Shakespeare In Tokyo, AFC Image Transforms The Bard‘S Dark Comedies

From October 18 to November 19, 2023, alternating performances of Shakespeare’s dark comedies Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well were staged at the New National Theatre in Tokyo. A Yamaha AFC Image system was used to localise dialogue and sound effects, making both plays sound extremely realistic.

Although Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well are two of Shakespeare’s lessperformed plays, translator Takeshi Odajima and director Hitoshi Uyama saw the potential to stage alternating performances by the same cast, giving a modern interpretation and a new perspective for today’s audiences.

Mr Kosei Ueda, Head of Sound

They were staged in the New National Theatre’s Medium Theatre, which can seatup to 1030. Mr Kosei Ueda, the venue’s head of sound, says, “The Medium Theatre is architecturally less resonant than the other performance spaces at the New National Theatre, making it difficult to hear dialogue when actors turn away or to the side, Because of this, theatre performances are amplified using wireless microphones on the actors and we have the challenge of making the PA system sound as natural as possible.” To achieve this, Mr Ueda and his team have tried various methods, the key aim being to make dialogue sound as if it is coming from the actors,wherever they are on stage.

“I tried a method where the stage was split into different zones, for example stage left, centre and right areas, with the sound image localized by using a matrix to expand the sound in each zone with a bus feed. Other medium-sized theatres adopted a similar method,” he says.

“As technology developed, we adopted a system which could track the movements of the actors and automatically localize the sound image. The system was channel-based, so we had to route the signals to localize the sound image ourselves.”

However, even with this system, the volume differs from actor to actor and if their position shifts even slightly from the set zone, the direction from which the voice is coming from sounds unrealistic.

For Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well, the team set up seven zones: three onstage for the left, centre and right, two at the back of the stage and two to accommodate the actors moving out beyond the proscenium, towards the audience. But this time Mr Ueda could harness Yamaha’s AFC Image technology to make the sound even more realistic.

Realistic reverberation and sound field in each listening area. Mr Ueda explains, “Using a lighting analogy, the previous channel-based system was like using a single spotlight. When an actor spoke, only one set of speakers set up for that zone sounded. The sound was localized, but it was only in that zone.

However, an object-based playback system, such as AFC Image, is like shining light from several directions. No matter which zone the actor is speaking in, the system calculates the sound localisation and routes it to multiple speakers, which reproduce the sound while focusing on localization. This makes it sounds extremely natural.

“We arranged a demonstration of AFC Image in a medium-sized theatre and, even if the actor’s position deviated from the zone a little, there was no sense of unrealism in the direction of where the voice was coming from.”

In this production, the sound team placed AFC Image objects in the seven zoned areas, which gave the advantage of being able to fine-tune dialogue localization by instantly changing the position of the object corresponding to that zone.

As well as dialogue, AFC Image was also used for sound effects. This not only assisted with the realism of the sound, but also speeded up the workflow, as Mr Ueda explains.

“Usually sound effects are created before we go into pre-production. For example, with a raven’s call, we would set which speaker it is routed to and create the effects for it, such as reverb. After trying it during rehearsals, we woukd go back to the studio, adjust the effects and try again in rehearsals... repeating the process until every sound effect is correct.

“As AFC Image is object-based, it instantly calculates the volume for the optimum sound placement. The 3D reverb can freely change the degree of resonance and sense of direction, depending on the object’s position. This allows sound effects to be created in real time, during stage rehearsals. It also lets us take on creative challenges during rehearsals, such as trying different things on the spot. This was not possible before and has saved so much time. It is wonderful.”

There is also a scene where the sound of a drum roll circles the theatre. For this, the effect localization was controlled by the operator moving the objects in real-time on the AFC Image control screen. The 3D reverb was also used to add resonance to the music in some scenes, as well as creating a sense of realism that can’t be reproduced using stereo reverb.

Another advantage of AFC Image is that it automatically calculates the number of speakers, even if the shape of the theatre, the location or number of speakers changes. “If we took these productions to a different venue of any size with an AFC Image system, we would only have to input the shape and size of the venue and the position of the speakers. AFC Image would then make the calculations to produce a sound close to that of a medium-sized theatre,” says Mr Ueda.

Having used the system for Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well, Mr Ueda is extremely complimentary about AFC Image. “It worked very well in combination with conventional zoning methods, the localization and sound were natural and I didn’t feel any loss in terms of volume. Above all, there were no problems at all. I wouldn’t want to do this show without it,” he says.

He is also very enthusiastic about the flexibility, speed and ease of use which it brings to enhancing any production. “It delivers huge advantages for theatre. For example, if you want the sound of bells to come from further back on stage, you can install another speaker to extend the sound field, allowing you to create a bigger world view. In opera you could install speakers at the side of the stage for the sound of a shadow chorus. There are many possibilities, which we can achieve much more easily than ever before.”

New National Theatre, Japan


Active Field Control (AFC) is an acoustic conditioning system designed to adjust and enhance the sound of a space while making use of the natural acoustic properties of the existing structure.