Men on Boats
Company: Actor’s Bridge Ensemble and Belmont University
Director: Leah Lowe
Role: Sound Designer
Time: April 2017
Photos: Rick Malkin
This sound design was nominated for a KCACTF Region IV Award
Men on Boats tells the story of ten men traveling down the Colorado River to chart their course into the Grand Canyon, but there is one small twist: these traditionally white men are all played by a diverse cast of women. Powell has two objectives: document his journey and keep his men alive. These explorers experience everything from whirlpools, losing supplies, and dodging death. This all female take allows one to focus on the story and emotions of a life-threatening trek down the Colorado River. That is exactly what this sound design, and overall production aimed for.
Evoking the emotional journey that Powell and his crew experienced was the core of my sound design. Bluegrass and acoustic guitar inspired sounds helped create the rough and tumble world that John Wesley Powell and his crew experienced in 1869. The director and I aimed for each scene to have a different tone. Using almost all guitar melodies, the mood ebbs and flows with the dangerous and exciting parts of the river, and with the cast’s feelings. Foreshadowing dangerous river runs to underscoring exciting new finds in the landscape, these guitar sounds are meant to immerse the audience in the spirit of the crew on their journey. Besides guitar, various ambiences such as raging water and campfires, helped create the world of the west. The sound design is all about making the audience feel like they are a part of the adventure. The biggest challenge with this show was deciphering the emotions that were felt throughout the play and being able to translate that into music. I learned to be able to read a text and analyze it.
Belmont’s Blackbox theatre is a 40’ x 40’ theatre with a balcony around the whole area and a grid above for lighting. It is a DIY space that let allows you to place speakers freely in the space. Three speakers were placed out for this production. Two speakers were placed on either side of the balcony aimed at the audience, giving the audience and equal distribution of the sounds, but a specific sound source. The last speaker was placed behind the upstage center portion of the set to be used for location sound effects. Music was pushed from Qlab to a Motu 828x to a Behringer x32 then outputted to the speakers.
This exciting and driving guitar is used to kick off the gang’s adventure down the river.
The overcrowded Emma Dean gets caught in some rocks and leaves the crew in a precarious situation. As the ship members navigate through dangerous waters, a tense and driving guitar builds the energy until the members capsize, or “float” into the water. A light and airy release of tension follows their fall into the water. The Ambient Suspense guitar track builds and builds until the boat hits the rock and cuts off the track, and Floating Island follows their trip into the water.
The last scene of the men coming out of the Grand Canyon and meeting Mr. Asa. Grandioso Radio accompanies this moment to signify the coming back into the “real world” and all the problems that come with such an accomplishment and dealing with the government. These men were deemed as heroes.