It’s a common experience at the movies: You’re sitting in your seat, tense with anticipation, and at a pivotal moment the camera closes in on the hero while the music swells in the background. In films, a musical score is as integral as camera angles and lighting. It emphasizes and undergirds the action, sets the tone for a scene, and even tells us how to feel in a particular moment. While it’s rarer in theatre, more and more non-musical plays are using composers for similar purposes: Imogen Heap’s score for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for instance, has generated as much buzz as the magical effects.
According to Florida-based composer Jeremy Douglass, when it comes to scoring straight plays: “You have to just stay out of the way.” Much like other design elements in a theatrical production, underscoring is most effective when it amplifies the action onstage without distracting from it.