Monday, December 28, 2009

To Infinity and Beyond...

Funny thing….graduating. It seems cliché to say, but it feels like only yesterday when I started my freshman year at BSC. When I was eighteen and a senior in high school, I was not sure that college was the path I wanted to take. With very big dreams, I wanted to tackle the world of Broadway with a vengeance. My mother, knowing that I was not quite as ready as I believed myself to be, coaxed me into at least giving college a chance. Moving from Virginia to Alabama wasn’t exactly how envisioned the start of my journey, but it proved to be the right decision as I encompass the strength, experience, and confidence garnered in the next step toward my career. I fondly remember my first audition for BSC’s production of Urinetown. I excitedly called home to inform my parents that I had been cast as Little Sally. This role was my favorite portrayal to date and a great learning experience as we took the show on tour for approximately 6 months as it kept being passed as a contender in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Competition. I will never forget working with Martin Landry, and the mentoring and advice I received from the phenomenal upper classman. I may not have worked in the great city of New York yet, but with help from my theatre, dance, and vocal professors who challenged and prepared me for auditions, I’ve worked summer theatre gigs in both Texas and Vermont. Birmingham-Southern also provided me with the opportunity to work with extremely talented classmates who I have grown to admire through their talent and their commitment to becoming better performers. I am a firm believer that if you want to excel at something, you must surround yourself with people that are greater than yourself so you can continue the commitment to improve yourself. But what would my future hold past college? With my graduation, I can truly say that I am ready to take on the world with the excitement as if I were 18, but with the knowledge of a 22 year old college graduate.

As I took my last bow in Striking Twelve in November, I found it ironic to end my last performance in a show of that title. For in my childhood memories, it was at the stroke of midnight that Cinderella’s experience would most probably end, but at the conclusion of Striking Twelve, my Cinderella experience would begin. For my first out of college job opportunity will begin with Disney Entertainment as Ariel from The Little Mermaid in January. I can happily relay that my response from Disney has been welcoming and gracious. Opportunities abound. Theater is about conquering different roles, well….I think I can handle being a princess. I haven’t had the opportunity to be cast as anything royal thus far, but I’m ready for a castle in a warm environment.

I say goodbye to my professors, friends, and former cast mates. I wish you all the best in your career journey. When you wish upon a star…..


Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Holiday Non-Spectacular, Non-Extravaganza

I've often heard it said that Stage Managment is the hardest job in I believe it. From the beginning of October through the weekend before Thanksgiving, BSC Theatre students have been working on our Fall holiday musical, Striking 12. Strking 12 is a contemporary pop/rock musical written by the band GrooveLily. What started out as the three member band playing all the instruments and playing all the roles has evolved, under the direction of Michael Flowers, into a twelve person cast and equally as large crew. And all of this is what I've had to make sure works and runs as smoothly as possible.

The show's minimalistic simplicity can only be contradicted by the technical complexity that went right along with it. For an 80 minute show, it certainly had enough compacted into it to be a small technical marvel. The set consisted of a series of platforms with all structural aspects visible to the audience. Behind the platforms were six scrim panels that hung from the grid. These panels served as three dimensional screens for images to be projected on. And right in the middle of the stage was the band; a six person band consisting of keyboards, violin, cello, drums, bass, and guitar. So, needless to say, the stage was pretty full.

As for the show itself, it is an inspiring holiday story of life changing proportions; achievable only by such great authors as Dickens...or in this case, Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen's story "The Little Match Girl" is paralleled with a modern day account of a man who has had enough of of the holiday season and a girl selling full spectrum holiday light bulbs. After the man has a conversation with the light seller about Andersen and dismisses her, he pulls out his handy "Collected Tales of Hans Christian Andersen" and begins to read the story. After reading the story, with some help from some whimsical characters in between that rap and mug in 19th century clothing, stop mid-show to complain about how small their part is, and make sound effects for every action of the Man, he can't believe that no one made an effort to help the little match girl, leaving her to freeze to death in the snow. After re-evaluating his own life, he rushes out into the city streets to find the light seller. And unlike the sad ending of Andersen's tale, this story ends with the man and girl finding each other on the first day of the year.

This was my first time ever stage managing a show of this scale. It's definitely a job not to be taken lightly. With it comes a massive amount of responsiblity. The responsiblities included, but were not limited to, making sure 35 people where they needed to be at the right time, overseeing the rehearsal, pre-show, and post-show process, and calling 97 light cues, 41 follow spot cues, and 15 projection cues all within a span of 80 minutes. Multitask much? I'd say so. I realized just how focused and aware of every minute detail a stage manager has to be. And even though I already had immense respect for the crew of a show, being the leader of the crew made me realize just how crucial they are to pulling off a successful show. Just like the old saying "There are no small parts" applies to actors, it applies to the crew as well. It's a team effort, this theatre thing; and being able to lead this team was a very rewarding experience. Ah, stage management...power, yes...authority, yes...perfection, no. But I think I got pretty close a few times.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Even More Sound, More Music

Our Blog Corner...

It’s been a while since I have last blogged. I hope this finds you a little bit more enlightened in some way. I was asked to blog about my summer and I think now, after much thought, I will blog a bit about my experience but also about the “big picture” aspects of where hard work and “following the dream” can get one and a few initial steps in getting a foot in the door in the entertainment industry.

Let’s see, in my last blog I left off talking about WorkPlay and the new journey it set me on. Upon finishing up an internship there, I knew I had no choice but to challenge myself further. I have had one goal in sight for my career for the past year and a half. That single goal is music supervision. For any that do not know what exactly that is, let me provide you with a little definition. A music supervisor is the person who communicates with producers and directors of t.v or film regarding the placement of music in the show or movie. The supervisor can do everything from actually placing, picking, and editing the music in for the final edits of the show or film in a final mix to clearing, negotiating, and licensing the actual songs to be placed throughout the process. Music’s role in t.v and film is only increasing in importance as the years go on. You may be asking… Why this career goal? I am absolutely fascinated by the ability of music to move an audience when it is accurately placed in a scene of a show or film. If you think about it, we all have those scenes in a particular movie or show that we remember because of what song or score was being used…we remember it because ultimately, whether you realize it or not, the music stirred some kind of emotion in us-it served as a parallel to what was being said on screen (thus, not taking away completely but only aiding the script). The job title of “Music Supervisor” has not been around forever. Although music in film dates back to silent films, an official person overseeing this placement process was not officially a job until much later. I knew I loved the creative aspect of the job. I read books, researched, and knew I needed hands on experience. I had questions that I needed answered- What is the proper way to clear a song for usage? What technology is involved in editing in a piece with picture? How much of a role does budget play in choosing music? Ultimately, I knew I needed the business experience. I don’t think I will be the only person to say that there is only one place someone can go to gain this sort of entertainment industry experience…that place is the City of Angels- Los Angeles.
In January of last year, I began to use my resources I had. I got in touch with a former student of my father’s who has a long record of success in LA as a producer with various companies (Disney, CBS, HBO). I expressed to him what my goal was and he graciously worked with me on connecting to many people and perfecting my resume. I landed an internship with True Music. True Music has a music library, in house music supervisors, and an in house music licensing division. Kurt Farquhar opened the company years ago after having a successful career himself as a prime time t.v composer. I could not have picked a better place to work with for a summer. I headed out to LA in May and stayed until August-a solid three month internship. Throughout this time, I worked on a day to day basis with True Music editing music to picture, seeing example clearances be done, communicating with producers, working on the song catalog, placing songs, going to the SONY lot for mixes and spotting sessions, and ultimately seeing the way things had to be done to be successful in the music for film/t.v world. On days I did not work, I made it a point to connect with people that were “good to know” whether they were people I was referred to or people who’s career paths I truly admired, I made it a point to meet with them in order to gain different perspectives and insight into the biz. All in all, the summer was what it was to me because of the relationships I formed. I can now sleep a little more peacefully at night knowing that I have formed solid relationships that can continue to guide and serve as connections throughout my career. Without my True Music internship, I would not have been able to realize my own potential in the music for film/t.v world. True Music laid the foundation for what I will always proudly consider the “start of my career”.

When I talk to people about my summer, I tend to usually get similar responses. I get something along the lines of “Oh my God, that’s so cool.” Don’t get me wrong, it is cool and I am lucky but that’s not at all why I am choosing to pursue it. It did not just fall in my lap and I did not wake up one morning with a sudden urge to be the next Alex Patsavas, placing an emotional song in a dramatic scene of Grey’s Anatomy. It was a process for me- a process of discovery. A process that led me to a path that I am still on-a path that I now know is the most fulfilling for me- a path that has just started. Wherever it may lead me next, I am proud to say that I know I made the right career choice for me in being in LA for a summer.

I cannot stress how much of a firm believer I am in internships. Without hands on experience, how will you ever know if a certain career is the most fulfilling for you? How will you gain the experience you need? It is not always in the classroom. I encourage anyone that has an urge for something in the entertainment biz to search within yourself for what it is you truly want to do-narrow it down. Secondly, start with your resources at hand, do your research, connect with anyone and everyone you can because you never know where they may lead you in the future. Read books. Surf the net. Google the professionals you want to be. Work on your resume-perfect it, find a way to make everything on that single sheet of paper relate to the field you want to be in. Make it impressive. Obtain an internship-don’t be afraid to ask for help. You must be willing to work for something. You must be willing to start at the bottom. Make the first steps and see what happens next- and oh yeah, I almost forgot, don’t forget to breathe along the way


It has been a very long time since our last post. Lots of developments have come about since we were last on here. I followed right behind Anais and spent my summer interning at WorkPlay. Since she has already gone into great detail about what that internship entails, I'll avoid repetition and tell you about specific things that I got out of the internship.

I went into WorkPlay knowing that I wanted to know everything I possibly could about the live music industry, specifically booking, production and tour management. Thankfully, I got to experience all of these things. I'll tell you briefly about two of my experiences. First, as part of an outside promotion, the talent buyer of WorkPlay helped bring in Gov't Mule to Sloss Furnace Amphitheater. He gave me the opportunity to work production for this event. Up until this point, I had been working production in the small WorkPlay Theatre where the most a band travels with is typically a van or bus and a trailer. Gov't Mule was a whole different experience. Instead of a trailer, they work with a full size 18-wheeler. Now I know that this is still tiny in comparison to some major tours that travel with 10+ 18-wheelers, but this was a huge step up for me in the production world. It was fast paced, it was dirty, it was hot, it was exhausting...and I loved every minute of it. There's just something about the thrill of putting a huge show together in a short amount of time and then taking down, packing it up, and heading off to the next town. Call me crazy, but life on the road sounds like it would be fun...for a while, at least. My second major experience came when I actually got to talk to a tour manager. I felt ridiculous for being so nervous, but to me, talking to a tour manager is the equivalent to talking to a celebrity. If names mean anything to you, I spoke with the tour manager of Medeski, Martin, & Wood. Though this encounter was quite brief due to his incredibly hectic schedule, it was a few of the most enlightening minutes of my life. He told me things I didn't know, some things I already knew, and some things that I really didn't want to know. To be honest, there are parts of the job that don't sound to appealing. He even went so far as to tell me that if I ever wanted a family one day that I should absolutely not want to be a tour manager. Harsh words, but very true.

So, this has led me to where I am now. To continue to gain more experience in the management field, I will be stage mangaing our fall production of Striking 12, an almost folk/pop-rock chamber musical. I imagine that there will be many similarities between stage management and tour management; mostly in that everyone looks to you for pretty much everything. It will definitely be a challenge, but I'm up for it.

I couldn't agree with Anais more about the value of internships, networking, resumes, and all the other stuff that comes with finding a job. Unless you're very lucky, your dream job isn't going to fall into your lap. You have to work hard for it. Thanfully I made some wonderful contacts from working at WorkPlay, but all of that is for naught if I don't follow up with these key people in the entertainment industry and continue to improve and challenge myself. Also, Anais and I both are very lucky to go to a school that is very supportive of internships. Both of us essentially contracted our own class with the help and support of a Theatre faculty member. Not only did we get the experience from the internship, but we also got class credit for them. We are very lucky to have theatre professors that are very supportive of our individual interests that can be best cultivated outside of the classroom in a real world envrionment. If you haven't done an internship yet, find one! You'll be amazed at what you can learn about yourself through that process.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

I SHOULDA LISTENED TO MY MOTHER (or “How Acting Like a Jerk is Making Me a Better Person”)

Hi, my name is John, and I’m thrilled to be a new-ish member of the BSC Theatre Department … the best-smelling theatre department in the world!


My momma taught me not to judge a person until I had walked a mile in his shoes.  Well, I’ve found that other people’s shoes are pretty hard to come by … and they usually don’t fit very well.  But in the unique discipline of acting I’ve found that it is possible, however, to do the next best thing: walk someone else’s mile … in your own shoes. 


Lemme ‘splain.  No, it’s too much… lemme sum up.


Over the past nine months I’ve walked, let’s see … one, two, three … nine of those miles here in the BSC theatre department, playing nine different people.  Among them, a former male prostitute, a politician, a laid-back grandpa and a beggar – each one a very real person with very real circumstances, desires and beliefs that shape his life and actions. 


Most of our study here follows a Stanislavski-based approach to acting – in brief, actively engaging the imagination in a detailed exploration of the character’s internal and external life and circumstances.  For example (and I know I’m preaching to some of the choir here), when a character says or does something in the script, the actor may ask himself/herself such questions as: Why is he saying that?  What circumstances have brought this about?  What’s going on in this person’s life to which he is responding?  Is it hot or cold in the room?  Is he tired or hungry, or has he been drinking?  (“Did I leave the iron on?”)  How concerned is he with what others in the room think of him?  What is he trying to accomplish? …


Perhaps, more importantly, he might ask questions such as: What does this person believe and why?  How are those beliefs shaping his actions now?  What may have caused him (in his past) to develop those beliefs?  How strongly does he cling to them?  Is he willing to change his beliefs?  What are his expectations for this moment in his life (we all have them), and what are his hopes for the future (we certainly have those, too)?  What is at stake for him in this moment?  How critical is it that he gets what he is after right now?  How far is he willing to go to get it? … ad infinitum.


As you would imagine, this kind of thinking (to the nth degree) can take you deep into an analysis of the mind, will and emotions of the character.  Then, however, acting provides an opportunity like no other study I know – the opportunity to turn that analysis into behavior.  To do what that character would do.  To experience what it is like, not just to think someone else’s thoughts and feel someone else’s feelings (someone who may or may not hold the same beliefs as you) but to actually put them into practice.  To act on them.  To walk that person’s mile…


…but in your own shoes.  Even the great Stanislavski acknowledges that the idea of “becoming” the character you are playing is a ridiculous notion.  You cannot separate yourself from yourself.  In fact, you are your greatest asset – your experience, your convictions, your beliefs.  I’ve found that my own beliefs are an invaluable touchstone for illuminating in my mind the beliefs of the character I’m playing.  When playing someone who holds beliefs that are consistent with my own, the playing of those beliefs is strengthened immeasurably by my own conviction.  When playing someone who holds opposing views, it is the contrast with my own established beliefs that makes them vivid in my mind and allows me to play them with clarity.  Of course it’s usually not a simple either/or scenario but a mix of the two, with some of the character’s beliefs and views matching my own and others in contrast.  Either way, I find I’m walking in my own shoes.


When we were working on Dead Man Walking, I learned that Susan Sarandon (who played Sister Helen in the film version) had called acting the business of “forced compassion.”  I’ve found this to be a very accurate description of the acting process.  Here’s why I think so …


When playing a character who holds views that differ from my own, if I am willing to play him honestly, I must look intently at his beliefs, to consider them, to consider his justifications for those beliefs, and the depths of his conviction.  Then, acting on them, to play them as sincerely as possible.  Through this process I come to see him (and all who share his views) more clearly, perhaps in a new light, often with a greater understanding.  This honest process “forces” me to find compassion for this individual, even if I continue to disagree strongly with (or even despise) his views and actions.


Sometimes I’m compelled to acknowledge that my own beliefs and actions need to change.  And isn’t that a good thing?  Sometimes the opposite is true, and I come out with even greater clarity and conviction of my beliefs than before, having put them to the test.  And isn’t that a good thing, as well?  I’ve come to think that the constant scrutiny of my beliefs and values which acting affords me is a very healthy thing for me!  And I have a lot to learn about our world and myself in it.


Jesus Christ once said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”  We all need truth - to know what truly is and what is not.  To see clearly.  Our world.  Our times.  Ourselves.  Sometimes it’s hard to look (and sometimes I shy away); but if I am willing to commit to this work and all of its opportunities, I believe theatre, as much as any good philosophy or religion course, is an excellent tool in the search for that truth.  (At the very least, it’s more than just goofing off!)  Am I saying that acting is guaranteed to make you a better person?  Of course not.  But I’ve found that it can be a very useful tool for someone who wants to be. 


Perhaps Shakespeare said it best in the voice of Hamlet when he wrote, “the purpose of playing … was and is to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”  We’ll be diving into his world in January for our interim production.  Don’t miss it!  (A shameless advertising plug, I admit.)


If you’ve read this far, you’re either: a) a fervent fan of the theatre, b) a close personal friend of mine, or c) you’re trapped under something heavy.   Either way, thanks for reading.   Having quoted my mother, Jesus and Shakespeare, I don’t think I have anything more to say… except, perhaps, that my mother was probably right: You shouldn’t judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes (which probably means you shouldn’t judge them at all) … and you shouldn’t put anything in your ear other than your elbow.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Backstage at BSC

To introduce myself, I am Mandy Thomas, the Assistant Technical Director and Scene Shop Supervisor for the College Theatre. I live mainly in the Scene Shop, and am in charge of all the details of construction for the scenery (and sometimes props) for our shows. I also design lighting and scenery from time to time and for other local companies. Much of this blog addresses the work of the actors, designers, dramaturgs and directors. I'm here to share some backstage details.

After the designer conceives of a setting for the play or musical, how does the world of the play become a real tangible place? The easy answer is that the Scene Shop crew just builds it. But the devil is in the details, as they say, and the details are usually myriad. That's where the crew and I come in.

For our latest production, You Can't Take It With You, the setting was a large Victorian home full of many unusual people and all their hobbies, passions, pets and dreams. The Victorian style is easily researched, but creating a believable representation was the hard work.

At the beginning of the build, Technical Director and Designer Matthew Mielke supplied the Shop with detailed construction plans. The building of the twelve foot walls was fairly straightforward, although we spent a lot of time checking, double-checking and triple-checking our measurements and the square of our flats.

The Shop students learned very well how to use levels, framing squares and plumb lines, and learned the "Why" of all this.

So the flooring was laid, flats built and put together, and stairs modified and fit into place. And yet the real work had just begun. There was wallpaper to hang, trim (oh lots and lots of trim) to attach, doors to hang and painting and set dressing to do.

Trimwork is one of my favorite things, and I really enjoyed sharing that passion with students who had never done this. The trim we attached included baseboard, chair rail, picture rail, crown molding, door and window casing, "shadow-box" trim underneath the chair rail, and casing around our large archways. This was a very time-consuming project and up to 15 students had a hand in this. There were angles to figure out, miters to cut and lots of stapling and nailing to do. Our levels came in very handy for this work as well.

One of our challenges was to provide enough surfaces to display all the detritus of the multiple passions and hobbies of all the members of the household. The furniture provided a fair amount of space, but to allow easy movement on stage, we couldn't clutter the stage too much. So we looked up.

After consulting with Matthew, we decided to use the trim above the archways to create more horizontal space for set dressing. We began to plunder our shelves of left-over trim, and pulled out a variety of pieces to build large "headers". Our archways were twelve feet and nine feet wide, so this project required creative use of what we had.

We started with a plywood backing board cut to about 10 inches wider than the archway, and then attached our left-over crown molding.

After covering the top edge of the crown with luaun, this created a depth of about 5 or 6 inches for set dressing. We finished by adding additional trim below the crown and a built-up piece of trim at the bottom of the backing board.

One of the details that I think really gave these pieces a polished look was creating the corners that ran the trim around to the wall. These headers were very heavy, but several well-placed bolts secured them to the walls and allowed us to finish the trim for the set.

I have to say that this is probably the most detailed set we have built since I've been at BSC, and I was consistently impressed with the hard work and patience of the many students who built this set. The trimwork really required careful and meticulous work and it showed. We had many compliments on the set, and anyone who saw the show would agree that the Shop crew did an amazing job. Below is a photo of the finished set.

Thanks for checking in backstage, and stay tuned for more "technical" posts.

Friday, April 24, 2009

You Can't Take It With You

Our production has just opened! What stands out about this experience is the teamwork of all the students who have worked on this project the past five weeks. BSC's You Can't Take It With You is the result of innumerable choices within the context of production meetings, rehearsals and work sessions. Its physical world include fireworks, a xylophone, accordian, antique printing machine, 18 unique characters and more.

It's quite a story we get to tell and we're learning a lot in the telling. True, we only opened last evening, but we've played before two audiences, counting Wednesday's open dress rehearsal. The shared experience between our company members and audience is of course, the goal of our process. Needles to say, the more we learn about this fascinating art form the more we learn about ourselves.

I hope you will have the opportunity to see it. We play through Saturday evening, April 24, at 7:30 and then close with our Sunday 2:30 matinee. In this tough patch, You Can't Take It With You celebrates the importance of family and friendship, and making the most of each second.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dead Man Walking: Interim 2009

Hello happy blog readers! Amanda here. Since it's been a while since I've written, I'll re-introduce myself. I'm a senior (wooo!!) theatre major from Alabaster, Alabama. I enjoy hot fudge sundaes, wildflowers, and dancing in the moonlight.

Okay. Now that you know me, we can get on to the real reason I'm writing. : )

I wanted to tell you guys about what happened in the BSC theatre during the month of January, 2009. January is our interim term at BSC, which means that everyone takes a break from normal classes and just takes one class for the whole month. For me, that means producing a show!

This year, we worked on Tim Robbins's Dead Man Walking during interim. You may have heard of the movie version, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1995, starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. It's the story of Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who worked with prisoners on Louisiana's Death Row. The play tells tells about Helen's relationship with convict Matthew Poncelet, a fictional character who is based on the composite of two real-life prisoners.

For the show, I worked as assistant director alongside faculty director Professor Michael Flowers. I also played Marybeth Percy, the mother of the teenage girl who Matt Poncelet raped and murdered. It was an experience like none I have ever had before. I started working on it last November. I began my work as assistant director by attending meetings with the director Michael and each of the designers: student Matt Adams (sound designer, see his blog below), student Spurge Spurgeon (projections/video designer), students Liz Garrett and Lori Maddox (costume designers), student Connor McVey (co-lighting designer), professor Matthew Mielke (technical director, co-lighting designer, scenic designer), and teacher Mrs. Patti Manning (costume supervisor). I had no experience in directing, so this was a big adventure for me. I went home for Christmas break armed with Michael's copy of the directing class textbook and tons of ideas about technical details and characters spinning in my head. During the break, I kept Michael's cell phone number on speed dial as I worked to stage 2 scenes of the show all by myself.

The show is a difficult one for college students to produce. It asks kids our age to play characters who are beyond our ages and experiences. In order to help us connect with the characters, plot, and ideas of the play, we enlisted help from Dr. Robbie Baldwin, BSC graduate student alumnus and author of the book Life and Death Matters, a commentary on capital punishment. Robbie took some of our company members to visit Donaldson Prison, where we met and talked with some prisoners on Alabama's Death Row. It was an eye-opening experience. None of us knew what to expect. After we were searched and screened, we followed a prison officer through the facility. Robbie introduced us to four men who are on Death Row, and we were able to ask them questions about their daily lives, their families, their dreams, their spiritual beliefs, and other topics. We were all pretty shy at first, but I think that we all enjoyed listening to their voices.

Throughout the month, as we focused on creating a show, we also tried to learn about the issue of capital punishment from many different perspectives. We were able to hear about it from the eyes of religious leaders, political leaders, convicts and their families, victims and their families, prison staff, lawyers, and others. No matter where we each stand on the ideas of capital punishment at the end of the month, we all at least are more informed and better able to understand the complex issue. Isn't that what college is all about?

Ok, I'm done being serious. Here are some photos from our production. We were able to have some fun along the way! : )

They worked really hard.

Backstage with GingerBlack!

Old Age Makeup!

Ladies' Dressing Room

Goofin' Off!

A Victims' Support Group Meeting

Sister Helen and the Percys, parents of victim

Sister Helen and Mrs. Poncelet, Matt's mother

Mackenzie Smith as Matt Poncelet
Elisabeth Tutwiler as Sister Helen Prejean

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Two Sides of Sound

Our Blog Corner...


"Most of us get involved with music for emotional reasons-for some of us, that pleasure becomes impossible to give up. Over time it tightens its hold and becomes for many, an obsession."

I think it is safe to say that for both of us, music is nothing short of an obsession. As we feel our obsessions grow on a daily basis, we're both positive music will play a huge role in our futures. As for the present, we are still reflecting on an Interim term that majorly contributed to our musical journeys. All these places have their moments and their meanings...Here's what it all meant to each of us on an indiviual basis. Although we were in different places with slightly different perspectives, different people, and different thing was consistent: the inspiration through the music.

I can't quite put my finger on the moment I woke up and decided I was going to pursue my dream of being in the music business. I suppose it's this obsession that has developed over time and it wasn't until recently that I decided I was supposed to be doing it. Through a summer of lots of reading, research,networking, and new music, I found myself overwhelmed by a sense of clarity and a new path. By sense of clarity, I really mean sense of it. Not complete clarity by any means-but a much better idea.

Fall arrived and I began my search for Interim projects. I had always been to WorkPlay to see various singer/songwriters and decided to contact them and see what they had available in terms of internships for the month. I went in for an interview and knew it was the place I needed to be for the month. There was absolutely no reason to go away anywhere when I had such great resources in my own back yard. I spent all semester in anticipation for my month. I had hoped that it would provide some really great foundations for my future career. December came around and as things were winding down for most, I was at my highest getting ready for January. January came before I knew it. Todd Coder, talent buyer for WorkPlay is who I worked with all month. Todd's job consists of booking artists and then dealing with them on the day of the show. There are many factors that go into what artists will come play. Is money negotiable? Will they sell well? Are they emerging talent? Have they played there before and done well? At WorkPlay, there is the Theatre (seats 450) and the SoundStage (seats 800). After the deal is negotiated and confirmed, it is on the production calendar. Todd immediately emails me the deal memo. On this deal memo is the artist, where and when they are playing, the time, the ticket prices, and specifics on money. From this information, I construct a press release. The show is then announced and tickets go on sale in accordance with the set date in the press release. From the day a show is confirmed to the day the artist is in house, we work our hardest to publicize the show according to how the ticket sales are doing. All of our marketing,website updates, and ticket sales are found on We can send email newsletters, change website info, and track ticket sales through this website. On the day of the show, the artist/band arrives for soundcheck mid day. Artist hospitality is taken care of on this day. Once the artist is finished playing, the box office manager, Emily Haslett, closes out with the manager. By closing out, she is giving the set amount of money over to the manager that was in the contract. Say there was a 70% door deal. This means they take away 70% of what was made in ticket sales that night. That, in a nutshell, is the booking process.

My month really touched on many basic marketing skills and booking skills. Most importantly,I saw just how vital and important communication is among a business. Without it, any business will fall apart. I feel like I have delved far into the music business world with the help of so many that got me to this point and through the month. Although, I may not know exactly what area of the business I will end up in, I have my foundation laid and will continue to build upon it. If I could allow myself to expect anything, it is the fact that the path will lead not where I expect but to someplace better. Needless to say, I'm inspired and continue to be. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the extremely talented and passionate souls at WorkPlay and even more grateful for the opportunity to continue to work with them throughout my semester.

For more information on the venue,shows, and all things WorkPlay check out our website AND become a fan on FaceBook!

Now I turn it over to Matt to tell you a little about his month ...basically, my dream job. LET ME MAKE YOU A SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR LIFE! No seriously, it's his turn...

Hello all you dedicated blog readers. For the month of January I was the sound designer for our interim show Dead Man Walking. This is Tim Robbins' stage adaptation from his movie of the same name, which was based off of Sister Helen Prejean's book of the same name as well. It tells the story of Sister Prejean's work with a death row inmate named Matthew Poncelet. The story takes place in southern Louisiana in the early 1980's. We staged the show in an arena configuration with a very minimalist setting. Since Robbins is a film director the stage adaptation has very cinematic elements to it. The show depended very heavily on lights and sound to bridge the transitions and move the story forward. I'm here to tell you about my process and work as the sound designer for this very unique production of a play that is only licensed to educational theatres.

As the sound designer, I was in charge of all the auditory elements of the show. This included the pre-show music, sound effects, and my personal favorite...underscoring. Not only was I in charge of the design of the show, but I also was the sound board operator for the run of the show. My first task was to develop a sound plot that indicated the what, where, when, and how each sound cue would be perceived by the audience. This plot was updated about ten times as the month progressed. All in all, we ended up with 69 sound cues...unheard of for live theatre. Secondly, I coordinated the recording process for all of the voiceover lines, music that I wrote myself for the show, and other sound effects that I was unable to find in the sound effects library that was available to me. My third major task was to edit all of these sound cues into the appropriate form they were going to be used in for the show and burn them to CD's. This show required two CD's of sound effects running on two different CD players, sometime simultaneously during the show. I can easily say that it was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life trying to figure out how in the world I was going to run a mixer, and two CD players at the same time. With time, however, I became rather adept at running the sound with reasonable proficiency. One of my other major tasks was to set up the speakers and place them in their appropriate positions. I decided to place a series of four speakers on the floor underneath the seats to offer a different kind of auditory experience for an audience. There were also multiple overhead speakers used as well. The floor speakers were used primarily for the earthly, day to day sounds such as doorbells, crowd noise, television, etc. The overhead speakers were used for the more ethereal moments in the show such as underscoring of scenes and voiceovers.

I'll now discuss my favorite aspect of the work I did this January - selecting music for the show. My first task was to select the pre-show music. I began this process back in December. The goal of the pre-show music was to set the locale of the play and introduce the audience to the culture of Lousiana. I decided to go with a mostly Delta Blues vibe for these eight songs. I did a great deal of research with each of the songs and made sure they had some relevance to the show both lyrically and musically. As for the rest of the show, I did a good deal of underscoring of scene work. This was definitely a risk I was taking mainly because it is not very common to do underscoring with live theatre. It's completely different with film, however. Think of some of your favorite movies and your favorite or most memorable moments from those movies. Chances are that those moments are so memorable because of the music that underscores them. Even with the cinematic nature of this show, it was still up in the air for me until I acutually watched the show with the music in the background. Actors in film never hear the music until they see the finished product. The music isn't a potential distraction for them while they are acting. This is not the case for live theatre. I was wondering how the music playing over the actor's lines would affect them. True relief from this distress didn't come until one of the actors came up to me and told me how much the underscoring in one of the scenes helped him to really connect with this character and the scene. That is ultimately the best compliment I could have received. The music I chose to use for underscoring was very minimalist, but very emotionally stirring. I wanted to make sure that the music didn't distract from the scene. Afterall the music isn't the star. The music was there to offer an emotional undertone that would subconsciously work its way into an audience's perception of the play. I also wrote some music for the show on the guitar for a hymn that is played several times throughout the show. While searching for appropriate music I couldn't find a version of the hymn that worked well with the rest of the show's soundscape. So, after speaking with the director I decided that I would write and record a guitar part for the hymn. A single guitar went very well with the simple and earthly nature of the rest of the sounds. I also recruited some company members to sing the hymn. I have to say one of the best moments of the show was the ending where the hymn and the "choir" comes in singing "Be Not Afraid." The way it was recorded really captured the sense of a small group of people singing in a little white church on the side of the road. It's interesting how the simplest choices can sometimes be the most profound and moving.

Just in case you are interested, here is my soundtrack for the show:

1. Fixin' To Die Blues - Bukka White, 2. I'm Sailin' - Mazzy Star, 3. 30 Days In Jail - Johnny Shines, 4. So Lonely - Tim Buckley, 5. Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues - Skip James, 6. County Farm Blues - Unknown artist, 7. Lousiana Blues - Muddy Waters, 8. I Shall Be Released - Bob Dylan, 9. City In the Dust On My Window - Hammock, 10. Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday, 11. Maria - Six Organs of Admittance, 12. Strange Fruit - Jeff Buckley, 13. Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow - Hammock, 14. Eighty-four Thousand Hymns - Hammock, 15. Razorback Drug Town - Hammock, 16. A Dream For Us - The Appleseed Cast, 17. Be Not Afraid - Matt Adams & Company of Dead Man Walking

Saturday, January 10, 2009


You really can play Where's Waldo with my costume in some of these :)

I hope your holidays went well. Mine were busy so I guess I can't call them holidays, but it did give me something to blog about. We're probably at about show 150 right now and just did four weeks of several two-show days in a row with then only one day off in between instead of the normal two. I knew about the schedule shift going in and just compared it to past experience and figured it would be fine, just different. I was kinda wrong.
Nothing went horribly wrong and I didn't leave any of my vocal cords onstage, but it was definitely a schedule I was being very careful with. More shows was not necessarily the problem, it was doing so many consecutive two-show days. Starting off every second show vocally tired was making me cautious. I think in general I would have liked the shows spread out over the week even if it meant less full days off.
To add to the mix, I was getting ready for my first of a few non-Cirque related gigs in Tokyo. The show's bassist and I had booked a headlining set at a club towards the end of this hard run and I couldn't afford to sacrifice either opportunity, the show or the gig. Obviously my job that I'm under contract for came absolutely first but I've been wanting to do more about my own music and there are some good opportunities here.
I spent most of December downing water like I was in the Sahara, washing my hands whenever I could, and not drinking a drop since alcohol and my immune system HATE each other. I attribute a good month to muscle memory (cause I'm learning that your voice really does do that just like your jumpshot), breathing, and a tiny humidifier that I bought for my dressing room station. Tokyo is awesome for tiny gadgets. It's also as dry in the winter as it is wet in the summer. The weather has been very similar to Alabama which I didn't expect and I don't think there's much ragweed around which is.....well super.
I think I was really scared of hurting myself here and I'm not usually hyper-concerned about vocal health. I've been hearing more and more Cirque singers since joining and a lot of people sound like they've been singing on nodes for months. It's cool to hear sometimes but that's not what I want for myself. I was glad that even as the new kid in a big company I put my foot down once or twice in rehearsals to recognize something that might hurt after 8-10 shows a week. I think it's part of our job as performers to make sure we can keep performing for as long as we want.
Having been through the rough part of the season, we've got two dark weeks coming up, so I'll be home for that stint. Hopefully we'll figure out a good time for me to pop down to Southern and visit. Have good Interim and I'll be talking to you soon.