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

A Season Evolves

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.

It's 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 curtains closing.

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.

Routine Excellence, Simple Versatility

David Sedaris' 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!