SFX Goes To Hell
SFX spends some time in Hell House at St. Ann’s Warehouse
By Bart Fasbender

I’ve been a fan and devoted user of SFX since my first experience with it back in 2003 when I had a show down in Williamsburg, VA for Virginia Premiere Theatre at The Kimball Theatre. I’ve designed about 30 shows with it since then and I don’t ever want to look back. On one show this past October, I pushed its features much farther than I had in the past.

The show was a Les Freres Corbusier production of Pastor Keenan Robert’s Hell House performed at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY directed by Alex Timbers. I won’t go into the details of what the show was about because that could take an eternity. Quick description – a haunted house style production with short morality plays in each “room” of the house.

There were 12 playing areas with up to three tours running simultaneously. Each room had its own bed of sound or music as well as a list of spot fx that had to be triggered along with the action or dialog. From the first stages of planning I knew that SFX would be involved – I didn’t know how it would work but I knew that it would.

A little bit of thinking and research led me to this solution: remote triggers in each room that would be controlled by ASMs that would be following along with each tour through the house. I found an interface that could translate push button signals to MIDI cues – MIDI Solutions’ F8. With momentary push button switches on one end, we ran thermostat wire from all the rooms to a central control area where the SFX computer and light board could be monitored (not run) by the PSM. I had a separate Cue Stack feeding audio to each room that was controlled by the MIDI signals coming from the F8. Once the lighting designer, Tyler Micoleau, saw that the system was stable and was going to work, he decided that it would be best to have SFX to run his cues as well. It took some figuring and some trial and error but once we got it we were amazed at how well the system worked.

When the cast came in to tech that next morning we had most of the cues roughed in and the ASMs were blown away by what they were able to make happen with just the touch of a button 30 yards away from the control room. I got a big kick out of it too to be honest.

During the next 200 performances (20 nights at 10 shows per night) the SFX system worked beautifully. The few glitches that did occur (HINT 1: don’t use thermostat wire – it shorts out when repeatedly moved and sends errant GO signals to SFX. HINT 2: spend more than $2.15 a piece for switches) were quickly resolved by our awesome PSM Alaina Taylor.

Bart Fasbender has been the sound designer for over 100 productions in New York. He’s designed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Ohio, HERE, The Culture Project, Cherry Lane Theatre, Second Stage, Symphony Space, Fordham University, Juilliard, Baruch PAC, Tribeca PAC, and regionally at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Barrington Stage, New York Stage and Film, Virginia Playwrights Theatre, The Northeast Theatre, The American Dance Festival, and many more over the past 13 years. His early experiences in theatre as an actor, set and lighting designer, and carpenter come with him to create a balanced approach to his designs as a collaborative process. With his understanding and love of sound as music and language, his designs work within the context of the piece to underscore, support, punctuate and interact with the characters as would another actor on stage. And his experience in audio for television and film gave him the technical skills to create completely realistic soundscapes or bizarre bombastic moments when called for.

Select productions: Hell House, Boozy…, and Heddatron for Les Freres Corbusier dir. Alex Timbers; Arabian Night for The Play Company dir. Trip Cullman; underground for David Dorfman Dance; Terrorism for The New Group/Play Co dir. Will Frears; Bhutan at Cherry Lane and NYSAF dir. Evan Yionoulis; Romania, Kiss Me for The Play Company dir. Liesl Tommy, Jackson Gay, Thomas Caruso and Marcy Arlin.