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Networking for Live Theatrical Productions

MainStage keyboard programming

With the increased use of MainStage keyboard programming in live theatrical productions, it has become essential to be able to set up a local area network onsite when setting up a new production.

There are three major uses for such a network:

1. Mixing keyboard and track outputs and making quick edits remotely from the house so that these edits can be completed in real time while listening from the audience perspective and while receiving feedback from the sound designer, orchestrator, and music supervisor.

2. File management. It can be a huge time saver to be able to sit at one keyboard rig while making edits on another and to be able to save files and load samples across the network.

3. When connected to an internet connection provided by the theatre and in conjunction with VNC software, providing the ability to make edits remotely from a location outside of the theatre.

What you’ll need

The key to setting up a local area network (called a LAN for short) in an orchestra pit is having an ethernet switch and some Cat5e cables. Oftentimes, switches are mistakenly called routers, but those are something entirely different. You’ll want to use a switch that has several extra ports (just in case one port should fail or your needs change), and it should be what’s referred to as a “Gigabit” or high speed switch. I often use something like this NETGEAR GS108 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch

It’s incredibly easy to set up, has an adequate number of ports, has good data transfer rates, and fits easily into a rack of gear.

How to make your connections

You’ll make your connections as follows: run a Cat5e cable from the ethernet port of each computer to the ethernet switch. Connect the computer you’ll use for remote access to the ethernet switch via Cat5e cable, and connect the ethernet cable provided by the theatre (if they’re provided internet access for the pit) to the switch as well. For remote desktop connections from offsite, I’ve discovered that you don’t want any connection slower than 10mbps. That’s still not a very impressive speed, but it’ll let you get done what you need to do. Oftentimes, your speed will be very limited by the IT limitations of the theatre, so it’s good to know the bare minimum you’ll need to get by.

If you want to make your wiring really slick, you could install a patch panel on the back of each rack such as the Tripp Lite N052-024 Cat5e Patch Panel 568B 24port (N052-024)

This would allow you to wire any devices in your rack to the panel so that you don’t have do deal with loose wiring coming out of your computers.

The simplest way to log onto your computers remotely when on the LAN will be through the Finder in Mac OS, though I usually prefer to use Apple’s Remote Desktop app. You’ll need to set your system preferences¬†properly, but once you’ve done so, logging on is a breeze.

At this point, you can use a 50′ Cat5e cable to connect to your ethernet switch and after running the cable out to the house, you can log on with your computer to make edits to the computers in the orchestra pit remotely. You could use a wireless router such as this NETGEAR Wireless Router – AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit (R6300)

When using MainStage keyboard programing in a live theatrical situation I always advise going with a wired connection. Often, there’s so much radio interference in a crowded theatre during tech that it can affect the connection speeds. Additionally, some productions utilize WiFi to run automation for set pieces and any additional WiFi signals can interfere with it.

I’ll cover remoting in from offsite in a later post, but this information should get you up and running while onsite at the theatre so you can get your work done with efficiency.

Here are some handy links to the equipment needed:

NETGEAR GS108 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch

Tripp Lite N052-024 Cat5e Patch Panel 568B 24port (N052-024)

NETGEAR Wireless Router – AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit (R6300)

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me anytime at: