Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association

A lifelong musician with a degree in voice, Shannon Marie O’Neill found sound design and composition somewhat by accident; a director introduced her to the company as the sound designer on a show she believed she was assistant directing! Favorite projects include collaborating with fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt to create live sound effects within the fights in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production of The Comedy of Errors and working with the ArtsCenter of Carrboro’s (NC) cast of children and adults to create original music for A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Shannon currently resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she is an Assistant Professor of Sound Design at Louisiana State University. She is serving as the Central Regional Rep for TSDCA.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on design and composition for Love and Information at LSU (Louisiana State University) and then on to a rep of The Seagull (designer) and Stupid Fucking Bird (composer) for Swine Palace. The biggest project right now, though, is I have received a grant to upgrade sound in our performance spaces, so I will be purchasing new gear and updating systems in two performance spaces and our sound studio.

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

This isn’t theater related, but there are a number of awesome Marvel movies coming out in the next few years. I’d love to do some post-production sound on those, especially Captain Marvel, which is scheduled to come out in 2019.

Where were you born? Where do you live now?

I was born in Northampton, MA but Chapel Hill, NC is home. I’m currently living in Baton Rouge, LA. 

Describe one of your most successful collaborations in the theater. How or why was it successful?

Early on, I worked with a group in Chapel Hill called Hidden Voices. They were creating a piece called Speaking Without Tongues. The show was about survivors of domestic violence. It was the survivors’ stories in their own words, performed by survivors of domestic violence. I sound designed and wrote music for the production.

Because we were working with women who had experienced severe trauma, there was a great deal of community building within the collaboration. As a designer and especially as a composer/lyricist, it was important for me to earn the performers’ trust. The performers, who were telling their own stories and the stories of others, were involved in the decision making about sounds and music that they would hear throughout the performance.

While I do think it was a successful collaboration artistically, I think the greatest success of the production was that it opened up dialogue within families. In the case of some of our performers, it even brought family members back together (there are specific examples I am thinking of, but will not elaborate, as they are not my stories to tell). This was the show that made me believe that theater can have a bigger purpose … we may not have changed the entire world with this production, but the production certainly opened up the world for some people.

Who or what makes up your support structure?

My family.

What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?

It is embarrassing to say, but right now the one piece of music running through my mind is the new classic by Bad Lip Reading — “Seagulls! (Stop it Now)” If you are a Star Wars fan and you haven’t experienced this song/video yet, then do yourself a favor and watch (and please don’t curse me when you can’t get the song out of your head).

Name a pet production peeve.

I have two:

It drives me nuts when directors refuse to give tech notes before giving actor notes, especially if actors need time to get out of costumes … The quicker we can get our notes, the quicker we can fix them.

My other pet peeve: ClearCom. It is certainly a critical part of the production, but as it is used by multiple departments and benefits the whole production, I get tired of explaining why com expenses should not be fully shouldered by the sound department.

What is your favorite meal during or before tech?

Most of the time I want pizza before tech. My favorite tech candy is definitely jellybeans.

Do you play an instrument?

I started out as a musician, so I play a few, though much less proficiently than I used to. I’m a classically trained singer and I play piano, guitar, saxophone, French horn, and clarinet.

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

I sort of fell into it … I jokingly say I was tricked. I worked with a director who asked me to come on to the show as an assistant director and then he introduced me to the cast as the sound designer. I had no idea what a sound designer was, so I went home and did some research. From there I kept getting gigs, and since I enjoyed what I was doing, I kept taking them.

Does your family understand what you do? 

For the most part. My partner is a costume designer, so he understands how theater works and what sound for theater is. My parents have come to understand what I do, though they find the schedule perplexing.

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

Not particularly. It was mostly learning as I went. I was a musician who fell into sound design, so a lot of what I know about sound comes from what I know about music.

Where do you find inspiration?

I mostly find inspiration in stories.

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

As I mentioned, sound design just sort of happened for me, so nothing really drew me to sound design or composition. It’s more that interesting projects keep popping up, and that keeps me in the game and wanting to do more.

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

Most likely you’ll find Logic, possibly Kontakt or Maschine, QLab, Chrome, and potentially Audition. And for some reason, I usually have the Calculator app open.

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

QLab. Definitely QLab.

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

The answer to this question varies by day. Sometimes I think I’d like to be a financial planner, other times a marine biologist, and other times I’d like to be a talk show host. I think part of why I am so drawn to sound for theater is that no two days are the same. It never gets boring.

What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?

As a designer I hope that TSDCA can be an advocate for sound designers as well as help sound designers build the tools to advocate for themselves.

As an educator, I hope that TSDCA can help provide a community for young designers who are learning how to navigate their careers and who need some mentorship along the way … when I send my students out into the world I want them to have a support network that goes beyond just me.

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