David & Lisa
Chagrin High School
by Carlton Guc

Itís been a while since I designed a show for a high school production, so when director Jeff Lockshine asked me to design his show Ė reminding me that Iíve done every show he has ever directed Ė I said Iíd do it. Little did I know this simple high school production would turn out being one of the most challenging shows Iíve worked on.

David & Lisa by James Reach was originally written for the screen and then adapted to the stage. ďIt retells, by use of the most modern stage techniques, the strange, appealing and utterly fascinating story of two mentally-disturbed adolescents: David, only son of wealthy parents, over-protected by a dominating mother, who is tortured by his mania against being touched; and Lisa, the waif who has never known parental love, who has developed a split personality and is in effect two different girls, one of whom will speak only in childish rhymes and insists upon being spoken to in the same manner.Ē

Easy, huh? In the first six pages of the script there are 8 blackouts!  So much for just a few telephones and some preshow music.  As most scenes transition between place and time the design needed to incorporate the schizophrenic feel of the show while not using any specific and recognizable music for transitions. Looks like Iíll be doing a bit of composing.

Designing The Show

I discovered recently a very cool software package by Sonic Foundry called Acid . I know itís been out there a while, but I really didnít see what I could use it for. It was pure coincidence that I picked up Acid prior to David & Lisa and started to play with creating some pretty cool compositions. This gave me the ability to create short snippets required for the scene changes and to set the mode of the play. After a solid week of design, rehearsal, and tweaking, the show had a total of 88 sound cues loaded into SFX for playback.

Two scenes are worth mentioning during the show as I added the element of sound behind the actor to help build the scene. One scene is when David is describing his dream about sitting on a large clock with the sharp minute hands moving around the face cutting heads off while the clock struck midnight. Behind his speech you can hear a very deep, slow ticking of a clock. As David begins to talk he gets into the rhythm of the clock and moves his hands in a cutting action. Then as fore shadowing, we hear the chime of the clock as David continues, ďat the stroke of midnightÖĒ With the lights on stage dimming to red, it was a very powerful scene.
This sequence starts out with a slow clock tick.  Layering the Clock Chime Low with cue 32, then fade both the clock tick and chimes up during cue 33 the black out.  Finally cue 34 fades the tick and chime out to start the next scene.

The other scene is near the end of the show. David ends up yelling at Lisa who drives her away from the school. As we are building to a potential rape scene, there is a musical crash during the black out and a driving rhythm in the background as the lights come up on stage in Alanís office. After a frantic, "we have got to find her speech", were back in black, hear another crash and have a different rhythmic background Ė more like a heart beating faster. Another small scene, another black out, another crash. This time the rhythmic background is louder and the attackers enter stage. Cornering Lisa on a park bench a guitar riff breaks in, increases in volume until an attacker slaps Lisa triggering the final crash, silence, and David yelling off stage chases the attackers away.
Cue 84 starts with a crash then a low rhythmic beat (drive).  Transition into the next scene with cue 85 - another crash and change the drive to add a quicker beat.  Cue 85.5 is the same with additional volume.  Cue 86 is when the guys gang up on Lisa (Photo above) until cue 87 when one of the kids slaps Lisa causing everything to stop in silence as David yells in the wings chasing the guys away.

The design and operation would not be possible without SFX Ė thatís the given.  What I was also happy to discover is the composition program Acid that allowed me to create musical background that could fit this unusual show. Check it out at http://www.sonicfoundry.com/.  Another surprise was the usefulness of a laptop as the primary playback machine. Originally expecting the school to provide a computer system, I never expected to use my laptop to run the show. However as luck would have it, I discovered that my modestly powerful laptop (PIII, 450Mhz, 256Meg, 20G HD) ran the show quite well.  In addition, I had no worries of someone coming over and kicking the main power out of the wall crashing the system.  After the plug was put back in, the computer would be still running. With newer Card Bus (PCMCIA like) sound card, we can easily run 8 or more balanced audio channels on a laptop. Check out www.echoaudio.com for their laptop Layla card.