Steel Magnolias is a story about community, friendship, and above all else: powerful women. Between the director and the design team, we all worked together to make sure this production was not a museum piece. Despite the story taking place in the 80s, it is still a very relevant piece celebrating women. This story is something that people can still pull from today, and I believe people from all walks of life can pull something from it. For my sound design, I wanted to help enhance and add to the story, and not overwhelm the world with sound because I wanted the voices of the characters to stand out the most. The play looks and sounds like the 80s, but is still grounded in realism.
One of the main focuses on sound was the radio. We heavily curated what sounds we wanted to come from the radio as it contains such heavy symbolism and represents Shelby. The hardest part was finding songs to play over the airwaves that did not seem out of place for the scene or the time period. For example, in the one scene Annelle starts to become very religious, I picked "Heaven is a Place on Earth" to play in the background on the radio.
Throughout the first scene of the play, there are many gun shots and dog barks that could be heard outside Truvy's Salon. I individually edited the dog barks and gun shots together to create my own unique scenario and to avoid the sounds being too repetitive. I also aimed for the sounds to become more agitated in nature as the scene goes on to show the rising conflict going on outside the beauty shop. To achieve the effect of these sound effects coming from through a building, I achieved this all through speaker placement and a little EQ tweaks. We routed these effects through a speaker backstage and pointed it at the wall and behind the curtain. While cutting some of the high frequencies and boosting the lows and mids, it sounded just close enough you could feel the gunshots but still far enough away that it was clear that the sounds were not in the shop.
As mentioned above, the radio stands as a symbol for Shelby, especially at the end of the play. We curated the songs to fit the mood, so when the tone was upbeat and positive, we had songs such as "Walking on Sunshine" playing underneath the scene. Near the end of the play, when the tone is more somber, "Take My Breath Away" played from the radio. I also included the DJ voiceover that I recorded and edited for the show.
Secret Soldiers is a play that circles around the secret life of women who fought in the civil war disguised as men. This story focused mainly on Private Lyons Wakeman and her journey from the point she enlisted to her trial after being admitted into a hospital. For this design, the director and I built two separate sound worlds: Private Wakeman and the outside world, which focused on the reporters and doctor. Private Wakeman's world was going to be more classical, and more instrumental, while the outside world was going to use more drum driven rock music. We established these worlds early on in the play and used them as themes as characters were established as the story went on.
Another challenge of this play was how many scene transitions there were. This entire story bounces back and forth between the trial and flashbacks as Wakeman is tell her story. In order to differentiate between them, we used a "whooshing" sound effect and the flashing of the lights to show we were either going into a flashback or leaving one. While in the flashbacks, it was a play between using ambience or underscoring to set the scene.
The biggest challenge of this play was the fact that we had members of the audience sit on stage to act as a board of doctors during the trial. It took some trial and error, but I found the best way to compensate this was 4 speakers used as a surround sound system with two front speakers and two rear speakers. This ensured that each member could hear all the sound effects and actors. To compensate for feedback, I only placed the microphones in the two rear speakers to reinforce the performer's voices to those sitting on stage.
This driving piece was used at the top of the play to introduce the "outside world" or the world with the reporters. The first minute of the play foreshadows what could become of our heroine in disguise if exposed for hiding her gender in the war.
Path 5 became Wakeman's theme and it became the sound of her world. Every time she would write a letter home to her family this piece would underscore her letters.
This soundscape was used to establish the first flashback setting and place the characters on the Rosetta farm and home.
I created a custom River and Boat Ambience by finding multiple boat sounds and a river sound and editing them all together to create a feeling that the two characters are by the docks in during the civil war era.
This scene starts out with Wakeman writing a letter back to her family, and I used a different part her theme song to show the urgency of the situation. Once the letter finishes, we find Wakeman in the midst of battle.
This was the most intense scene in the play. We have a layering of a very much driving underscore of battle with musket gun shots.
This is the sound used to designate that we are heading into a flashback or leaving one. It was originally a single "whoosh" but I edited it to extend it and give more time for a scene change.
This flashback noise was used to differentiate between a flashback from the present and a flashback within a flashback.
Patrick Barlow’s A Christmas Carol is one of the most challenging scripts I have worked with yet. It was performed in The Johnson Theatre within the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. This version of the story was a zany take on a classic tale and it allowed the fun elements to show the heart of the story very quickly. The design elements all collaborating and created a darker world around the actors which helped accentuate what the comedic tendencies the performers had on stage. The sound world was used to set mood of the scene and to help build the underlying problem of Scrooge avoiding his fate until he finally comes face to face with the Ghost of Christmas Future.
The script called for a ton of sound cues just by itself. It had songs from movie soundtracks, specific environmental sounds, and even called for which songs he wanted the actors to sing and when. The first challenge with this was seeing if we would be able to use the copyrighted film scores the script called for in the venue we were having the production. In the end we did not have the rights, so I set out to replace many of the songs with royalty free music to help underscore scenes. It was also a collaborative effort between the music director and myself to find songs that the actors could sing with, as we jumped back and forth between live singing and recorded singing.
Scrooge's business contained many custom cues to build the atmosphere of the world. Throughout the scene, Scrooge had his phonograph playing periodically throughout the scene to show that he had Christmas spirit. I took some classic Christmas carols and edited them to make it sound as though it were actually coming from an old phonograph.
I created a Victorian London Street Ambience to play every time a window or door was opened in the scene in order to add to the world of Scrooge's shop. The ambience contains horse and carriages, crowd noise, and various other street noises of the time.
This wind sound was used to give the effect of flying. There were many transitions where the characters would ride a staircase through the air.
Throughout the play, I used a few recurring themes to foreshadow the future of Scrooge if he does not change his ways. This pieces first appears at the end of the first scene before Marley's visit and builds underneath Scrooge's crazed monologue talking of how dead Marley is and cuts with the lights at the end of the scene. I wanted to use this piece because I believe it brings up a feeling of dread and foreboding and leaves the listener unsettled.
This scene was mainly used in conjunction with the narrators as they prefaced the dark and foreboding challenges that were to come Scrooge's way. I used this piece to portray a haunting feeling unto the audience.
Venomous was used to underscore the Ghost of Christmas Past's entrance and presence going into that scene.
This song was used to underscore an emotional moment with the Cratchits. Cratchit's wife asks him how Tiny Time is faring, and it underscores a small moment of victory with the family as they watch him walk across the floor. It also doubles as underscoring to a moment between Frederick and his wife as they talk about how Scrooge might have a spark of love inside him. I wanted something to portray sadness, but with just a hint of hope.
There were many portions of the scrip that called for the cast to sing. This was not always possible due to timing, a small cast, and scene changes, so we decided to prerecord a couple of the songs to give the cast room to breath and change costumes. I worked in conjunction with the music director to find some songs we could base these a cappella recordings on. We recorded these songs "gang vocal" style on an AKG Perception 420 Microphone.
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.
Cinderella was my first time sound designing a musical. The design for this show was not as straight forward as it might have seemed, as the production itself was highly conceptualized and took on a more ambiguous time period. The sound world was set more modern and I used a gramophone as my main inspiration when building this world. Due to this, it took on a 1920s “Gatsby” feeling. Salon music from the 1920s and 1930s set the tone leading into Studio Tenn’s Cinderella.
Due to the set being a blank canvas, we used sound to set the scene when music was not being used. This was also a collaboration with the projection designer on what images he was using on the small projection wall in the back of the set. I worked to create scenes that took place in the castle garden, at the Stepmother’s manner, and in the village square.
The biggest challenge was creating the atmosphere of the Fairy Godmother and the transformation scene. We wanted her entrance and magical sequence to be celestial and cosmic but also match her personality which was fun and quirky. I used a couple different sounds to build the world of the Fairy Godmother. Layers of sounds were used so we could “feel” the magic in a low end rumble while also having the twinkle you would imagine when it comes to magic.
In My Own Little Corner
The goal of the animal sounds was to create a natural dialogue between Cinderella and the sound effects. We wanted the animals to have distinct personalities so it was like the mouses were giving advice and each sound had its own feeling. Each mouse squeak, meow, and dove coo was individually edited together to create the conversation.
The Transformation Scene
This scene was the hardest to create and time out in the whole musical. The two main parts that were built were the Fairy Godmother's entrance which uses thunder and some twinkle to accent her entrance through smoke and lights. The second part was the transformation scene. I used sound that varied between a low rumble so the audience can "feel" the scene along with the Godmother's signature "twinkle magic" and some celestial sound noises that were all timed to choreography of the transformation. The carriage turning into a pumpkin and the dress changing each had their own sounds.
The garden scene is one example of the various ambiences that were used to set the locations of the scene. The correlated to Cinderella and the Prince's time in the garden during the ball. It matched the fountain image projected onto the LED wall. Some other ambience that were used were a fireplace and owl to show that it is night and the village square.