The 2014 Illinois Shakespeare Festival Closes

Scenic Design by Kristin Ellert, Lighting Design by Sarah Maines

Scenic Design by Kristin Ellert, Lighting Design by Sarah Maines

Last night was the final performance of the 2014 Illinois Shakespeare Festival. This year, the festival was presented as a trilogy, as we performed Much Ado About Nothing, Elizabeth Rex, and Antony and Cleopatra. Rex was the glue that tied the other two shows together (the story takes place after a production of Much Ado and while Shakespeare is writing Antony), and I am so happy with how the Festival turned out.

This year, I was hired as the composer and music director of the entire festival, and I had so much fun creating the music for each show. For Much Ado and Rex, I had an ensemble of flute, oboe, and cello and almost all of the music was original … I did pull one piece and arrange it for instruments and voices, but the rest was original. I also wrote the music for the 20-minute pre-show for Rex (save one piece which was a Monteverdi piece that I arranged), so I was able to write quite a bit. For Antony and Cleopatra, my assistant created several rhythms and we compiled them to be played by percussion ensemble (our acting interns).

Writing for and rehearsing three shows simultaneously is a tall order, however, we had a fantastic team of people working on these shows and a great set of directors in Jonathan West, Paula Suozzi, and Kevin Rich. It was hard to believe that this season could be better than last season, but we had a great foundation to build on.

I was able to record our musicians playing some of the music, and will be loading it to the site within the next few weeks.

And on to the next project …

2014 Broadway Sound Master Classes

Thanks so a scholarship from Meyer Sound, I was able to attend the 2014 Broadway Sound Master Classes, hosted by LDI. I have been wanting to attend these classes for several years, but many factors, including cost, employment conflicts, and location have made it difficult in the past. I was thrilled to attend this year, and the subject matter was exactly what I needed, as much of the conference was centered on designer/composers.

These conferences could not have come at a better time, as I am in the process of composing music for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Coming off of a long school year (Illinois State’s season up through this year has been 12 shows during the academic year), I was hitting some mental blocks as I prepared for ISF. These masterclasses happened early enough in the ISF rehearsal process that I was able to attend (though I did have to step out a couple of times to attend production meetings over the phone), and as I left New York, I found myself refreshed and inspired to get back to things at ISF.

Living in the cornfields, I don’t come across too many sound designers in my daily life, other than the ones I teach, so being in a room full of them for several days at a time was both exciting and surreal. And, to hear from designer/composers about their experiences invigorated me, as it is comforting to know that designer/composers who work in larger venues than I do often experience the same difficulties that I do in getting their work done. It helped me so much to hear how they developed strategies to face those difficulties and to communicate their needs to directors, producers, and collaborators.

Additionally, I found ways to incorporate material in my class. There was one session where we were asked to walk around with an ear plug in our ear for a short amount of time, in order to try to understand how different the world would be if we only had one ear. Knowing that I will be teaching a student next semester who is deaf in one ear, this experiment was so helpful. Not only would I have never thought to do that myself, I would have never thought to have my students do this. I will be incorporating this exercise into my sound design classes next year, as experiencing the world with one blocked ear made me think more about how we hear and how we craft listening experiences, and I hope it will do the same for my students.

These master classes were such a great experience for me, but they also opened my eyes to the fact that we have a lot to do in terms of gender equality in our field. Not only did we not hear from female designer/composers, but at the reception at the end, I was actually asked if I was one of my male counterpart’s girlfriend, implying that I couldn’t have been there in a design capacity. This was after I had been up to receive my Meyer Sound Scholarship certificate. The funny thing about it is that my colleague and I had just been speaking about how there is still work to be done in getting female voices in the room, and how encouraging it was to see so many female attendees at this event.

All that aside, it was inspiring to be in a room with the likes of Abe Jacob, Tony Meola, Lindsay Jones, John Kander (holy cow I got to hear John Kander speak!!!) and all of the other presenters at BSMC. Hearing from other designers and composers helps me feel empowered to continue on and do my best work, as well as encourage my students to do their own best work. I cannot wait to return to these master classes in the future.

And 2013 Comes to a Close

As 2013 comes to an end, I look back on a great, but busy, year at Illinois State University. 2013 began with me teaching my regular course load at ISU, while also sound designing our CPA production of Oklahoma! in February and our Westhoff production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in April. I was happy with both productions, and was excited to have such vastly different creative activities, as Oklahoma! was more along the vein of sound reinforcement, while Midsummer was more about original music composition and sound effects.

I also was sound designer/composer for the 2013 Illinois Shakespeare Festival, composing music for two main stage shows, and sound designing all three main stage productions. I had such a great time — it was the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to collaborate about sound design with a fight choreographer! In both Macbeth and A Comedy of Errors fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt and I worked together to synchronize movement and live sound, making the sword fighting in Macbeth (directed by Robert Quinlan) even more epic, and making the comedic fights in Comedy (directed by Michael Cotey) even more hilarious. During the Festival, I got to work with fantastic actors, designers, and technicians, and wrote quite a bit of music. Throughout Macbeth and Comedy, I worked with the entire casts of the shows, but especially with two talented actor/musicians, David Hathaway and Carlos Kmet, and they were always happy to try out any new musical ideas I had and performed the music in both shows beautifully. It was such a creatively rich experience working with everyone at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and I am thrilled to have been hired on as the festival composer and musical director for the 2014 season.

Once school started up again, I was back to teaching classes, and I designed and co-composed music for The Forever Waltz, directed by Leah Cassella in Centennial West 207. A tale loosely based on the Eurydice myth, The Forever Waltz explores love in a small town as the character Mobile enters the underworld and tries to remember how he got there. He is ushered through the underworld by Watts, a guitar playing conjurer of memories, played by co-composer Eddie Curley. This show was a fantastic opportunity not only to design and compose, but to work with a student performer/composer to explore how to enhance storytelling through the music we write. In the end, we found a way to include the cast and members of the creative team in our songwriting, as we used their favorite parts of the play to shape how we wrote the music. Though I do not have a recording of the song up yet, I plan to post one soon.

2013 was not just about design, however. One of my most proud moments was also unexpected, as I found a 2013 Impact Award in my mailbox one day. The Impact Award is given by the Office of the Provost, and is given to teachers who have a profound impact on a student’s success at Illinois State University. I was nominated for the award by a student, and to me, that is such an honor, because I believe my role as a professor is to serve my students.

Additionally, I was nominated by my School’s awards committee for a University Teaching Award.

Along with teaching and designing, I was also accepted to attend the USITT Elite Training in Las Vegas in May. The training was at the Cirque du Soleil training facility in Las Vegas, and while there, I got a chance to work with some of the latest software from Meyer Sound, and I was able to shadow people in the sound department on Love, Cirque du Soleil’s show that features the music of the Beatles.

All the while, I have also been watching my students as they achieve their goals. Some have obtained prestigious internships, while others have graduated and found work with various touring companies. Still others have worked hard to raise their grades and have been successful at doing so. Whatever the achievement, it always makes me happy to see students meet and/or exceed their goals for themselves, and I saw a great deal of that in 2013. I hope to see even more in 2014!

The Forever Waltz Opens This Week

It’s been a while since USITT Training in Las Vegas, and quite a bit has gone on. Over the summer I worked for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, composing music for two shows (A Comedy of Errors, Macbeth) and sound designing all three on the main stage (A Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, Failure: A Love Story). What a wild ride it was! The Festival presented many firsts for me — it was my first time working in rep, my first time doing three shows simultaneously, my first time doing outdoor theatre, and my first time designing for a shows that would go into two performance spaces. We had a fantastic company this year, with great designers, technicians, directors, and actors. While it was one of the most exhausting theatrical experiences I’ve ever had, it was also the most rewarding. It was an opportunity to work with an extremely talented and enthusiastic company, and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. Moreover, I am proud of the work we created.

Now that school is back in session, I am designing for The Forever Waltz, directed by ISU MFA Directing Candidate Leah Cassella. We open this Thursday, performing in Centennial West 207. It is a new take on the Eurydice myth, and a beautiful, complex story about love and memory. I am sound designer and co-composer with my assistant sound designer, Eddie Curley, who also appears as Watts in the play. The show performs October 3-8 and October 8-12 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee on October 12 at 2:00 p.m.

USITT Elite Training – Las Vegas, NV

Earlier this year, I applied to be a part of USITT’s Elite Training Program in Las Vegas, NV. The program was for student and early career members to get a chance to go out and train in their areas, as well as shadow at Cirque du Soleil. I was accepted into the sound program and got to train on Meyer Sound’s D’Mitri sound playback system and shadow at Love, Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show. In addition, we got to go backstage at O, KA, and Zarkana and tour the Cirque facilities. We even got to go high up into the grid on Zarkana, which was one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend (which is weird, because I rarely enjoy going up to the grid in theaters), as they were doing maintenance on some show elements, and we got an up close look at the maintenance work that was being done.

The walkway outside of Love.

The walkway outside of Love.

I had never seen a Cirque show before, so it was a great experience to watch Love. I did my shadowing first, because I knew if I watched before I shadowed, I’d be focusing on what I would be doing for shadowing, rather than watching the performance. It was great! First we got to hang back and run microphones for a while, then we got to go inside the sound booth and talk to one of the playback engineers. There was so much sound equipment, and so many speakers that I could hardly believe myself. All I could think about what how intricate it would be to tune the system and test it. Each seat had speakers in in and then there were also speakers in front of each seat. Then, of course, there were all of the speakers hung in the space itself. For someone who loves Beatles music, this was definitely the show to see, as the music had been remastered for this show, and it was spectacular!

My main goal for attending this training was to come back to ISU with information that I can pass on to my students. Though I will not be able to provide my students with the experiences I have had through this training program, I do feel like I have returned to Illinois armed with information about a different type of theatre and a way of working that is different from what we do in academic theatre. I got to put my hands on some software that we would never have access to in my area (the cost of the programs would be prohibitive — one would have to be on a show with a HUGE budget in order to even think of using such programs.) My experience also gave me a better sense of different career paths that people can take in audio, and I have a better idea of how to guide my students toward those career paths. All in all, I would say it was a successful trip.


A view from the grid.

A view from the grid.