Sound design found me. If I had known early on in my life what opportunities there were to fuse both music and theater into a career I wouldn’t have had to wage war with myself for the many years that I tried to pick one or the other. I've always envied my actor friends who always knew that they wanted to act and their drive to follow that passion is why I feel so grateful to be able to take care of them in any capacity. I started composing when I was 7 and after watching the movie Amadeus I wanted to be Mozart. If a song inspired me I would pluck it out by ear on the piano or flute and I would spend hours transcribing piano sonatas or symphonies just for fun onto pages of manuscript. I also loved to act and discovered a great passion for directing. It wasn’t until college that I was able to have the opportunity to fully dive into all of my passions. Regrettably, I was no Mozart, and the flute betrayed me. However, I started composing and sound designing for the theater department at my university. I wrote music for my first musical then as well, and I was happy. I graduated with double B.A. degrees in music and theater. I loved my undergrad department because it was safe and small. I realized immediately that I had to find some where I could fuel this passion as soon as possible and for as long as I could. It was a thrilling moment when I decided that I wanted to make this my career. But, how in the world I was going to do this?
Why New York? How did you make your way to the city?
I interviewed on the graduate degree circuit for a while and I had interviews in New York, often. I felt a great homesickness when I would have to leave this city. Which was odd and unexpected from growing up all my life in a small sleepy seaside town in Texas. I had never had a gut feeling like I did my last trip to New York when I looked back at the New York City skyline from the M60 bus and felt like I was making the worst decision of my life to ever leave again. I decided to abandon my hopes of a master’s degree and I sold everything I owned, pack a bag and moved here without a plan and without any idea how I was going to live, just on a gut feeling. I had never considered myself an ambitious person or ever thought of myself as someone that had it in them to do something this. The first year I lived here the only thing that sustained me was the ultimate surrender to this city and I allowed it to take me wherever I was meant to be. I would say to myself “this city is a monster, it always wins, no sense in fighting it, if it’s meant to be, then you’ll get there eventually”. An ultimate leap of faith. My goals that first year were in no way theater related. I needed to be able to make the transition into being a New Yorker, first, and then see about the other stuff. No small task. I gave myself a year deadline. If I wasn’t still feeling like this was the right decision then I would leave. In a week I found a full time job, an apartment and my best friend became my roommate. 4 months later I met Heather Cunningham and Retro Productions and simply put: I was home. The year deadline came and almost to the day I earned my card with Actor’s Equity Association and became a full time stage manager. In addition to stage management I began to sound design and compose again. Retro Productions has done more for me than any company in the Broadway indie theater community. Retro afforded me the opportunity to learn, develop and thrive. If it wasn’t for Retro I would not have stayed in New York after that first year and because of this I will always be incredibly grateful to Heather Cunningham and Retro Productions.
How do you negotiate artistic need and limited resources? Is there an artistic difference between how you approach an indie show versus a show with plenty of time, money etc?
No artistic difference whatsoever. I've heard sound designs that have been over budgeted before and it gets in the way of the storytelling. I think there should be an awareness of how much sound design contributes to storytelling and it is not an excuse to give up on the quality of the design just because of lack of budget or resources. In my experience, having limited resources only affords me the opportunity to be more creative and problem solve. I pride myself on being able to work on a $0.00 budget and still make my designs sound as if the budget was limitless. It’s a real show of talent of the designer to be able to be flexible in any situation or on any budget.
That being said, of course we all want the show to sound good and it does take a little budget to make that happen, for instance, providing a venue that has a working sound system and working speakers is always a plus! On another note, I also think the makers of QLAB should all be given Nobel Peace Prizes. It that has revolutionized the sound design world and should be praised more often. I can do anything with QLAB and a great pair of speakers.
What's exciting for you about doing an indie show? What makes you cringe?
I love indie theater. You meet the best people. I believe that in order to be fantastic artist you have to be a generous, kind, and wonderful person because this centeredness is the spring that the soul feeds on in order to create. The indie theater community attracts like minded artists that thrive in this community. To be able to give your time and talent over to the demands of a show you have to be an open minded caring individual and have respect for everyone involved or else the show is going to stink. Unfortunately, sometimes this passion is lost the further up the ladder of Broadway you go. Off-Off Broadway is still Broadway. There is celebration in that fact and there are more professionally like minded artists at this level of Broadway than any where else. The success of a show starts with the people that you work with and I appreciate indie theater because there’s no room for anyone who has their own agenda. Working with or for individuals that are merely going to use you to get where they are going or are seeking indie theater for selfish reasons make me cringe. More times than not, a show is “figured” out on an Off-Off Broadway contract and then, with a slight of hand, moved without even considering taking the talent and time of the artists, that made it successful, into consideration. It should be a crime.
What could the indie community do to make things easier for scene designers all around? What could scene or lighting or costume designers do to make your job easier on a specific production?
I have been fortunate to work with incredibly strong designers who have made me feel welcome in discussing how sound can relate to each department. From the sound of a bell on a door to the sound of actor's feet onstage or the swish of fabric in a petticoat. Sound is such an interesting animal and is the easiest design element that can distract an audience and rip you out of the world of the play when poorly executed.
When designers do not take sound into consideration, for example noisy rolling chairs or set pieces when in motion mute actors onstage, or hinder actors from hearing which could be a safety concern, then I have to say what? what? I have had the unpleasant experience of being in this situation, recently, when actors couldn't hear the sound design or themselves on stage during a scene transition and it was a losing battle. That could have been solved with simple communication and foresight. I believe that the strength and chemistry of a design team comes from communication and designers that consider every design element, not only their own, contributes to the success of the production.
To answer your first question, from a more global perspective, the person or persons who go into business showing up at strike and hauling whatever you throw away to be refurbished and renewed again for another show would be doing the entire theater community a favor. Copious amounts of money is spent on moving vans/trucks and other means to load out a show I could see the sense in providing this service to a better purpose than the heartbreaking sight of seeing a designer's work thrown into a dumpster or storage for years. Material for the Arts is one of the first pioneers doing this, however, they do not haul that I know of. I think more businesses should follow in their footsteps. A community website that auctions items off saying we have “this item” who wants it? It’s free if you come to get it or for a small donation! would also make everyone's life easier and possibly lucrative.
Tell me about something you achieved in 2013 that makes you feel really good:
2013 was a blast!!!!! The whole year rocked. I kicked off 2013 composing and sound designing for my beloved Retro Productions “Day in the Death of Joe Egg” followed by sound designing Off-Broadway for The Amoralists’ “Rantoul and Die” at Cherry Lane, Gideon Production’s “Frankenstien Upstairs” by Mac Rogers, and Nylon Fusion’s “Luft Gangser” by Lowell Byers under the direction of Austin Pendleton. I also stage managed the nicest actor in the world Mr. Tom Hanks at the Player’s Club. Also stage managed at The Pershing Square Signature Center and ended the year with "Alice in Slasherland" with the awesome Vampire Cowboys! It was a great year and I met a lot of really great people.
What's coming up in 2014?
I’m composing music for a musical...which I cannot speak of for fear of jinxing the whole operation. Stay tuned! However, I am very proud to be returning to Gideon Productions as sound designer within the next year. After designing for The Honeycomb Trilogy and Frankenstein Upstairs I cannot proclaim my love for Gideon and the work of Mac Rogers enough. I recently told Mac of my enthusiasm and how awesome it is to approach his works from a sound design point of view and I know how lucky I am. I always know that working with Gideon will be an adventure of the imagination and that the sky is the limit. To be able to offer a playwright the assurance that their imagination should not be hindered by any limits in sound is the ultimate reason why I do what I do. The support of production companies like Gideon has given me so much joy in this community and love for my own art that I am feel completely blessed and hope to be in the arms of this community for many years to come.