Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association

Sharath Patel not only designs cross country and just finished a teaching stint at Reed College – he is also an Arts Envoy for the US Department of State! His design work includes productions at ACT Theatre-Seattle, Seattle Rep, California Shakespeare Theater-Oakland, Portland Playhouse and the East West Players in Los Angeles. He holds an MFA in Sound Design from Yale. Click continue to discover why Sharath left his bio-medical training program to pursue sound…and also discover a few of his favorite things including the Red Door Project in Portland.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently designing Good Kids with Portland Actor’s Conservatory (Portland, OR), WIG OUT! with Company One/American Repertory Theatre (Boston, MA), You and I with Artists Repertory Theatre (Portland, OR), and Cake with Tantrum Theatre (Dublin, OH).

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

Octoroon at Berkley Rep, Here Lies Love at Seattle Rep, and Black Odyssey at CalShakes.

Where were you born? Where do you live now?

I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in NYC, Bangalore India, and Athens Ohio. I currently live in Portland Oregon.

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

I just opened Between Riverside and Crazy with Artists Repertory theatre which was directed by Adriana Baer. What made the design process so successful and rewarding was the leadership of a director who really trusted their design team. Adriana is the type of leader who encourages her people to be proactive in their processes while keeping a general positive energy about themselves. I have worked with Adriana as a director and/or producer on ten productions and each time we collaborate the productions only get more exciting and ambitious.

You are an Arts Envoy on behalf of the State Department of the United States. Can you describe the responsibilities and challenges of that role?

I LOVE teaching and most of my work as an Arts Envoy goes into the education and betterment of my fellow colleagues in every discipline of audio creation and sound reinforcement. My duties as an Envoy included teaching classes, working with bands/DJ for live events, and instructing the class participants in the execution of the aforementioned live events. When not teaching, all the Envoys act as Arts Ambassadors or representatives of the United States Artistic Communities. We attend public and government sponsored events as well as lead televised and live-forum and panel discussions. They mainly focused on explaining the American model of theatre and the live performing arts when it comes to process, collaboration, and hierarchy.

You have spoken passionately about the Red Door Project in Portland. What excites you about this project? Can TSDCA members from across the country participate?

The Red Door Project’s mission statement is a great example of why I love working with them. Check it out: “It is our mission to change the racial ecology of Portland through the arts.” As a person if color it is quite rare for me to see others who look like me while working on most theatrical productions. An organization that promotes attendance and acceptance of people of color in the community through theater is incredibly important to me. Currently, they are working to produce and create more live theatrical productions outside of their current tour of Hands-Up! (a play focusing on Police violence from the point of view of the people of color affected). We will defiantly need composers, engineers, experienced labor, and mix engineers soon. Their second production Cop Talk (a play focusing on Police violence from the opposite perspective) is being work-shopped and going through scriptural revisions.

Who or what makes up your support structure?

At the moment, I feel very isolated because I don’t really have a sound designer support network here in Portland OR. I communicate regularly with a few sound designers in NYC and I am in the process of training assistants as well as associate designers here in Portland. I have had the amazing fortune of working with brilliant composers and sound engineers in Seattle, Oakland, L.A., and Boston…. But I feel very far away from them. I do appreciate that I can always call them for help or to offer my assistance.

What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?

Currently, I am lovin’ on anything from the “Black Panther” sound track. The incorporation of so many different instruments and styles of music is brilliant. I know it might fall into the Pop genre, but its expression and commitment to being unapologetically black is amazing!

Name a pet production peeve.

People being aggressive, short, angry, or verbally abusive during the rehearsal or tech process is a huge Pet Peeve for me. We are all collaborating to create art and there is no need to jerk or flaunt your ego. Whether it is sexism, racism, or just plan bigoted thinking I have no patience for it. We all CAN get along.

What is your favorite meal during or before tech?

When designing in the United States I enjoy wood-fired pizza in the winter months and cold turkey sandwiches on a baguette in the summer time. While in Asia, no matter what time of year I love noodles. Give me Ramen, Phó, Phat si-io, or anything like them and I am a happy person! Europe is a crap shoot based on whatever is around.

Do you play an instrument?

I plead the 5th. Do turntables and drum machines count? :-p

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

Not till I was in High School/College (I started college part-time when I was 16). I worked on some summer musicals and loved all of the collaboration and communication. I also found the theater to be a great place to meet people who seemed to be open-minded and welcoming. In general, I was not a fan of musicals but when I started attending more straight-plays in NYC I got hooked.

Does your family understand what you do?

Oddly enough, yes. They were so curious about what I actually did for a living, they have shown up to watch tech in New York and Ohio. I guess they wanted to know why I was so beat after a slew of “10-out-of-12” technical rehearsals. Plus, my parents are both trained as physicians and they were glad to have an artist in the family.

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

David Budries. The man is so enthusiastic about sound design it was impossible not to get inspired. He is the reason I “always lead the design” and I am never complacent to just follow or do what is easy. David is the one who encouraged me to always try to execute something new or something I have never tried before with each production I design.

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

The Off-Broadway run of “Jitney” at Second Stage. It was one of the first times, outside of India and London, where I saw people who looked like me on-stage. It had a profound effect on me while I was in college and was a contributing factor of me leaving a Bio-Medical training program to pursue a degree in theater.

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

ProTools, Qlab, VecterWorks, Sibelius, iChat, iTunes, Firefox, iChat, skype and Preview. Especially if I am in tech!

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

ProTools or any digital editing suite. I hated cutting tape so much but I am glad to have started my training there. I do believe one has to know where you have been to know where you are going. I hated having to tell a director we would have to wait till tomorrow to accomplish a sound note because I needed to go back to the studio to edit said note. Having a digital editing suite on a laptop saves so much time and allows me to discover better solutions actively in technical rehearsal. Also, I would probably have cut off a finger by now with all of the late nights!

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

I would return to my medical training and probably re-certify as an EMT while going back to school. The idea of not connecting, educating, or helping people is unfathomable.

What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?

I really want to see the organization help to separate the roles of Sound Designer, Sound Engineer, Music Director, Vocal Director, Accompanist, Board Op, and Lead Mix Engineer at a national level. Sometime I feel as though I am screaming into the wind with my concerns about combining many, if not all, of these roles into one job and seeing no fiscal compensation to accommodate such a move.

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