Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association

Bray Poor

Bray Poor’s Broadway designs include In The Next RoomThe Real Thing, and The American Plan, the last a co-design with Darron West. Off Broadway his work has been heard in Maple and Vine (original music and sound design), Look Back in AngerJohnBuzzer, and 10 out of 12, a performance that took the audience backstage at a tech by letting us ‘listen’ through headphones to headset chatter. He garnered a Drama Desk nomination for Wings, as well as Henry Hewes and Lucille Lortel nominations for his work on the critically acclaimed The Flick. His designs are taking him all over the world these days, and around his recent trip to Amsterdam he took some time to comment below.

What are you working on at the moment?

The Glass Menagerie in Amsterdam with Toneelgroup Amsterdam and Sam Gold. It’s in Dutch. It’s wild to hear all this Southern baggage in Dutch. It’s very refreshing.

What is the most exciting thing happening this season that you are not working on?

The Last Hotel at St. Anne’s Warehouse.

Where were you born…and where do you live now?

Born in Boston, MA; live in Harlem.

Describe one of your most successful collaborations in the theater.

Working on Anne Washburn’s  10 out 12 with Les Waters. It has always been a dream of mine to do a show where the entire audience has a headset of some kind.  This show basically got me there!  Sound design was elemental to this production. About a third of the play’s dialogue was pre-recorded and on headset.  Not only did changes in the script have to be squared with how we had built long sequences, but the entire fiction of the show depended on how sound sold “the lie” of a tech rehearsal- of how we interwove recorded dialogue with live dialogue of comm chatter.

What really made this special was the collaboration. It was one of the most technically complicated shows I have ever done, by far. It would have been impossible, unpleasant, or both, without a truly fanatical collaborative attitude. That came straight from Anne and Les who I would do anything for. But that spirit was everywhere: the cast who basically had to be “in tech” from the moment we started rehearsals, Amanda Spooner and the entire SM team, and most profoundly, Sam Kusnetz, who associated on the show, and whose programming and work ethic was just staggering. Plus everyone had a great sense of humor.

Who or what makes up your support structure?

My wife and a few musicians who I play with regularly. They have nothing to do with theater, so I remember other things.

What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?

I’m in weird retro pop mood right now. I just emerged myself on the last three shows on Bach, IDM and early 30s crooners, so right now, I’m listening to a Boston band from the 80s: Human Sexual Response. They were so DEEP for me in high school!  They only have two records but I’ve got them on a heavy rotating playlist.

Name a pet production peeve.

Why is the internet so bad in so many theaters?

What is your favorite meal during or before tech?

If I can be near a Korean Restaurant, Bibim bop. With the  raw egg cooked in the bowl at my table.

What instruments do you play?

Guitar and some Keyboard.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to be involved in theatrical sound?

I was a late bloomer. It was once I started working in the theater as an actor. I turned towards sound (as a career) in my late 20s.

Does your family understand what you do?  How would they describe what you do?

Sort of. My discussions with my family are often rehearsals for explaining sound design to the wider world. My mom, I think, wishes I could still be an actor somehow.

Did you have a sound design or composition mentor? If so, how did they help or guide you?

Darron West. I trained as an actor, but started losing interest in it. When I realized that I wanted to go into sound for theater,  I called him and pestered him to let me “assist”. He relented after a while, even though I couldn’t really do much in the way of assisting. I watched him closely in how he dealt with collaborators. I got my own small jobs pretty quickly. He always answered the phone when I would need an ear, or hand.  The lovely thing about that time was how much we actually talkedabout design together. Now everyone is so busy.

Where do you find inspiration?

In beautiful, complex vocal harmonies. In any genre.

Was there a show or experience that drew you to sound design or composition?

There were several experiences that led me to sound. But it was Janet Cardiff’s Sound Walk at PS 1 that showed me a way towards how sound, art and story telling might feel on a whole other level. It was in a museum, but it was narrative in strange, beautiful way.  And it centers on a kind of acted “performance”, like a radio drama. It was profound for me.

What programs are we likely to find open on your computer?

Logic, Snapper, and Qlab. The last show I did music for I used Spectrasonics Omnisphere for everything that I didn’t play acoustically.

Was there a piece or type of gear or program that revolutionized how you work?

Qlab. There have been so  many developments in computing and processing over the last 15 years that make this almost a hard question to answer succinctly.  But there has been no other tool that has changed  so completely how I make work.  It’s straightforward, but deep. It’s affordable. Most importantly, it bridges the space between concept and execution. It’s like a vertical sequencer. I can invent something complex, build it in my studio, on Qlab,  and have a reasonably close first pass when I walk in to a theater for tech. I can approximate a multi speaker output scheme in headphones practically! I started after reel to reel, but had to spend hours bouncing down complex sequences to mini discs.  A vast space existed between the building that happened in my studio, in my sequencer, and the medium that the show ran on.

When SFX came along, the gap began to close, but it’s price and licensing requirements made it impractical for a designer to own a copy. There is a reason I haven’t seen SFX on a show computer in 8 years.

Here’s an example of how Qlab lives in two worlds for me:  sometimes when things are super hairy with limits on quiet time, I’ll do something that is kind of insane. I’ll take the show file home, build new cues, and then come back the next day and load that new file into the production computer. It’s fraught with risk- you can lose work– but if you are inspired, and have a bajillion notes, it means you can design in the studio and start the next day in tech at a good clip. I don’t do it often, but if there is no quiet time before rehearsal, you gotta do something.  Being able to build an alternative cue list at home and simply copy-pasting the next day is miraculous! It sounds so obvious now. But it wasn’t possible before Qlab. Isn’t that the mark of a successful revolution? Something that upends previous structure, and then becomes the new norm?

If you couldn’t have a career in a field related to this one, what would you want to do?

I still fantasize about being a Marine Biologist. I’m going to the Galapagos this summer, so if you don’t hear from me….

What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?

Unifying the members of this community. Artistically and politically. These are difficult times and I wish I could hang out with more people who do the same job, many of whom are so damn smart.

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