At the Tony Awards in 2008, sound designers were among the recipients for the first time. Sound design is an art, after all, and finally, everyone knew it.
So when the Tonys decided to eliminate sound awards for the 2014-15 season, it surprised sound designers everywhere. Subsequently, an informational campaign began, and from that, a group of sound designers created an organization called Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers to educate average theatregoers, critics, award voters, and even the people who pay sound designers to do their jobs.
In April 2017, the Tony Awards Administration Committee Association announced that sound design awards for a musical and a play will be presented again in 2018.
Read the rest of the Tony Voter's Guide to Sound Design:
- Part One: But Are The Voters Ready?
- Part Two: A Subliminal Art
- Part Three: Dramaturgically Organized Noise
- Part Four: Suiting The Sound To The Space and Transcending The Room
- Part Five: Suiting The Sound To The Style and Working With Collaborators
Sound Design For Musicals
“A lot of people are able to pick up quickly that there are artistic choices made in a soundscape design, but the sound designer of a musical really has to have a certain vision about how they want the show to sound,” says Lindsay Jones. “There is a real artistic merit in how they craft the mix of a show to be the most clear and enjoyable version of that show. That’s done in collaboration with the sound engineer.”
“If you think about a piece of a theatre as one composition, down to what the china sounds like at the dinner, we’re really responsible to the entire aural world of the thing from the moment an audience member walks in the room to them walking out of the theatre,” says Darron L. West.
“The sound designer is in control of all the aural properties, whether it’s a conceptual design or musical theatre reinforcement,” says Victoria Deiorio. “Any kind of delivery system that has to go to the audience is in our purview. What we’re trying to do is create an impression upon the audience that the whole production team wants to deliver to that audience. When everything is in sync, then the sound designer has done an excellent job. Most of the emotional response comes from music and sound. We use that in a subliminal way on purpose so we don’t pull them out of the story we’re all telling.”
“I try to create a sense of three-dimensional space to get a sense that voices are coming from more than one place on stage,” Scott Lehrer says, explaining that, if audience members have to scan the stage to figure out who’s talking, fatigue sets in. “In the scene just before the exodus in Fiddler, 15 people lined up on stage. With the same sonic, spatial image, there would be no way to phonically tell who was singing at a particular time, but with a system that uses delay and volume control, I can have the audience pick out the person [singing or saying a line] and on to another person.”
“On the reinforcement side, almost the entire show flows through our hands,” says Nicholas Pope. “If you can’t hear the words, the lyrics of a piece, you’re no longer doing theatre. There’s a huge amount of responsibility for the sound designer. It also creates a very high minimum standard. For a lighting designer, as long as you can see the actors on stage, you probably met the minimum requirement. Turn the work lights on, and you’re probably there, and anything on top of that is an opportunity to express the show.” Pope says that, in a small room, the minimum can be met easily but in a large space, you have to meet that standard “before you can start doing your art. I think that’s been recognized more so by the producing end of the world recently, and there’s more money coming in to this field for that reason.”
The more sound design is recognized, the more money and opportunity there is for audiences to hear perfected sound. “We all bring our best to everything we do, but what I do think the awards do is create an awareness of the design field and the artistic vision of that design field,” Jones explains.
Leon Rothenberg says being accepted, then cancelled, then reinstated at the Tonys has been a positive process. “It brought more attention to sound design as a creative area,” he says. “We’re very excited to see who will win these Tonys.”
“Awards are never going to be perfect. They’re never going to absolutely recognize the best,” Jones reflects, “but the idea that the art form is being promoted as an art form that deserves to be appreciated is very valuable.”