Sound Good?

I’ve been humming the theme to Harry Potter for the last three weeks. (The tune I’m referring to is called “Hedwig’s Theme” in case you didn’t know that.  I didn’t, having just looked it up, I now have it playing hpon my laptop as I write this from New York City.  Compelling stuff.)

This recent obsession has caused me to focus on the importance of sound in the theatrical experience.  Our current production illustrates this beautifully.  In SOMETHING INTANGIBLE it was incumbent upon Cody Nickell, as the Director, to bring Tony Wiston’s innermost thoughts to life.  Most of the time, that was through music.  How did it sound?  Did it have the echo of memory laid over it, did it start and stop abruptly?    How to illustrate aurally what is going on in someone’s head?

I think about the importance of sound in theatrical productions.  Last night, I saw GLASS MENAGERIE on Broadway with Cherry Jones.  This production was underscored as if it were a movie.  But the character of Tom refers to the “violins playing in the wings” in his first monologue, and so the Director, John Tiffany, made the choice to carry the idea of music as underscoring throughout the play, creating a world of memory like a music box full of souvenirs.

I think back to the last sound cue in our production of VENUS IN FUR, which was the whip crack added to the crack of thunder.  That told the audience way more than we could have ever told them with their eyes.  Because it also required they use their imaginations.

Moving into JACOB MARLEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, the use of sound as a companion of imagination will be vital.  This is a one-man show and the actor (this time Cody Nickell moves onto the stage instead of behind the scenes) moves through 18 characters and through a variety of locations including Heaven, Hell, 1847 London, Scrooge’s scary empty house, and the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Sound Designer Christopher Colluci is already hard at work creating a soundscape that will help us, the listeners, imagine the costermongers and oyster wives on the docks of London, the angels and demons in the other dimensions and the joy and spirit of Christmas.

And if you think that sound and music is helpful in the theatre business, you have no idea how vital it is when making movies.  A movie without sound effects, underscoring and music is a movie that is difficult to watch, a movie that doesn’t inspire us or make us feel.  Music and sound effects go a long way toward making us excited, scared, terrorized, moved, sympathetic or otherwise.  The aural experience cannot be underestimated.

So the next time you have the opportunity to see a theatrical production or a movie, ask yourself, “what am I hearing and how does it make me feel?  How does it add to my experience?”  You’ll be surprised by what you discover.

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