Vincent Olivieri is a Los Angeles-based sound designer and composer with an international portfolio. His LA credits include Actually, Guards at the Taj, Barcelona, Miss Julie, Build, and Extraordinary Chambers with The Geffen Playhouse, Jitney with Pasadena Playhouse, and many productions with South Coast Repertory. He was also active with the now-defunct clown troupe Clownzilla, based in Orange County. His Broadway credits include High and contributions to Radio Golf. Off-Broadway credits include The Water’s Edge, Omnium-Gatherum, The Brothers Size, The God Botherers, and Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy. New York City and regional credits include productions with The Guthrie, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Woolly Mammoth, Center Stage (Baltimore), Barrington Stage Company, Gorilla Productions, The Juilliard School, Syracuse Stage, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Virginia Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Indiana Repertory Theatre, and Yale Repertory Theatre. He has created designs for world-premiere productions by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Kirsten Greenidge, Charles L. Mee, Adam Rapp, Theresa Rebeck, and August Wilson among others. For three years, Mr. Olivieri was the Resident Sound Designer at Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Humana Festival of New American Plays. International credits include work in Italy, Korea, China, and Romania. His work was presented as part of the Prague Quadrennial Design Exhibitions in 2007 & 2013. Mr. Olivieri is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and serves on the faculty at University of California-Irvine.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got a number of projects: I’m designing and composing for the world premiere of The Strangers at Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville TN. I’m also conducting research into sound design for virtual reality environments. I’m prepping for a talk on Spatialized Sound at a conference in Dublin, and I’m spending as much time as I can with my toddler daughter!
What is the most exciting thing happening this season that you are not working on?
It’s not exciting in a positive way, but I can’t stop watching this train-wreck of a presidency. If this were a play, we’d dismiss it as completely implausible!
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Virginia Beach, VA, and I live in greater LA now. In between, I lived in Richmond VA, New Haven CT, Louisville KY, NYC, and New Haven CT (again!).
Describe one of your most successful collaborations in the theater. How or why was it successful?
One of my first shows after getting my MFA was a production of August Wilson’s Piano Lesson at Actors Theatre of Louisville. For the last scene of the play, I created a percussion score using a piano frame as my instrument. I spent lots of time in rehearsal, banging and scraping the frame and tightly matching the music to the action. The time I spent in rehearsal with the company and director Timothy Douglas let me create a very detailed score, but as we got closer to tech, I needed to watch the actors rehearse the scene without the score in order to make sure I had my paperwork ready for the recording studio. During that run, the actors couldn’t get through the scene because of the lack of sound. The score had become such an essential part of the rehearsal process that we couldn’t separate it from the acting.
For the past ten years you have held a teaching position at California Irvine. What is the most important piece of advice you give your students?
Ten! Ten years. Whoa. My advice varies a lot based on the student and the project, but one of the through-lines is to practice empathy in all its forms. Empathy for characters will help you understand the play. Empathy for your creative partners (matched with your own creative contributions and technical competence, of course) will help you create a stronger design and production as a whole.
What are the most asked questions from students? How do you answer them?
Those question topics vary widely based on the student and the production and can include questions about content, composition, conception, recording, equipment, tuning, formats, archiving, structure, script analysis, etc. But on almost every production that I mentor a student on, there are almost always questions about communication. How can we better communicate our ideas? How can we better advocate for the sound design and for the production as a whole? How do we balance our vision about the design with the director’s vision for the production? I spend a lot of time talking with my students about these questions and what techniques they can use to more clearly share their ideas.
I also have a lot of conversations about scheduling, pace, and overcommitment. Grad school is often a place where students find their limits in terms of how many projects they can take on and how much time it takes to do different kinds of projects.
You are not only a practicing sound designer and teacher, you are also a prolific writer. How did that part of your career start? What is your favorite writing project and why?
I wrote my first magazine article in 2004 for Lighting and Sound America. LSA had written an article on Actors Theatre of Louisville’s technical staff, and I asked the authors if I could write a piece. Since then, I’ve written a number of pieces, mostly for Stage Directions Magazine. My favorite pieces have been a series of profiles on sound designers. I’ve done a handful so far, and I’m working on another one now.
Who or what makes up your support structure?
Personally? I’ve got a terrific wife and toddler daughter. They’re always supportive, and my folks and in-laws are often able to help out with childcare if I’m out of town and/or my wife is working.
Professionally? My colleagues at UCI are a huge support structure, and I’m grateful for having them in my work life. And as far as assistants go, I don’t have any regular assistants, but I generally try to hire my students to assist me, when possible.
What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?
I’m listening to the Hamilton soundtrack more than anything else these days, but that’s mostly because my daughter asks for it when I take her running. I’m really into Laura Mvula right now, and Juana Molina.
Name a pet production peeve.
Inefficiently run production meetings, particularly at the end of a long day of tech. And paper techs. God how I loathe paper techs.
What is your favorite meal during or before tech?
Anything with the other designers. And a cocktail at the end of the night is always welcome.
Do you play an instrument?
I play piano and guitar well enough to use them to compose, but not well enough to perform. I studied percussion and voice in school. I’m teaching myself banjo and ukulele.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to be involved in theatrical sound?
I did my first sound design in high school at 17, but I didn’t know that it was called ‘sound design’ until my first college design in my sophomore year. Sometime during my last years in college I decided I wanted to set my math degree aside and try to design professionally.
Does your family understand what you do?
All of my immediate family does. Most of my extended family does as well. But I come from an creative family. My sister is an Stage Manager (SM). My wife works in TV (and used to be an SM). One cousin is a professional pianist and another plays string bass in orchestras and combos. Both my parents played music in school. I’m lucky in that they’ve always been very supportive.
Did you have a sound design or composition mentor? If so, how did they help or guide you?
David Budries was my mentor when I was getting my MFA at Yale School of Drama. He was particularly great at fostering interesting conversations among my classmates and I, especially between me and Fitz Patton, from whom I also learned an awful lot. I didn’t really have a sound design mentor before David, and since grad school, I haven’t really had one either. There are a couple of designers that I really admire and am in conversation with, but none that I consider to be a mentor.
Where do you find inspiration?
Other sound designers, musicians, films, television, theatre. Field recordings, acoustic ecology, books. Sculpture and modern art.
Was there a show or experience that drew you to sound design or composition?
Not really. I fell in love with sound design before I ever heard a truly excellent one. I loved the way that sound design combines theatre, music, and technology, and that’s what drew me to sound design: the opportunity to merge those three passions.
What programs are we likely to find open on your computer?
Mail, chrome, FileMaker Pro, logic, max, live, excel, Kontakt, iTunes.
Was there a piece or type of gear or program that revolutionized how you work?
The Akai S6000, SFX, software samplers, Lemur, and MaxMSP have all revolutionized my workflow at different points in my career. I don’t think I can point to just one. But considering that I started out designing on reel-to-reel, the number of ‘revolutions’ in my workflow is staggering.
If you couldn’t have a career in a field related to this one, what would you want to do?
This is tough. Maybe a private chef or restauranteur? Maybe a photographer? Acoustic Ecologist?
What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?
I’d like to see the TSDCA continue to build bridges between the sound design community and the greater theatre community in the USA, as well as connect to and advocate for international sound designers.