Sound Designer Sun Hee (Sunny) Kil, originally from South Korea, is celebrating her tenth year in the United States! First earning an MFA in sound design at the University of Cinncinnati, College Conservatory of Music, she then spent five years on the faculty of the University of Central Oklahoma. In 2014 she was appointed assistant professor, Department of Theatre Arts, at SUNY New Paltz. Her sound design credits range from the musicals Caffeine at the Roppongi Blue Theatre in Tokyo, Japan, to Flipside at 59E59 in New York City. Manhattan Repertory Theatre featured her original compositions in their production Removal. Solitary Musicians, a musical she created and designed for 202 Productions in Seoul, was a finalist at the Uijeongbu International Music Theatre Festival and was invited to perform at the first Maronnier Festival in 2011.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am a full time professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, teaching Sound Design 1 & Sound Design 2 this semester, designing our college production, the musical Parade, and two local productions at Hudson Valley, Ten Minute Play Festival and Vanya, Sonya, Masha & Spike. Last year, Kinky Boots had the first Korean production in Seoul, Korea. I worked as sound department liaison/interpreter to get what the sound designer needed. We won the best Korean musical award last year and I started working on the second production this September. I am also prepping a Korean experimental theatre piece. We just submitted our proposal to the art market in Yokohama, Japan. We are trying to take this production to Switzerland next year.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Busan, South Korea. I live in Gardiner, NY, close to the university where I work.
What brought you to the United States?
I love musicals and I mixed many Korean productions of Broadway & West End musicals. I also worked for a Korean musical tour production in the West End. I was very surprised & inspired by original designs & their production quality. I wanted to be the sound designer but there was no school in South Korea. So I searched graduate schools in the US and got accepted. This is my 10th year in the United States!
Do you think sound design is practiced, defined or regarded differently in South Korea?
The concept of sound “design” is recognized better. But still sound design is ignored by producers, directors, and even by other designers compared with scenic, lighting or costume design. Many play directors pick the songs and ask us to play the cues for them. Many play productions do not even have a sound designer. Many musical directors treat us as technicians who can amplify the music.
What was the biggest surprise you encountered doing sound in the United States?
The sophistication of the sound design process. Maybe the production process in general?
Korea does not have the traditional theatre art form. I was amazed by the theatrical production history, technology, & development of the US.
Describe one of your most successful collaborations in the theater. How or why was it successful?
It was a new work and I started working from the very beginning of the process with the playwright, director & the composer. We chatted every day. I really could feel we were making the musical together. It was about the agony of Korean traditional performing artists in the present. The show’s integrity was quite successful.
Who or what makes up your support structure?
Mr. Dokyung Kwon picked me to be his assistant and taught me sound in South Korea. Before I met him, I was all kinds of theatre technician/artist. He found my talent(?) in sound when I did not even know what sound design/engineering was.
What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?
“Confession is not flash” by Seunghwan Lee.
Last month in Korea, there was a big hit TV drama series, “Answer 1988!” The background of the drama was 1988 and this music was played in the drama. It reminded me of all my teenager years and my first love in 1989. I keep listening to this album in my car.
What is your favorite meal during or before tech?
Hot bowl of rice!
Do you play an instrument?
Yes, I have played the piano since I was four years old. I know how to play the guitar & drums very badly…..
How old were you when you knew you wanted to be involved in theatrical sound?
27 years old. I worked for a year as a theatrical sound technician. I was debating for a year if sound could be my life. And I realized how much I liked the effectiveness of sound.
Does your family understand what you do?
Now, yes! It took about 7 years for them first to accept “theatre job is also a job” and another 2 years “what theatrical sound is” after they saw many of my works.
Did you have a sound design or composition mentor? If so, how did they help or guide you?
I do not ask questions normally due to my autistic personality but whenever I have a question, I ask Mr. Dokyung Kwon, Mr. Andrew Keister & Mr. Jim Van Bergen, who has always helped me.
Was there a show or experience that drew you to sound design or composition?
I saw the first imported Broadway musical in Korea, 42nd Street, in 1997, as a theatre junior in college. It made me decide to work on theatre. In 2002, the Korean musical Last Empress tour to the West End made me decide to be a sound designer. And finally in 2011, the successful collaboration work Solitary Musicians made me decide to make music to tell drama.
What programs are we likely to find open on your computer?
Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Q-Lab, Vectorworks, Smaart, Skype, Keynote, Words, Excel, all sound device softwares…….
Was there a piece or type of gear or program that revolutionized how you work?
Before I came to this country, I used Multitrack hard disk players, CD/MD players, & E-MU/AKAI samplers. Now we can program everything!
If you couldn’t have a career in a field related to this one, what would you want to do?
I wanna be a jazz musician.
What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?
Keep maintaining our value as artist.