Katharine Horowitz is a Minneapolis based sound designer who loves experimenting with idiophones and donated something unusual to Mixed Blood Theatre’s prop shop! Her collaborators include directors Marion McClinton, Sarah Rasmussen, Niegel Smith and Jef Hall-Flavin, and she has extensive design credits at Mixed Blood, Park Square Theatre, Pillsbury House Theatre, Mu Performing Arts and Gremlin Theatres. Her article “The State of Sound Design in the Twin Cities” was published on minnesotaplaylist.com.
What are you working on at the moment?
Purple Cloud, a new play by Jessica Huang, produced by Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis, MN. It’s a play with a design right up my alley: Dreamscape sound effects, lots of music (some original, some pre-existing), and subtle ambient underscoring.
What is the most exciting thing happening this season that you are not working on?
Nina Simone: Four Women, a world premiere play by Christina Ham, at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN. Aside from the fact that Christina Ham is a brilliant and provocative playwright, the powerhouse combination of Christina, actress Regina Marie Williams, director Faye Price, and legend Nina Simone knocks my socks off just thinking about it.
Where were you born…and where do you live now?
Born in Arlington, VA; lives in Minneapolis, MN.
Describe one of your most successful collaborations in the theater.
This is an interesting question because successful collaboration can be so much more different than “fun” or “meaningful”, which are more individual experiences but equally important. There are two shows that I feel come close to encompassing all three factors: Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney and produced by Pillsbury House Theatre, and Romeo and Juliet at Park Square Theatre. In both of those shows, I felt like the creative team AND the performers were all on the same page, brought an equal amount of energy and talent to the room, and good times were had by all. On a personal level, I felt respected as a designer, creatively challenged, and successful in design intent and execution.
Who or what makes up your support structure?
Definitely my husband, Chris, and my best friend, Nicole. But I’m also immeasurably grateful for some of my close artist friends, specifically sound designer Montana Johnson and stage managers extraordinaire Elizabeth MacNally and Sarah Bauer. They’re whipsmart women and always available when I need to vent!
What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?
Cellist Julia Kent recently released a new album, Asperities, and I love it. However, when I’m driving home after a long rehearsal and I need an energy release, I can rap the hell out of Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta”.
Name a pet production peeve.
Stage managers who don’t know how to take control of a room, and who don’t understand the precise and subtle art of cue timing. The first can be learned, the second is innate, but both usually go hand in hand, unfortunately.
What is your favorite meal during or before tech?
A Bruegger’s breakfast sammich with bacon, Caribou coffee, and a Naked Blueberry smoothie. That’ll keep me going for hours.
What instruments do you play?
I dabble around on the piano. I love experimenting with percussion, specifically idiophones. I wish I knew how to play the violin.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to be involved in theatrical sound?
21, during my junior year at the University of Iowa where I was a theatre major studying acting. I credit my roommate at the time for introducing me to sound design, and my involvement with the student radio station. I don’t know that I ever had an “ah ha!” moment. It was more a gradual sliding into the field and realizing toward the end of my senior year that it fit right and I really liked it.
Does your family understand what you do? How would they describe what you do?
Kind of? Some understand more than others. My dad sees more theatre than I do (!) and my husband has to live with me, so they pretty much get it now. The rest of my family know I work in theatre with a focus on sound, and they know it isn’t a hobby, but beyond that I think they’re still a little confused. That’s okay. I like being intangible.
Did you have a sound design or composition mentor? If so, how did they help or guide you?
When I first arrived in the Twin Cities and still had yet to establish contacts, Chris Heagle (who was the resident sound designer at Children’s Theatre Company and now works for Minnesota Public Radio) kind of took me under his wing and gave me gigs and a lot of technical and equipment help. There are also a lot of people I still look up to and consider important collaborators and motivators. I think composers Victor Zupanc (the resident composer at Children’s Theatre Company) and Michael Croswell are musical geniuses, and I find the lighting designs and work ethic of Karin Olson and Wu Chen Khoo always push me to be a better designer.
Where do you find inspiration?
I hope this doesn’t denigrate theatre, but a lot of my general inspiration comes from film. And in truth, I’m not sure why that is. Sometimes I feel like the process of creativity – and the resources – are much more generous in film than in theatre, and certainly much more accessible. To that end, I love the film scores of Clint Mansell, Hans Zimmer, and Thomas Newman, the sound designs of Skip Lievsay and Richard King, and the sound design team on Game of Thrones.
I also find inspiration in my uniquely squeaky kitchen cabinet, that weird sound a half-full can of beer makes when it’s slowly rolling down an empty street, the awesome “schpewwww” sound that travels through the air when planes land on a runway far away, and my stomach growling. Someone needs to hire me to design a creepy alien landscape because I will OWN that design so bad.
Was there a show or experience that drew you to sound design or composition?
It was the first mainstage show I designed as an undergrad at the University of Iowa: The Importance of Being Earnest. Not too terribly exciting sound-wise but I remember loving the feeling of creation; of creating a sonic world that enveloped the audience, sneaking up on them and subtly affecting them. That love, and that feeling, has stayed with me ever since.
What programs are we likely to find open on your computer?
Logic Pro, Audition, iTunes, QLab, Mail, and Safari – because I am a huge internet procrastinator!
Was there a piece or type of gear or program that revolutionized how you work?
QLab, by far. I remember the moment I gave up minidiscs forever: It was 2am and I was recording 30 minutes of prison tone onto minidisc. And of course, if your computer hiccuped or there was some sort of glitch in the hardware, you had to start ALL OVER again. I was so desperately bored I wanted to stick a fork in my neck. At that time, QLab and SFX were still in their infancy but I knew enough to know I was jumping on that bandwagon ASAP. QLab is also the catalyst that eventually made me a Mac person.
I’ve also just recently begun working with Logic Pro and, as a newbie composer, I have a feeling that program is going to open a whole new world for me.
If you couldn’t have a career in a field related to this one, what would you want to do?
Probably something with cooking and homegrown food. I love gardening and cooking.
Have you ever donated a body part for theatre?
Why yes, I have! Thank you so much for asking. Several years ago, Mixed Blood Theatre produced Somebody/Nobody, by Jane Martin, which features a character who wears a charm necklace with a human tooth for the charm. A few months before this I was in the midst of slowly cleaning out my childhood home, to ready it for sale. I came across a small box with my baby teeth still in it. So when the need arose I said to the props designer “you need a tooth? I can get you a tooth.” They bedazzled the hell out of it. I have no idea where it is now. Probably in some dusty corner in Mixed Blood’s scary basement. But it cannot be said I am not rabidly dedicated to the art of theatre.
What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?
A unified voice among sound designers and composers. For too long, I’ve felt like we sound designers have been floating around in our own individual bubbles. We’re friends, but we don’t really know what each other are doing, our work styles, our frustrations, etc. If there’s anything this Tony Awards debacle has accomplished, it’s been to bring us together and discover collective goals.
I also look forward to TSDCA helping educate the theatre community and the general public about what we do, and how much sound affects people’s everyday life.