On Process, Collaboration, and Technology, Part 1

On Process
As far as a page to stage process, I do have certain set things and habits, I guess, when I begin the process. First, I’ll generally read the play four times. In the first reading of it, I’ll make no notes and read in a place as silent as possible. In the second read of the play, most of the time I’ll settle in at a noisy coffee shop in whatever town I might be in. The noise and the distraction around me somehow makes me focus down into the play and gets the crazy associative juices rolling. I’ll also focus on trying not to make expectations about the piece, or putting myself—and the design—into the show: it’s more about getting to know the author and the play and the characters.

By the third read, I’m looking for the silence in the piece, which I know might sound crazy for a sound designer, but I am always looking for where there is no music in a piece before I start. I find it’s sometimes too easy, and we take for granted on page one always thinking, “What is the opening piece of music?”

Well maybe there is no opening piece of music! For me, it’s a way to not look at the work with preconceived notions and a tool of getting out of my own way. Debussy said, “The music is the space between the notes,” and for me, keeping that in mind is like making sure you don’t miss seeing the forest for the trees, if you know what I mean. In that third read, I’ll also allow myself to make notes here and there relating mainly to the beats in the scene and dramaturgy.

Then the fourth read is about going at the play and allowing myself to hear it in my head, which I know might sound ridiculous but, for me, I do in fact find that I hear the sound cue in my head, and part of the journey for me is searching for that thing that I heard in my head. By this time in the process, I’ll start in my music room pulling music and samples that remind me of the play, making sure I stay clear in that and not limit or squash whatever it is that pops into my head, no matter how much it might seem not appropriate for the play. Lateral thinking rules during this point in the process. For me, finding the sound design is like following a Oujia board, and in the early stages, there is no right or wrong for me. Around this time, I’m also ready to start having conversations with the director and other designers and start incorporating those ideas.

So. You do all the necessary research and gathering of materials and all the tangible things you can do before the first day of rehearsal but, once you walk into the rehearsal hall on that first day, it’s about throwing all that analytical process and preparation out and trusting that you’ve done your homework, and then you must walk in with soft eyes and ears and allow the production to show you what it needs. To look at the piece you’re working on, not with lust for the lack of a better word but, looking at the piece with openness, and being present and patient… allowing yourself to be surprised.

The trick is walking into the room with as little ego as possible in the beginning and letting the play and the production inform me of what it needs. The design is then not something that is placed on the production, but rather emerges from the process in the room.

Read Part 2 of On Process, Collaboration, and Technology.

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