The Diary of a Teenage Girl

March 19, 2010

Working in theater as a sound designer is one of the great things I’ve enjoyed since I moved to NYC.  Creating and building a show with other designers, actors and directors can be such an intense process.  I always seem to end up completely drained of energy towards the last days of production.  Yet the journey has so many beautiful moments and the experience ends up being so artistically rewarding, that I keep wanting to do it again and again.

Rigging old phone to hook up to sound system

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on the sound design for the play “The Diary of a Teenage Girl“.  A theater adaptation of the graphic novel by the same name, written and illustrated by Phoebe Gloeckner.  The theater version was written by Marielle Heller, who also plays the lead role.  It’s the story, based on real events, of a teenage girl in the mid 70’s in San Francisco, who has just began an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.  The story is intense, screwed up, funny, sweet, uncomfortable, hopeful.  Emotionally, it pulls you in many directions.  I love the cast and crew I’m working with.  The play is directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde and Rachel Eckerling.  I’m really proud of what we’re putting together.

Sound is a big element in this production, I’ve been really busy these past few weeks.  My multi-speaker designs end up being labor intensive, but in the end it pays off.  I like to make the sonic experience of a play as enveloping as possible and this custom, hexagonal-like shaped set designed by Lauren Helpern has helped greatly.

2 sound systems.

We ran into a problem with sound early on in the process.  Video designer C. Andrew Bauer, was using 12 video projectors that have noisy cooling

The set in it's early stages. Studio A at 3LD

fans in them.  Lighting designer Laura Mroczkowski, was using a similar amount of  ‘scrollers’ which are basically these devices that allow her to have multiple colors on a single piece of lighting gear.  These scrollers also have noisy cooling fans, so we ended up with a pretty noisy environment.  Even though the space isn’t that big (it seats somewhere around 90 people or so),  we found we were having problems hearing the actor’s voices.  We didn’t want to use ‘body mics’ (a simplified name to describe small wireless microphones placed somewhere on the actors body, usually on their cheeks or hidden in their hair) which are always unsightly, especially in an intimate setting like this where the audience sits so close to the actors.  Costume designer Emily DeAngelis was also unhappy with the idea of body mics getting in the way of her cool clothing and looks.

During rehearsals.

So we ended up solving the problem with 2 separate sound systems.  One takes care of amplifying all the music and sound effects, with 17 speakers spread out throughout the space, while the other takes care of reinforcing the actor’s voices.  I placed some ambient microphones hidden around the set.  Then, using some inverted speakers and taking advantage of the bare concrete ceiling of the space, I managed to create an electronically enhanced acoustic system of sorts.  Basically the audience never realizes that the actor’s voices are being amplified, it just feels as if the place has great natural acoustics and all those fan noises aren’t really getting in the way.  I’m very happy with the end result.

The show’s happening at 3LD Arts & Technology center, a theater space in NYC that focuses on multimedia-rich plays and performances.  This is my third production there.  I love working in that space.  Lots of equipment and wonderful people to work with.

Previews are now running until March 27th 2010.  Official opening is March 28th.  It runs

Video & audio tech tables on the set

for the month of April.  There’s also an art exhibit outside, showing some of Phoebe Gloeckner’s beautiful illustrations from the original book.  Hope you can come.


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