Pat MacKay Diversity In Design Scholarship Winner: Sydney Smith

sound designer/composer Sydney Smith

One of the six winners of the inaugural Pat MacKay Diversity In Design Scholarships, Sydney Smith is a sophomore at Pennsylvania State University, majoring in Theatre Design and Technology, with an emphasis in Sound Design and a minor in Music Technology. As an artist, Smith believes that art should be entertaining but should also be thought-provoking and convey a message. Smith’s future career goal is to become a freelance sound designer, working in theatre, film, and game design as a sound designer/composer and technical sound for live performances. As Smith continues in the profession, he hopes to spread a positive message with his work.

The sound scholarship winners were selected by a judging panel organized by TSDCA, and coordinated by Lindsay Jones. “Sydney Smith's application showed his attention to storytelling, interest in rhythm, inventive communicative skills, and true potential as a sound designer. I hope our paths cross in the professional world!” says sound designer Jane Shaw.

Live Design: Why did you apply for the Pat MacKay Diversity In Design Scholarship?

Sydney Smith: I applied for the Pat MacKay Scholarship to help support my financial needs as a Penn State student. Funding from the scholarship allows time for me to focus on hands-on sound design experiences, and to purchase necessary sound equipment. The scholarship’s opportunity to network with major sound design companies and people in the industry is invaluable for a sound design student.  While one’s skill set is vital in this business, connections are extremely important. In addition, I am equally grateful for the paid memberships of the industry’s premier organizations, USITT and TSDCA. Hence, I applied for The Pat MacKay Scholarship because it is unique in not only supporting students financially but also laying the foundation for strong career preparation.   

LD: What made you interested in the field of sound design?

SS: My passion for sound design and technology evolved gradually. I started watching and serving with my dad in the church’s audio-visual ministry in 8th grade. I developed such an interest that I wrote my 8th grade research paper on audio sound. Working the church’s sound system gave me the confidence to explore and work the school’s sound system during theater performances. I then got the opportunity to be part of the school’s Technical Theatre Program. There I would get a more in-depth knowledge about the technical side of performances. I began enjoying other aspects of theatre stage production and decided to research colleges that offered Theatre Design and Technology as a major. I toured Penn State University’s Theater Design and Technology Department and immediately knew it was the right program for me…and here I am now. 

LD: What are your career goals?

SS: My future career goal is to become a freelance sound designer. I desire to work in theatre, film, and the video game industry as a sound designer/composer and to also explore working with live performances. I have always been intrigued by perfecting sound while maintaining a strong interest in playing musical instruments and composing music. I want to be able to teach and share with others what I believe in as a person. The arts have not only been fun and rewarding but give me the opportunity to creatively express what I feel, and in some cases, how I think problems in the community should be changed.  

LD: How can the industry better serve underrepresented communities?

SS: I am a student in the School of Theatre at Penn State University, a predominantly white college. While there are many great theatre productions during the school year, most typically have whites as the center of focus. At the same time, there are equally dynamic current and past black playwrights and other cultures who deserve to have their communities’ stories told. It is the responsibility of all in the business to be a voice for those who are underrepresented. An effort to increase diverse productions/performances can perhaps lead to more people of diverse backgrounds becoming aware of technical design careers. I got into sound because I saw my dad, someone who looked like me, doing something cool and interesting. Hence, intentionally having art to represent all people, promoting performances in underrepresented communities, and making a conscious effort to increase diversity in the technical design industry can serve the industry and underrepresented communities better.

LD: What are your influences in terms of people or events?

SS: Two people that really influenced me are my dad and my brother. As stated earlier, my dad introduced me to the audio/sound technology world. He patiently worked with me in an area that was totally new for me. I also have an older brother who recently completed his degree in Media Studies and Audio Productions. I admire the hard work he puts into his art creation from day to day. 

LD: Are there particular challenges you have faced? 

SS: I personally have not faced any challenges. Luckily, I am surrounded by people who are encouraging and open-minded. While in college, I have been afforded different opportunities that have immensely enhanced my skills and knowledge in the technical sound design field. However, I know that's not the case everywhere and for all students of diversity. I desire to be that person who is able to help others who may run into unfortunate challenges in the field.

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