Do you hear what I hear?
Sound effects can make or break a production. For example ,when my theatre company Family Theatre Warehouse did The Diary of Anne Frank, the sound of the marching soldiers, the night time air raids, and the recorded speeches featuring impressions of Hitler, Eisenhower and other historical figure helped to set the tone so effectively that I still get compliments on it after a year has gone by.
On the other hand, during one memorable performance of The Sound of Music, things went horribly wrong! During a scene in Maria’s bedroom the children come in to find comfort from a lightning storm and over the course of “The Lonely Goatherd” we are supposed to hear three crashes of lightning. During Dress rehearsal it worked beautifully, fast forward to opening night.
The scene started out beautifully with the children’s voices ringing through the theatre, and then came the first lightning crash! Not! Instead the audience was treated to a motorcycle pulling to the curb and stopping! The second one was worse, chainsaw! The third and final lightning strike took the cake, the sound we heard was that of a dragster peeling out and roaring away! You can’t make up stuff like this! The Cds we had been using had gotten confused. Instead of # 1 he had #3 of a series in the player for the first two sounds, for the third sound he had switched the disk, but to #2!
The crew and most of the cast got a big laugh, but Liesl never performed with us again! The story we built has become known in our circle as “Rolf’s Revenge “. Rolf (the telegram boy) heard that Captain VonTrapp was opposing the Nazis and came on his motorcycle with a chainsaw to carve swastikas into the trees and then escaped in a dragster!
In order to avoid confusion like this we now upload all of our sounds into Itunes player and use the computer to manage it. I prefer the interface of Itunes because it allows sounds to be cued instantly with the use of the spacebar. Also the computer screen is much easier to read than the tiny LCD screen on most cd players or Mp3 players.
I am currently running effects from my laptop, via an inexpensive wireless mic with a minijack plug. This allows me the freedom to be backstage with my young actors and running sound at the same time if we are short handed. It also means that as a director I can run sounds and take rehearsal notes both on my laptop freeing up my tech guys to do other things.
Whatever method you use make certain that all sounds are pretested and prominently labeled to avoid confusion. Also it works best to have a dedicated sound engineer even for simple shows, although Bill Henderson, who passed away several years ago, was a competent professional, thirty year veteran when he mistakenly gave us “Rolf‘s Revenge!”