It is probably safe to say that none of us will be sad to see this dumpster fire of a year go.
But let’s not part ways without acknowledging that we, as a community, of sonically driven folx, still managed to make some pretty cool stuff, work that we can be proud of. We asked you to tell us about your triumphs and you did, and for that, we are grateful and are honored to promote your work. We know that some of you didn’t get a chance to tell us about your year, and for that, we are sorry and ask that you consider the invitation as still open – to reminisce, to inspire, and to share your story. Send us an email, tell us about it on social media, shout it from the rooftops. Maybe we will publish more of such “lists” in the future.
In the meantime, let’s start with some math…
- So far we have received 47 separate “submissions”.
- You told us that your work has featured over 500 performers (those performing on stage) and, probably, at least as many working behind the scenes.
- You told us that you worked with at least 42 different producing organizations
- We estimated that you have made over 100 hours of content, reaching the ears (and other senses) of countless people. Around the world. Literally.
We know, FOR A FACT, that this “list” is but a FRACTION of all that has transpired this year. What we have to share today, is, maybe, a third of what’s out there? But even as such, it is enough to marvel at. Let us take this opportunity to reflect on the passion, commitment, and hard work of our community.
Here are some highlights:
“Still living, still going LIVE”:
With the T of TSDCA being THEATRICAL, let’s begin with some shout-outs to projects that tried to continue making some theatre – live performances embracing new technologies and new challenges:
- Twi McCallum celebrates their work on Between the Two Humps with MCC Theater (LiveLabs Project): “This is a live performance, with all original foley and music composition performed live by me as the sound designer. The director really desired the “live” element of sound effects to underscore the humor of the storytelling”.
- Brendan F Doyle regales us with [keyp-ing] with New Repertory Theatre – “Done live! Performer sending audio and video via OBS on their smartphone, with a laptop for local monitoring of stage manager triggered sound cues. Two other humans push content, one for slides with fake Instagram live comments and one for closed captioning. All mixed together by SM and then screenshared into a zoom call with audience members who are encouraged to chat live with the performer during the show. During audio described performances, patrons open a separate browser window with the AD stream to play alongside the main performance.”
- Germán Martínez reports of a Zoom production of Derecho with Brooklyn College. Brandon Reed also designed a live Zoom reading of The Storyteller with PlayMakers Repertory Company, where he decided to take on “the role of the video/media coordinator. I had to learn how to live stream a reading at the same time as design the show within two months”. !!
- Mikhail Fiksel recalls the battles with tech during a live performance of Notes from an Enumerator, or 1500 Rubles and a Revolver with Theatre in Quarantine – “we had 2 performers in 2 parts of Brooklyn in 2 separate closets (aka theaters) – connecting via Skype, Zencastr and sometimes Zoom, and pushing content into Izadora, QLab and OBS, all triggered via a sequenced QLab session because we didn’t have a stage manager.”
- Hamlet with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks will also “be streamed live, and then recorded the following week for radio play in January”, both will be featuring the sound design and original music of Toy Deiorio.
“Not so live, but still very much a monster”
Meanwhile, many of us have been toiling away in our various studios, attics, laboratories, lairs, caves, etc – stitching together countless pieces of footage and content, bringing to life stories, both ancient and brand new:
- Aaron Stephenson (and the audio team at Steppenwolf Theatre) produced 2 audio plays for their virtual season – Animal Farm and Wally World, with all the actors recording locally while acting via Zoom. Reflecting on the process – “the director and I operated a bit like pen pals. The biggest challenges were playing all of the traditional design roles and working in isolation.”
- Katharine Horowitz reports on her work on Understood with Trademark Theater – “we rented the recording studio at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN. The studio is large enough to fit at least 12 socially-distanced people and we only had two actors. We placed them six feet apart with a drum shield between them. The mixing room was more cramped, however. Three of us in the room, masked, with loads of sanitizer.”
- Jane Shaw tells us of The Blind with HERE, recording “locally via Reaper, we watched each other on Zoom, and listened and did a backup (and sync) recording on Cleanfeed.” And Josh Samuels tells of a similar set up while working on The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley with Untitled Theatre Company #61. Twi McCallum used Zencastr while recording Junior Spacelords with The Kennedy Center, Young Audiences Division, and adds that “the most unique aspect of [that] production is that all sound effects are original recordings or creations, there were no sounds that came downloaded from a digital library.”
“A feast for sore eyes”:
Plenty of the oh-so-long-post-production processes included visual components as well, and with that, brand new challenges and discoveries:
- Will Pickens worked on Brother, Mine, a graphic podcast with Hand Forged Fiction, incorporating stylized animated visuals to complement the audio storytelling.
- Jane Shaw’s and Josh Samuels’ work on The Wolves, with Philadelphia Theatre Company, included a “video component recorded via Zoom. Sync-ing the recorded vocals with the Zoom stream took a lot of time; latency appeared to change from sentence to sentence!”.
- Meanwhile, Adam Brunetti was producing a weekly music festival, Levitt AMP Woonsocket Virtual Concert Series, virtually – researching and editing archival footage of music acts from previous years, and filming additional footage of the host and special guests, finding sponsors and doing graphic design, among other things..
- Lindsay Jones reports that Etta And Ella On The Upper West Side with Round House Theatre/ McCarter Theatre “was shot as a film in person, and I’m creating the sound design and original music for it.”
“the Not-so-traditional Holiday Traditions”:
And despite the challenges and ups and downs of this strangest of years, many roads still lead to the tested and true holiday traditions of the season:
- From Richard Woodbury, Eileen Smitheimer, John Gromada, and Brandon Reed, we have learned of at least 4 audio play adaptations of A Chrismas Carol with (respectively) The Goodman Theatre, Resident Ensemble Theatre, Ford’s Theatre (in collaboration with WAMU) and PlayMakers Repertory Company. But there are rumors of even more audio/virtual adaptations of the holiday classic. Some were recorded in-person “behind 10 Plexi booths over 5 days in the large rehearsal room” or “onsite in isolated dressing rooms at the theatre outfitted as iso booths” and some with remote kits containing ZOOM recorders and USB mics sent to performers’ homes.
- Meanwhile, Kyle W. Jensen conceived of the production of It’s A Wonderful Life! The Radio Play “filmed and recorded in the living room of someone’s house. The audio and video were recorded at the same time, foley included.”
- Adam Brunetti tells tales of the Woonsocket Main Street Holiday Stroll – “All of the entertainment portions were pre-recorded, mostly by myself, some sent in by the artists. For the ones that I recorded, we scheduled individual sessions in order to comply with social gathering and distancing restrictions. The host, Santa, and the voice of the talking tree were all live, with their individual sets about 20 feet apart to comply with distancing.” Apparently, there was a talking tree!!!
“The Early Adopters”:
But the beginning of the year was just as jolly, minus the presents, good food, or hand sanitizer…. ok – it was nothing like it.
- As all performing venues were shuttering, art was already adapting. By early April – Toy Deiorio along with Bart Fasbender was helping The Broadway Podcast Network bring to life Dracula – A Comedy of Terrors, a 4 episode audio-play recorded through Zoom. And Lindsay Jones was working on Imagine Neighborhood with Committee For Children, writing music and sound designing that weekly podcast show.
Soon it became clear that we were not getting back to our dark theaters for a while, and so the party moved outside.
- Aaron Harris Woodstein tells us of the New Tar Theatre Ghost Tour with the University of Cincinnati “performed outside in the style of a ghost tour! It was controlled using touch OSC and cell phones. We had to work off a laptop and Bluetooth speakers in the elements. One day it started to drizzle but we kept pushing forward because it added to the ambiance of the show.”
- Robert Hornbostel boasts of The Women in the Woods with Cardinal Stage Theater – “a bold new opportunity for Cardinal Stage, venturing into outdoor, walkabout narrative storytelling. Each of the 4 sections had 5 to 7 sections that were activated at different locations throughout Bloomington IN, drawing from historic and iconic waypoints that tied into the stories”.
- Oddy Litlabo reports on Guided with The Warped Collective – “a devised theatre piece that was developed, written, and edited fully remotely between August and November of 2020. We are a group of students at Savannah College of Art & Design and we were inspired by the physical locations in Savannah, GA, and developed a binaural location-based audio experience using the stories from historical characters of the city. The audio experience was split into different clips based on 5 locations, and we developed an accompanying website that would play an audio clip, guide them to the next location, and then play the next clip”.
“The More The Merrier”
While some were creating personal walkabout audio experiences, others were all about crowds, responsibly, of course.
- By Dan Gonko’s count, there were 53 performers involved in Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “The 3-piece orchestration was recorded in a studio and the actors filmed themselves at home. I received the Pro Tools sessions and created rough mixes to send to the actors. Once they recorded themselves, the files were uploaded to Dropbox, and takes were approved by the director. For the 11 songs, I assembled rough mixes with the newly cleaned vocals and spent 2 days creating final mixes in-person (masked up and socially distanced)”.
- Meanwhile, Court Theatre, according to Josh McCammon, involved 40 performers for their project Theatre and Thought. And Tales from the Vomitorium Podcast with Island Shakespeare Festival had 38 performers, as counted by Ryan Schwalm, all recording “disparately with remote guidance and whatever was available to the actors.”
“Citizens of the World!”
While some projects had strength in numbers, others had the distance.
- Toy Deiorio tells us that pen/man/ship with Moliere in the Park, had “2 actors in NY, 1 actor in DC, 1 actor in Italy, SM and ASM in NY, Sound Computer/Operator and Production Manager in Portland, Sound Engineer in St. Louis, all linked to Maryland via Zoom, Zoom OSC, OBS and StreamWeaver.”
- Michael Roth reports that for Last Words of Uncle Dirt with Playwrights Horizons a project that he is composing, designing and directing (!!!) the “we are in 3 different parts of the world, LA, Rhode Island, and the actor in Amsterdam”
- Meanwhile, Mikhail Fiksel is “fondly” remembering that for Massive with Audible Originals, the recording sessions had to start at 6 or 7am, as the rest of the team (actors, director, playwright) were all in London, on Greenwich Mean Time.
- And speaking of global efforts and of Russians, many of us were involved with Flash Acts Festival with Forum for Cultural Engagement, a project that brought together 10 American Playwrights and 10 Russian ones to write 20 short plays, each then to receive two world premieres, one by a team in Russia and one by a team in the US, for a total of 40 plays (how’s that for some math?). The plays were performed over Zoom, with sound and video design executed (mostly) live and featured the work of Rory Stitt, Sharath Patel, Arshan Gailus, John Nobori, Tosin Olufolabi, Sinan Zafar, Roc Lee, along with a few names already mentioned elsewhere on this list.
- And hailing from Alaska (which according to some, is pretty much just like Russia, right?) Lucy Peckham reports on The Climbing Project with Karrie Pavish Anderson/Spenard Jazz Festival, recorded with 30 musicians in 6 different countries recording via a “variety of methods from studios to smartphones and tablets”.
And speaking of music:
- Lindsay Jones was given “a video created on an iPhone that was recorded by Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, where they sang without any specified key or tempo, and then [he] created music afterward around what they sang as if they had been accompanied from the beginning.”
- Meanwhile, Pedro Lumbrano worked with Colorado Public Radio on the Beethoven 250 Anniversary Special – “This was a non-fiction piece discussing Beethoven’s challenges facing deafness; his unorthodox methods and how he overcame his inability to hear his performances. There is also an interview with a deaf Marimba player who relates her experiences to Beethoven and considers him a seminal advocate of deaf-musicianship….also, this is all in Spanish!”
- Oh, and the Theme Song from the In1 Podcast (with Cory Pattak) got an update, so check it out.
This is hardly the end of it, just the beginning. There are still projects in the works and on the horizon. We are all learning fresh tricks and having new ideas. As we already confessed, this list was hardly exhaustive; it is just a quick shout-out to some of the work we had a chance to learn about.
And speaking of shout-outs. In your “reports” to us, many of you provided names of the people you worked with – perhaps they were members of your audio team, or maybe you included the director and the cast, or maybe your family and anybody else who helped out. Whoever they were, let’s celebrate them as well, and include them here. Let’s think of it as the “credits” sequence of the year that is finally coming to an end.
Below are all the available links that you shared with us. Some of the aforementioned projects might no longer be available for consumption, as theatre continues to be fleeting and ephemeral. Much like – as this year has taught us – life itself. But let’s all continue to share and inspire each other with tales of method and madness, of triumphs and tribulations, of vision and of sound.
Imagine Neighborhood ~ Dracula – A Comedy of Terrors ~ Levitt AMP Woonsocket Virtual Concert Series ~ The Intersect ~ The Women in the Woods ~ Theatre and Thought ~ Wormwood ~ Understood ~ New Tar Theatre Ghost Tour ~ Tales from the Vomitorium Podcast ~ Flash Acts ~ The Climbing Project ~ Animal Farm ~ Primary Stages Gala ~ Massive, by Charlie Josephine ~ The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley ~ Kings (audio-play adaptation) by Sarah Burgess ~ Belly Of The Beast ~ The Storyteller (Designed Zoom Reading) ~ Guided ~ Derecho ~ Citymeals: More Than A Meal ~ [keyp-ing] ~ Brother, Mine graphic podcast ~ The Wolves ~ Gaslighting ~ Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens ~ A Christmas Carol (Goodman) ~ A Streetcar Named Desire ~ The Blind ~ Woonsocket Main Street Holiday Stroll ~ Beethoven 250 Anniversary Special ~ A Christmas Carol + others (Delaware) ~ pen/man/ship ~ A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas (Ford’s) ~ The In1 Podcast ~ A Christmas Carol (Audio Drama) (Playmakers) ~ Wally World ~ Between the Two Humps ~ It’s A Wonderlife! The Radio Play ~ Hamlet ~ I Hate It Here: Stories From The End of the Old World (by Ike Holter) ~ Junior Spacelords ~ Etta And Ella On The Upper West Side ~ Brothers In Law ~ Last Words of Uncle Dirt – A Merry Little Christmas Carol ~ A Nantucket Christmas Carol ~ White Heron Ghost Light Series
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Compiled by Mikhail Fiksel (Thank you Misha! – TSDCA)