A Life In The Theatre
The Sound Designer
Also see other installments:
Choreographer | Director of Marketing | Associate Producer & Company Manager
Scenic Designer | Director of Volunteers | Director of Education | Director | Stage Manager | Performing Arts Fundraiser | Executive Artistic Director| Costume Designer
This is the fourth in a series of interviews with theatre professionals in non-performing careers.
Theatre Arts Management is a growing
concern as many theatres come and go every year. Several universities
have added a Theatre Arts Management degree to their curriculum. With a huge
entertainment industry that brings so much directly to us via television and
the internet, it can be a challenge to motivate audiences to come to view live
theatre instead. What brings business professionals to find a home for
their skills in the performing arts?
Traci Almedia is a sound designer who met her husband, scenic designer Ian Almedia, in 2000 when they were working on a production of Abie's Island Rose at the Hollywood Playhouse. While they both work separately, they enjoy working on productions together as much as possible.
John Lariviere: How did you become a sound designer?
Traci Almedia: I was a musician in middle school and high school, and decided to go to Full Sail Real World Education to learn about the recording arts. After graduating, I interned at a recording studio and realized that wasn't the right place for me. I then took a job touring with the Florida Grand Opera. That is when I realized that live sound for theatre was where I wanted to be. After that I began engineering at the Hollywood Playhouse in Hollywood, Florida. There, I went on to engineer many shows and design a few of my own as well.
Working for the Hollywood Playhouse took me to other theatres in the area. I spent a season engineering at the Coconut Grove Playhouse and designing at the Mosaic Theatre, where I received a Carbonell Nomination for their production of The Pull of Negative Gravity. A few months before the 2006/2007 season began, I got a call from Avi Hoffman and the New Vista Theatre Company asking me to be their Resident Sound Designer. I was able to accept the position, and still remain the Sound Designer for the West Boca High School drama department. Now in their second season, my latest project with the New Vista Theatre is as sound designer for their production of Funny Girl.
JL: What exactly does a sound designer do?
TA: A sound designer decides what equipment, if any, needs to be purchased at the beginning of the season, such as microphones, sound boards, speakers, etc. We read the script as soon as it is received. The sound designer should write down all the necessary sound effects, and during meetings add more at the director's request or the designer's suggestion. Some sounds are easy, like one thunder clap, but if it says "storm," then the designer gets to have some fun. We try to find the perfect rain, thunder and wind . sounds, and build our very own storm.
Next, the sound designer gets each person a microphone. The sound designer has to decide how many microphones are needed, and if any sharing of microphones is necessary. Even if they only have one line, it's important to hear it. Sometimes that will require microphone swaps backstage. Sound checking each person and equing them to make sure they sound as natural as possible. The same goes for the orchestra, if it's a musical. The designer should do a sound check with each instrument as well.
JL: What experience or training do you have that best prepared you for this?
TA: I did go to school for sound, but learning on-the-go has been the best training, and has gotten me where I am today.
JL: Are there any differences between sound designing professional vs. educational productions?
TA: I think so. In the professional world, it's a job to the performers. Some people take it so seriously they lose the enjoyment of it. When designing for high school shows, for instance, the kids are just doing it for fun, and enjoy every minute of it.
JL: What is your greatest challenge and what is your greatest reward as a sound designer?
TA: My greatest challenge is making everyone happy. From the directors - to the actors - to the audience.
My greatest reward is listening to a great mix. I get goose bumps and tear up. That's when I know I've done a good job. Also, when I get compliments from our older patrons. There is no better feeling than knowing that they could hear the show.
JL: Do you have a story of the most difficult and/or most enjoyable shows you have designed?
TA: I don't really have a most difficult, because they are all difficult at some point, usually during tech rehearsal. One of my most enjoyable was Because He Can at the Mosaic Theatre. It was about a computer hacker, and I used very odd, techno type music for scene shifts and put the "hacker" on a mic. I added a flange sound effect to make him sound electronic like he was part of the computer, but only when he was addressing the audience. It was off when he was relating to other characters.
JL: What personality types are best suited for this job?
TA:I've worked with so many different personality types. Some have been extreme. I think it has more to do with the personal love of the job as opposed to a specific type of personality.
JL: What would you look for if you were hiring a sound designer?
TA: Previous experiences that aren't too far in the past, and good recommendations. It should be someone who loves the theatre, has a sound engineering background and likes to be creative.
JL: What are your professional plans/goals for the future?
TA: Just to keep doing what I'm doing. I love working with the New Vista Theatre Company, and I hope to grow along with them.
See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.
-- John Lariviere