Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Angie Flynn-McIver
North Carolina Stage Company
When I first started thinking about the sound design for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, I thought I was crazy for thinking about using music from the most famous band in rock and roll history, but I couldn't shake the idea. I'd been listening to lots of bootlegs and studio outtakes, and there were just too many pieces falling into place too easily to let the idea drop. Then I looked at the original copyright date in the script - 1967 - and that was the clincher.
I took the idea to Angie, without even having built any tracks yet, and she was skeptical but willing to entertain the idea. After I put the top-of-show track together, it was obvious to both of us that we were headed in the right direction.
Ultimately the most gratifying design moment in the show was a live one: near the top of Act 3, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in the dark, are trying to figure out where they are. The audience already knows, thanks to plenty of ambient ship creaks and sea sounds. But then the cast, surrounding the audience but hidden behind curtains, breaks into a couple of quick sea shanty lines:
So we sailed up to the sun
Till we found the sea of green
...because of course a sea shanty is exactly what that song is. On stage a lightbulb goes off in Rosencrantz's dim head: "We're on a boat!" Some nights that was the biggest laugh of the show.
On the Verge, or The Geography of Yearning
by Eric Overmyer
directed by Hans Meyer
Immediate Theatre Project
As much as I love working with other designers, I also love to sound design shows that I direct because of the way the two approaches inform each other. This is a perfect example. When we planned this production, all I knew was that I wanted to direct it, but I was having a hell of a time figuring out why. In 2008 this play, first produced in 1985, seemed hopelessly naive. I loved the play and didn't want a production that seemed to be making fun of its worldview. At the same time I was thinking about what the production might sound like, and I kept coming back to Underworld's "To Heal", a viscerally optimistic, hopeful piece of music (see Cue PP - Not Annoying At All). And that was the key, hope and optimism. The 1985 of On the Verge was also the 1985 of Back to the Future, a time of great excitement about where we were and where we were going; the right way to produce On the Verge was to embrace that hope and optimism unabashedly in front of a 2008 audience.
"To Heal" became sort of a musical mantra for me as I worked on the play, and I ended up using it to underscore Mary's final speech as she embarks on further journeys into the future. Lighting designer Jason Williams was able to create a fade-to-white to finish the moment, bring lights up brighter and brighter on Mary until blackout.
by Caryl Churchill
directed by Ron Bashford
North Carolina Stage Company
Ron and I know each other well enough that neither of us gets nervous when we run around in circles creatively. For Churchill's dense A Number, essentially a series of meetings between cloned children and their father, I proposed using Cliff Martinez's sublime "Is That What Everybody Wants" as a theme, but that was only meant as a starting point for the larger design. For the top of the show I built a stark but elaborate soundscape of fluorescent lights flickering on, centrifuges starting and spinning, and missile silos warming up. It's the kind of sound cue I can spend hours getting just right. We both loved it (sadly I've since lost the file or it'd be posted here for sure) but ultimately Ron felt it was too specifically narrative, even as abstract as it was. And he was right. We came back to "Is That What Everybody Wants" which I chopped up and put back together in multiple iterations, and except for some incidental sounds (rain, birds), that was the entire sound design for the show. It played between father/son meetings as Keith Kirkland's gorgeous lighting design shifted and undulated almost imperceptibly. The scenic design having already transformed NCSC's thrust space into an arena configuration, the sound and lighting design felt just transformational enough to keep up.
Student and other work
An audio script montage for Moonlight and Magnolias by Ron Hutchison, directed by Ron Bashford at North Carolina Stage Company. David O. Selznick has locked himself, Ben Hecht, and Victor Fleming in Selznick's office for five days to finish the script for Gone with the Wind. As they flip through the finish product and hit major plot points, the audio montage lets us hear what they see in their heads.
From a Georgia State University Players production of Steven Dietz's Dracula that I was hired to direct in 2000. Still very much using multiple CD and minidisc decks to build cues at this point. (Those were the days.)
From Claire Chafee's Why We Have a Body, directed by Ellen O'Brien at Guilford College, 1998. Cue A is Lyle Lovett's "North Dakota" breaking into the Mission Impossible theme as called for in the script, but still fun to put together. I think "How to Make Love to a Woman" was an encapsulated lecture complete with slide show, or I'm remembering it wrong.