Nominations for the 2020 Tony Awards were announced on October 15, but a date has not been set for a digital ceremony as yet. The nominating committee considered 18 productions from the 2019-2020 season, after setting an eligibility cut-off date of February 19, 2020. Among the nominees is Lindsay Jones, nominated for Best Sound Design for a Play, for his work on the controversial Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris, in which the sound carries the audience into the muddy waters of racial dynamics in the Antebellum South. Slave Play premiered at New York Theatre Workshop in 2018 and opened on Broadway in October 2019. Live Design chats with Jones on his Tony-nominated sound design.
Lindsay Jones: There are multiple levels to the sound design for Slave Play, which was a real challenge as the play shifts between stark realism, intimate fantasy, and a terrifying world somewhere between. I tried to focus on creating these very distinct environments where we have very detailed and realistic ambience sounds mixed in with these more abstract and unusual textures to create these worlds that seem familiar, yet strangely off-kilter in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on. The script of Slave Play continues to keep the audience off-balance throughout the show, and that was my goal with the sound as well—to always keep the audience guessing what’s really going on here.
LD: Sound effects: what brings us into the ambience of the plantation setting…what research did you do and how did you create the effects? Playback? Any specific software used?
LJ: Since I came into the off-Broadway production very late (I was hired the day before the first day of tech rehearsals), I had to just jump in with no time for research. I’ve been doing a lot of music lately for film and television and it felt a little bit like that schedule—no time to think, just look at the drama in front of you, and then start writing as fast as you can! Working with the director Robert O’Hara and the playwright Jeremy O. Harris, we decided to create the sound of a working plantation where people are working in the fields, but we can also hear this haunting piano of someone who’s playing far away in the main house to entertain themselves, far away from the sounds of human toil. I created the music for the show in Apple Logic Pro, and tried to model it after classic parlor piano songs from the 19th Century, using a player piano sound from Native Instruments’ Kontakt.
LD: Architecture of the rig, what's where, and what are your workhouse speakers?
LJ: I’m very fortunate that Slave Play was actually my second show at the John Golden Theatre, so I had a little bit of a head start when imagining what the system would be for Slave Play. I must give a lot of credit to associate sound designer Alex Neumann who spent a tremendous amount of time refining and tuning the system so that it sounded fantastic. Our speaker system was based in Meyer Sound gear, and we relied heavily on Meyer UPA-1Ps as our main speakers that flanked both sides of the proscenium as well as in a center cluster. We also used a lot of Meyer Sound UPM 1-Ps and M-1Ds to reach under-balcony positions, front fills, and other positions around the theatre. PRG was our sound shop, Walter Tillman was our A1 (with Elize Simon as our backup) and Jason Choquette was our production sound on the show. I was very lucky to have such talented people on this team.
LD: Choice of mics and why?
LJ: We only had one moment in the show where we used wireless RF mics, which was for the two therapists when they suddenly entered at the end of Act One. There’s a conceit in the show that we hear these therapists differently, depending on what room we’re in inside the plantation as their voices are heard over the loudspeaker system, so we needed these mics to make several distinct changes in sound very quickly, so that this entire plot point made sense. We used Sennheiser SK-5212 wireless mics for this moment. In all honesty, the majority of the cast is in some state of undress for a significant portion of the show, so we weren’t quite sure how to mic them with wireless mics! As a result, the rest of the show is all mixed through area mics, which were DPA 4021s.
LJ: The final act of Slave Play is incredibly challenging on an emotional level for the actors but also for the sound design, as it has to be both incredibly intimate as well as really theatrical for the final moment of the show to work. We spent a tremendous amount of time tweaking the effects and atmospheres to get just the right balance between actors and sound so that it’s both incredibly terrifying but also feels visceral and super-realistic. I have to acknowledge the entire acting ensemble who were incredibly generous in working with me and the sound team to make this really complicated dance between us work out. Slave Play was a once-in-lifetime experience of being a part of something so groundbreaking and different, and I am truly honored to have been a part of it.
Selected Gear List, Provided by PRG:
- 1 Genelec 8020
- 10 Meyer M1D
- 2 Meyer MM4 4 Meyer UMS-1p
- 10 Meyer UPA-1p
- 2 Meyer UPJ-1p
- 15 Meyer UPM-1p
- 6 Anchor AN-1000x
- 2 Clear-com AMS-1022
Console and Processing:
- 1 Yamaha CL1 Console
- Meyer Galaxy Processing