Performing classic Greek tragedy from 450 BC is just like doing a 21st century Broadway musical. OK, it's nothing like it. But, what modern theatre technicians lend to the timeless epics of their toga-wearing predecessors are a rich set of tools that ultimately tell the same story in new and interesting ways. Just when you thought that there couldn't possibly be another way to present the two-millennia-old tragedy, Kent State's unique adaptation brings audiences into the mind of this out-of-her mind Medea character.
Medea, the scorned lover of Jason (of Jason and the Golden Fleece fame), is so unhappy with him that she plots and carries out murderous revenge throughout the play. To stress her anguish, the actor, Christine Williams, was relegated to mostly playing only in the lowest portion of the multi-level arena stage – dubbed the “Pit of Despair.” Also part of Director Rohn Thomas's concept was to portray the Chorus as the internal conscious of Medea. Only Medea could interact with these characters, and, when these characters spoke they had an extra ability to make their will be known.
Thomas wanted the surreal Chorus to be able to emphasize some of their dialog with percussive sound effects. As Medea wrestled with her jealousy and anger, the chorus would intrude themselves into her emotional turmoil and at times thump on specific locations on the set to provoke perfectly synchronized sound effects to emphasize the dialog. Sound Designer Monica Falatic chose a series of tympani rolls, percussive hits, rumbles, thunders, and other effects to accent various actions and lines -- all triggered solely through actor action.
Entertainment Arts & Technology professor Steve Zapytowski used Stage Research's SFX software and hardware devices to turn the set into a mechanism that the actors could use to create their own sound effects. Through vibration sensitive triggers linked to SFX, actors were able to hit certain areas of the set to cause drum beats and other noises. The effect was visceral as there was a clear connection between the actors' actions on stage and the resulting sound effects.
Falatic also provided music and sound cues for entrances and other events that were triggered by the sound operator, Benjamin Wolfe. The performance space, Curtis-Wright Theatre, is an intimate, arena stage, with speaker locations in a 360° pattern over the audience. Using SFX's ability to playback through multiple speaker locations, Falatic was able to position and move sound in an interesting way around the theatre, immersing the audience in the drama.
Splitting sound cues between actor triggered and sound operator triggered was critical. With several locations on the set with triggers, the stage manager would not be able to perfectly call all cues in perfect synchronization, especially as multiple actors struck multiple set locations. With the triggers automatically occurring, this freed the sound operator to take simultaneous music and sound cues -- and all of this occurring on just a single computer!
Zapytowski used Pintech Drum Triggers and attached them to various platforms on the set. The triggers would measure a certain threshold of vibration and output a signal to a Roland TMC-6 Trigger to MIDI device. Programming the device to output a different MIDI note for each onstage trigger, SFX responded separately to each action. So, an actor hitting a platform would ultimately send a particular MIDI note to SFX and then SFX would interpret that information and playback the coinciding sound cue.
Falatic created a number of cue lists in SFX to handle the sound operator cues and the actor triggered cues. Each area on stage with a trigger had its own SFX cue list. For example, one triggered cue list had various percussion hits, with each one being slightly different then the others so the cues would remain interesting and not redundant (see Fig 1 below). In another list, a cue sequence was created in a loop because the exact amount of triggers was different during each performance; the actor could thump the stage as many or as little times as they wished.
With multiple cues being fired simultaneously -- from various actors on stage and the sound operator -- the show was still simple to run in SFX through one GO button and a main cue list. Sound cues were immediate, synchronized, and professional and provided a dimension to this Greek tragedy that Eurpides would never have imagined!