Theatre with In Your Face Sound Design
Norm took a play, Killer Joe, that is highly realistic with over the top blood
and sex. While he accomplished supporting the individual sound cues, including
intricate television and radio cues, a perpetual storm, and a pit bull
bark that sent you out of your seat, he made choices with all of the above
that added a good dose of humor that balanced and strongly enhanced the
production. As usual his cues were seamless and technically perfect. -
Lee Sankowich, Producer/Director of Killer Joe
most playwrights, Tracy Letts considers sound to be a very strong story
telling tool for theater. Award winning designer Norman Kern created
a sound intensive production. Sound started from the beginning to the
end of the show and included over 100 sound cues for a script of 72
pages. "A script like Killer Joe is sound designers' dream,"
Kern said. Thanks to SFX and its abilities, Kern was
able to create the reality of a white-trash trailer park in Dallas,
Texas - with everything from a vicious pit bull to the rain bouncing
off the roof of the trailer.
Quote from Cast - Ryan Montgomery (Chris Smith) - Norm's design acted as an integral character in 'Killer Joe'. At our first tech rehearsals, Howard and I felt compelled to "watch" the TV. Actually, we were listening to the funny bits that Norm threw into the design. Even after hundreds of performances I often found myself playing into the "scoring" of the show. The rhythms that Norm found played beautifully with our choices as well as with Lee's. It was great to have a sound design that enhanced our performances so dramatically. I'd work with Norm again in a heartbeat.
Ansel Smith and Chris Smith watching TV
Killer Joe and Dottie
|Quote from Cast - Anna Bullard (Dottie Smith) - It wasn't until "Killer Joe" that I fully appreciated the subtle hand of a truly masterful designer. I have never as an actor or audience member experienced a sound design so intricately and intimately wedded to the psychological underpinnings of a play. What struck me most was his incredible ear for dialogue in the background radio and television clips he'd so painstaking timed to underscore the scene – inevitably, the sounds that emerged in our dialogue pauses were eerily appropriate for the moment, uncannily timed to comment and support without distracting from the action at hand.|
playwright Tracy Letts clearly defined the parameter of sound but gave the
designer enough freedom to create. A specified sound in the second act (an
evangelist on the radio) was used to help the transition into the next scene.
SFX was used to move the sound from the house mains to
the trailer radio that Joe was listening to. The Texan evangelist preaching
recording Kern found was so amusing that we hardly sensed the transition
A speaker hidden in the kitchen corner helped the fight choreography. Kern used the sound of silverware and plates to create the impact of Joe punching Sharla in the first fight scene leading to a gruesome Joe/Sharla's shocking performance. There weren't as many sound cues in the second ACT. However, they were significant. Joe turned on the radio again for the final dinner scene. Against typical anticipation, this time joyful Mozart was chosen for the radio music to further boost the dynamic of the later finale fight. The end of show, all hell broke lose in the climax of the final fight.
Having served in the United State Air Force as a police officer, Kern never believes in using sound of a prop-gun on stage. It not only sounds fake with unpredictable explosion but also loud and detrimental to actors' ears. Kern EQ'd and processed a Foley gunshot to make it sounds realistic as if it is fired in the small space of a trailer. SFX fired three shots: the first silenced the radio. No one doubted the gunshots. The finale was a bloody mess and took the stage manager/crews a good hour to clean up afterwards - not to mention several bloody laundry loads costume crews had to deal with before the next performance. Killer Joe ended with a WOW.
Norman Kern is an award winning sound designer/composer for theatre and feature film. This year, he received four nominations and won two Theatre Critics Circle Awards for musical, drama sound design, and original music. He has used SFX for over sixty productions and would never dream of using anything else. He has been representing and supporting Stage Research, Inc. since 2001. Norman Kern is a member of United Scenic Artists - Local USA-829.