Amy Altadonna received a BA in Music from the College of William and Mary followed by an MFA from Yale. She is known for her enthusiasm and positive attitude – a gift to any collaboration. An Artistic Associate at Colt Coeur, her designs include work for Colonial Williamsburg, the films Salesgirl and Yield, multiple productions at Shakespeare and Company, and downtown New York collaborations at Rattlestick and HERE Arts Center. She has taught at UMass Amherst since 2012, and, as you can clearly see below, not only derives a lot of pleasure from nurturing students but is passionate about creating a world for them with democratic access to “this dream job”. – JS
What are you working on at the moment?
I am in the early stages of a sound design for Jennifer Blackmer’s Unraveled, which will open in August at Theatre Row. I’m also thrilled to return to Shakespeare & Company this summer, where I’m rejoining my friends and collaborators for three shows. In the meantime, I’m teaching sound design and music recording at UMass, where I’m working with a ton of interesting, motivated musicians and creatives. It’s a good time to be sound artist and song writer, and a great time to be around our future professional collaborators (i.e., current college students). Between the end of the school year and my summer shows, I’m co-hosting a 45th anniversary party for my parents and traveling abroad with my sister and brother (in law).
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I am proud to say that I was born and raised in South Jersey – home of hoagies, friendly people, Wawa, and EAGLES FANS!! I live in Massachusetts now, between a family farm and a conservation area, which is a wonderful balance with my time in NYC, which I also love.
You have been on the faculty of UMass Amherst since 2012. What are the most important tools/skills you think a student should acquire from an academic program?
Well, I think the most important assets a college student should cultivate are critical thinking, self-reflection, and an increasing awareness of the state of the world around them (specifically regarding the industries they want to work in, societal constructs that define their experiences, and an awareness that the landscape is shifting as quickly as we are able to define it for ourselves). Most of the students I work with, no matter what kind of lives they want to lead or what professional goals they have, are talented and hard-working enough to achieve those desires. Specific skills and tools can be learned and practiced at all times thanks to the democratization of the internet – but a critical eye towards the world around them, and a self-awareness of how capable they are to adapt and respond to that world, are the intangibles develop over time as students try new things and master them (or falter and learn from that). Those intangibles which help us continue to develop are crucial, and all the specifics can be addressed as needed.
How is the world of sound design changed since you graduated from Yale School of Drama?
Hm. There are so many things socially and technologically that have changed, but what I’ve been cognizant of recently is the absolute necessity of collective bargaining and the collective action of workers. USA and it’s most vocal members, TSDCA, and my university union have all been key parts of my education and developing values surrounding these political, social and financial issues. Which is to say that it’s probably less of an actual change and more of a change in my priorities and perceptions, but unionizing and organizing are efforts that will save us if we commit to them. And thank goodness for all of the selfless, active members of these groups who give their time to help us organize and vocalize our interests, and interests of all workers in this country.
Who or what makes up your support structure?
I am extremely lucky to have a loyal group of family and friends who are always there for me. These folks are extremely kind and intelligent; they shoot straight with me, commiserate with me and celebrate with me. I’m especially lucky that Emily, my sister and my best friend, is an instructional coach, so her specialty is listening and guiding people with insight and a gentle hand. To have someone you love so much who is literally an expert in coaching people through their challenges (and their teaching efforts) is a gift!
What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?
I’ll always love Einstein on the Beach. I can’t put words to it’s transformative beauty, you just have to listen all the way through (if you haven’t already).
Name a pet production peeve.
Thank goodness this has generally improved over time, but…put the reports in the body of the email!
What is your favorite meal during or before tech?
Indian food – especially a really good malai kofta. I have to get my fill of first-rate Indian food when I’m in NYC for productions, and I can eat it multiple days in a row. After that, I need a steady supply of baked goods and candies so I can stress-eat while designing. And of course, coffee.
Do you play an instrument?
Not well! But I can muster a few chords on the guitar, I played the clarinet quite seriously in middle- and high school, and the trombone in college. The trombone was my favorite, but it’s probably the instrument I’m worst at playing.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to be involved in theatrical sound?
I knew at 22 years old when I designed my first play. I had just graduated from the music department at William and Mary, where I composed, learned some early computer music (C-Sound, anyone?), and played the trombone. I was also an electrician in the theatre department as a hobby. After graduating (and feeling like a loser with no prospects, working in the college bookstore), a friend asked me to design his senior directing thesis and that was it…I found a place for myself and my passions and it’s pretty much been the same ever since.
Does your family understand what you do?
Oh yes! My parents have come to see a lot of my shows up and down the eastern seaboard, and my sister has done some theatre as an actor, teacher and director. They are happy for me that I get to do something I love and that it has afforded me so many interesting travels, experiences and friendships. I could not have done this without them; they’ve been loving advisors and loyal cheerleaders throughout my career.
Did you have a sound design or composition mentor? If so, how did they help or guide you?
Yes…Dan Gutwein. He’s a jazz saxophonist, composer, retired AI developer, and graphics artist. He was my advisor and composition teacher at W&M…but he was so much more than that. His intensity and commitment to the things that interested him, his unflappable professionalism, his authenticity and unapologetic honesty, and the way he deftly, gently sculpted his sonic compositions were all examples he set that I still try to emulate to this day. He is one of the few people that I look up to as a model of what it means to be a good and sincere person, and I am grateful to have his ideals to hold up as a goal (perhaps unreachable for someone impetuous as I am).
Where do you find inspiration?
This is really hard to talk about because I’m sharing experiences that aren’t mine, and they are painfully tender.
Recently, as I’ve been getting older, I’ve had friends and loved ones (and actually, some people who I don’t know very well) who have lost children. It’s hard even to write about it now, but when I think of these particular babies and I try to imagine their experiences of the world, it’s inspired me to try to recreate how they might have heard it – in the womb and outside. I think it’s an attempt on my part as a composer to share their impact on me (I’m thinking of a couple kids specifically) in a way that validates and celebrates their experience. And to let their parents know that they are active in my heart even though we don’t get to have them here with us the way we wish we did.
What programs are we likely to find open on your computer?
Logic, Safari (don’t judge!), maybe Musecore, definitely Flux (I can’t take the blue light of the screen without a color temperature adjustment), and my phone nearby with Podcast Addict.
If you couldn’t have a career in a field related to this one, what would you want to do?
Run a rat rescue. I became a rat owner on the night of our NYC TSDCA town hall meeting on June 8th, 2015 and my life has never been the same. Rats are communicative, fascinating and wonderful creatures, and I would love to rescue every single abandoned or needy rat and give them a safe and engaging environment in which to live. I can talk about rats all day, I love watching my boys (four over the rainbow bridge and Wren, who currently lives with me), and I’m active in some online communities. They are incredible companions and wonderful little beings.
What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?
I truly hope that TSDCA can experiment with ways to help democratize access to our industry. Can we create paid internships for people without the economic advantages that I had which allowed me to pursue this dream job? Can we find ways (without “white savior-ing”) to actively bring people of color, gender non-conforming, and economically disadvantaged people into the community and the industry as peers and workers? Can we commit to diversifying our design teams across all strata of the industry? How can WE do what we say we want to see happen in the world?
I may – rightly or wrongly – alienate some people with what I’m saying or how I’m saying it…but I feel strongly enough speak about it anyway.