Making some big noises in the theatre
Little John Nee. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford in Macklin: Method and Madness
The role of sound designer is crucial to a stage production, as these three Irish Theatre Award nominees illustrate, writes BRIAN O'CONNELL
The three nominees in this year’s Best Sound Design category in the Irish Times Theatre Awards have respective backgrounds in music, film and performance; all benefited from the ongoing appreciation of the way creative sound design can enrich theatre productions.
Whether it is helping move the action from indoors to outdoors, recreating a second World War environment, or developing a sophisticated musical soundtrack, their creative input shows just how diverse and broad sound design has become.
CARL KENNEDY, nominated for Doubt – A Parable
This is Carl Kennedy’s second consecutive year being nominated for best sound design, having been shortlisted last year for his work on Rough Magic’s production of Peer Gynt. Kennedy says part of his job is to retain an open mind and not allow his own personal tastes and preferences to dominate too much the vision a director may have. Sound can play different roles in a production, from simple background music to more in-depth accompaniment and description purposes.
“You can have a contrast between the sound design and what is going on in the play. Sometimes, sound is also good at locating something on stage or expressing the existing emotions. Other times, it might be as simple as moving the action from indoors to outdoors or a dining-room to a sitting-room.”
Kennedy has worked as an actor, and he still tries to perform in at least one show a year. This background helps as he can often relate to what an actor is trying to achieve in a moment and mould the sound around that ambition.
Working as a sound designer for the past four years, Kennedy has seen advances in technology that have made his work a lot easier. “Before, you would have to put all the sound effects, music and then the ambience on different machines and they were all mixed through a desk. It was a complicated process. One of the things now is that the process is automated with a programme called QLab. It means we can follow the action a lot easier and if something different happens on stage, we can follow it no problem. The technology is a lot more reactive now.”
Kennedy enjoys the process of creating the sound design and attempting to then pull it all together in the week leading up to opening night. “Being nominated for this year’s awards will do the CV no harm at all,” he says. “It is particularly satisfying when the production was such an enjoyable one to work on.”
LITTLE JOHN NEE, nominated for Sparkplug
Little John Nee has been playing music most of his adult life. He cites musicians such as David Bowie as having a major influence on his work, and his output combines both music and stage performance. Having written, performed and directed his show Sparkplug, it made sense that Nee would also add his considerable musical talents to the process. The fact he created all other aspects of the show meant he could incorporate sound design into the script and his own performance in an organic way. A version of the play was recorded for RTÉ Radio, and Nee got the idea to create a soundtrack relying heavily on loop pedals.