Big Stories Up Close: SFX at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago
By Victoria DeIorio
Freelance Sound Designer

This month, Stage Research welcomes sound designer, Victoria DeIorio. Victoria has her own freelance sound design company out of Chicago and has received two Joseph Jefferson Citations for Outstanding Sound Design for Around the World in 80 Days and The Shadow, both for the Lifeline Theatre in Chicago. Victoria shared with us her recipe for success for Around The World and how SFX helped her arrive at standing ovations and critical acclaim for her sound design.

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Lifeline Theatre is a 99 seat Chicago Non-Equity Theatre. Its artistic ensemble of writers, directors, designers and performers collaboratively develop literary adaptations and original theater. Because the adaptations are from novels, they tend to be large in scope. This is why we call our shows Big Stories, Up Close.

I was introduced to designing sound at Lifeline with a production of Around the World in 80 Days; where, literally, we traveled around the world in two hours. Since the theatre is relatively small in its playing space; sound, lights, and ingenious sets and costumes really create the world of each adapted novel.

With 80 Days, I had 3 mini-disc players, and 1 CD player for playback. There were 230 cues in the show, which meant that there was more than one cue per minute. This is an accurate model of all the shows I design in this space.

Since we adapt novels, the changes happen through our 2-week preview process up until opening. Tech has always been a non-stop working environment for me, with notes galore for the operator, in order to fine tune exact moments. In the 4 years that I have been a part of the ensemble, I have never had a dinner break. And in the past, there have been some cues that were never executed correctly, that I had to let go, due to the impossibility of my grand ideas.

Add to this, the rotating operator schedule. First of all, since this is a non-equity theatre, operators’ commitment during tech has been a little shaky at times. And secondly, Lifeline Theatre has extended runs. And sometimes these long runs extend even later than originally planned due to popularity. The only drawback to this is a constant revolving door of sound operators.

The training of the choreography involved with that many cues through an old system is extremely tiresome and the integrity of my design is at stake. After 4 years of this, and our mini-disc players starting to loose their reliability, I proposed an SFX system for playback in the booth. I have been using SFX in various regional theatres and find it an extremely friendly program.

We received donations of computers and charged ahead. The current show, Gaudy Night, comes in at a generous 140 cues, and the maiden voyage of SFX in our theatre.

 

Our preview process allows for perfecting your design while changes constantly abound. We solicit responses from the audience and also every ensemble member comes to a show and gives their input. Every night there’s a production meeting that can be hours long at times (depending on the issue at hand). Every ensemble member’s input is taken into account and then weighed against what is necessary for the best interpretation and what is possible to get done within the allotted time.

Therefore, the script, direction, and design are all up for scrutiny by many eyes. Having SFX was fundamental for smooth changes. In Gaudy Night, we were constantly changing the arrangement of scenes. Normally, I would have had to rerecord discs and redo cue sheets. This time, with SFX, it was a matter of cut/paste and I was done. I was able to add in tiny details of rowing a boat that could be fired with every motion of the actor’s oar. It was the details I could concentrate in, not the teaching of how to run it.


Thus, I got a dinner break, my changes were effortless and the show remained consistent. The normal tweaking was done by my hand, and remained intact in the computer. Operator notes at the production meeting that used to go on for hours suddenly did not exist. The nausea of over-working throughout the tech process was gone. I only had to concentrate on designing the show. We had a replacement operator this past weekend and it went off without a hitch.

We also run a children’s show simultaneously during the daytime and the Stage Manager usually runs those shows on his/her own. SFX has helped me achieve my most outrageous ideas, and released me from the stress of how my design will be executed.

 

 

You can find out more about Victoria's sound design as well as her original music at her website.