands in 1936. By the ’50s, reel-to-reel sound became prominent. The decade also saw early forays with wireless mics. Computers made headway in the 1970s — as did rock musicals — giving rise to the complicated amplification package now common along the Rialto.
Equipment rentals account for Masque’s primary business, and the ever-changing needs of theatrical audio have kept the company on its toes. The pace of technical developments have meant that obsolescence is a bigger issue than ever. “In the ’20s and ’30s they would rent the same piece of equipment until it wore out,” Shearing says.
In a move prompted by the omnipresence of wireless tech, Masque purchased Florida-based Professional Wireless Systems in 2002. Five years later, the company began providing audio system installation for performance-centered construction and renovation projects, including Gotham venues New Victory Theater, Le Poisson Rouge and St. Bartholomew’s Church.
Masque general manager Stephanie Hansen lists “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway” and the Brooklyn rock-opera “Stop the Virgens” among the company’s upcoming projects. Such shows join a list of credits that extends back to the original “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!”
Shearing and Hansen have found such longevity is proving to be an asset. “It’s a very niche business,” says Shearing, whose competitors include Sound Associates, founded 1946, and PRG, founded 1982. “It all hinges on the fact that we have this live sound experience.”