A Novice Idea
by Michael Boso
Venue, Theatre Company Team
Up with SFX - and it proves to be quite a collaboration.
(Part 2 of 2) (See Part 1. )
New Technical Director, Sound Designer Work Together to Bring
'Discovered' System to Life
The state of the art in theatrical Sound Design turned pro last season at
Actors' Guild of Lexington. An SFX-based sound control
installation was literally found sitting in a corner of the technical control
booth at the Downtown Arts Center, AGL's production venue. Collaborating with
the venue's Technical Director and with the support of the Company's Managing
and Artistic Directors, SFX became the playback system of
choice at Central Kentucky's professional theatre company.
AGL's season-opening production, a.m. Sunday, served as an effective
first run for SFX. The director, Benny Sato-Ambush,
appreciated the flexibility and real-time cue creation made possible by the
software's intuitive, design-oriented user interface.
About The DESIGN, Stupid!
In live theatre production, the design process is as important as the casting.
Historically, sound design has been limited in its status as an organically
creative discipline. The technology to manipulate light in a precise, artistic,
replicable way has been around for decades. Under the
"Sounds Simple" philosophy, with the Cue List and GO Button, SFX
establishes that technology for sound as part of an industry-wide revolution
positioning sound at the head of the table in design meetings everywhere.
As the Actors Guild of Lexington season progressed last year, SFX
emerged as the obvious sound cueing system of choice. In the second production,
Diana Son's powerful time-shifting drama
Stop Kiss, director Richard St. Peter had very specific ideas about
sound, and, especially, music.
Several pivotal scenes were literally choreographed to hand-picked songs chosen
for their dramatic melodic impact and lyrical relevance. Faithful reproduction
of the fully produced and mastered recordings was a must for preserving and
conveying their impact. The industry-standard uncompressed 16-bit, 44.1/96k
sampling ensures that everything sounds like it should.
Scenes from the Actors
Guild of Lexington production of Stop Kiss
Scene from the Actors
Guild of Lexington production of Checking In
Other aspects of the play and this production's overall design aesthetic
involved quick scene changes between alternating time sequences. The abruptness
needed to be softened by a smooth aural transition. Autofollows, Waits, and
Fades allowed the seamless blending of cues linking one scene to
the next, even though setting, time, and mood changed drastically, without any
One especially effective change involved establishing a song in playback
throughout the entire space at the end of a scene, then fading down the house
outputs while leaving unchanged the outputs assigned to practicals onstage, in
effect "settling the sound" in the acting space and setting the scene in
motion. Timed to lights, a tense, dramatic scene ended, and a warm, romantic
scene unfolded, all with basic patching and one simple cue sequence.
Another key feature is the immediate activation of cues on GO.
With consumer media playback gear such as CD players and (shudder) mini-disc,
Play doesn't always mean GO, and the operator must find the right button,
usually located less than a finger's width from several wrong buttons. With
SFX, the Stage Manager can call sound cues with confidence and the
operator can run cues with ease. As long as the sound effect itself is recorded
properly, SFX plays it instantly, the same way, every time.
Excellence, Simple Versatility
The Santaland Diaries heralded the Holidays as well as the debut of a
new Sound Designer at Actors Guild of Lexington.
Andrew Connerley stepped in for this production without difficulty and
with SFX brought an appropriately wacky yet insightful soundscape to the stage.
Following the very successful musical Quilters, the world premier of
Checking In, a new play by Brian
Hampton, rounded out the season's production calendar. The signature
sound effect in this play features a series of casino slot machine pulls
punctuated by a jackpot effect. One problem with CDs is the minimum track
length. Tracks less than about eight seconds usually won't render or burn, much
less play. With SFX, multiple short length cues can be run in
virtual rapid-fire sequence without any latency whatsoever.
The entire process of integrating SFX into AGL's operations
involved planning, cooperation, and a clear sense of the big picture. That
said, the process was also intuitive, obvious, and easy. "The play's the
thing", and anything that works to elevate art must come to pass. It's nice,
once in a while, to have a good idea.
Scene from the Actors
Guild of Lexington production of
The SantaLand Diaries
On a personal note, I can say without reservation that working with SFX
at Actors Guild of Lexington led me to my dream career. In February of last
year, after less than one season at AGL, I attended the annual
Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC). Based on my work with SFX
as well as my experience in traditional studio audio recording and live concert
sound reinforcement, I was able to select my pick (Kentucky
Shakespeare Festival) of several job offers for the summer. This
August, I started my first season as Audio Engineer (and Sound Designer of four
productions) at Virginia Stage Company.
Thanks, Carlton, Brad, and everyone at SFX for all your help,
and for making such a great product. I look forward to all the upgrades the
future brings, and to many more great adventures in Sound Design!