A Journey Into Sound Design

You see, from time to time, photos of set construction or rehearsals during the development of a play.  But as one of the overlooked, unsung heroes of the theatre (I will wait while you all say, "Awwwwwwwww".  Go ahead.  I'll be here.......... done yet?.........OK, good.) I'm going to walk you through my process for sound design for "Beauty Queen of Leenane."

Any sound design begins with an initial readthrough of the script, marking the obvious cues.  These are usually the ones called out by the author, or scene breaks, or the end of an act.  I'll make notes in a notepad while I'm doing this.  Then, I'll go back through again, making additional notes about where I feel there should be some sort of a sound or musical underscore.

Usually, by the time I've done this, I will have gotten at least a couple of text messages or emails from Jonni and Traci asking when I'm coming down to talk about sound.  It's been this way for years - why mess with a good thing?

When I finally cave in, we'll all sit down and go through the script and my notes.  This is where I explain my initial choices, they'll either agree or tell me I'm wrong, and then we toss ideas back and forth.  This is also where we discuss the special oddball stuff, like routing the sound of a radio or television onto the stage and having it come from the actual prop.  Sometimes it's possible, sometimes I have to place a special speaker hidden in the set near the prop.

That's what we did today.  My next step is to start to assemble the actual sound files I need.  I should have most of these in the library already, but those I don't will need to be hunted down online.  I'm registered with several online sound effects services so, unlike the old days where I had to go to the library and borrow the BBC sound effects LP's, a few moments with a browser, and CLICK!  I have the file.  This script calls for specific radio shows and songs, so I have already tracked some of that down.

After I have my rough design done, I'll go down to CST and load them all into the show control software on the computer and set rough levels.  The show will go through many, many, many changes before opening night - in the days before computerized playback, I'd often go through a dozen CD's during rehearsals, and occasionally one after the show opens.  But now, changes and edits can be made on the fly, and my stress level is much lower when the directors turn to me and say, "That was OK, but can you trim......."

I'll update again in a week when I've got the show a bit more solidified.  I'll also show you the process of loading a show into our playback computer.

--Paul Braun, Sound Designer