BWW Blog: Cheyenne Dalton - Giving DROWSY A New Meaning
I was the assistant sound designer and the sound engineer for Auburn University Theatre's production of The Drowsy Chaperone. My duties ran from paperwork, to recordings, to sound pick-up, load-in, running the show, and strike. The sound designer was Anthony Narciso, who we have hired three times previously to design sound for our shows. I am still amazed at how much he can teach me, and how much I still have to learn, regardless of how well I'm doing at sound at the moment. There is never a moment when I want to stop learning about my field, or really when I want to stop learning in general. There is always going to be someone out there who knows more than I do, and it's not as threatening as it may seem. It's a challenge, yes, but also a wonderful experience of sharing and collaborating with what we know. I'm happy to announce that now I know what microphone Mariah Carey wants for her performances, and I know why she wants that, and why it matters. I can tell you what a line array is, and I've learned so much more about EQ than I thought I was going to during the run of The Drowsy Chaperone (like how bringing down a frequency will notch out those harsh "s" sounds, and how I should always cut out the low end of the frequencies).
My journey that was The Drowsy Chaperone started after I closed The Foreigner in the fall of 2016. I read the play and listened to the music before the director's concept meeting, just so I would be on top of things and wouldn't be lost when the meeting came. Next came the paperwork; how many mics would we have and need? what kind of sounds do we need? any voiceovers? Three versions of the sound cue sheet emerged throughout the process of designing and tech week (i.e., we needed a gong sound added to the Nightingale scene the night before preview), and Anthony and I managed to stay on top of those pretty easily, since there weren't a large amount of sound cues to run. Because of that, we designated Hunter Lepold, our stage manager, the sound computer operator. We ended up using nineteen microphones (with twenty cast members), ultimately cutting the Superintendent's mic and giving it to the remaining ensemble member.
The next big piece of work I had to do was take care of all the recordings before Anthony came into town. For The Drowsy Chaperone, we needed four recordings done: Man in Chair's opening monologue, Man in Chair's voicemail, Janet's line in "Show Off," and the curtain speech. The first three happened the week before tech, but the last one didn't happen until the week of opening. I used my Zoom H2N Handy Recorder to do so, and it seemed to work out great. I cut out some of the background noise from them, and they were honestly good to go.
The biggest differences between this show and other musical's I've done sound for are the placement of the orchestra and the pre-load-in work I did. We relocated the ten-piece orchestra to the scene shop because of the sound bleed from backstage, and it really was strange seeing the musicians in there with the table saw - but I don't think it's ever sounded better. I also prepared much more for load-in this year than years past, and it worked out so well. On the Friday before tech week began, Taylor Dyleski and I went to Sound Associates in Atlanta to pick up our rentals. It was pretty neat to see a whole warehouse full of sound equipment, and meet some of the people that take care of renting all of it out. The following Sunday, Taylor and I touched base again at the theatre, where I began pulling out everything I would need to set up the orchestra. We had a 10-piece orchestra, but fitting them into the shop was no problem. I couldn't actually load-in the orchestra until Wednesday, the day of sitzprobe, because of the scenic work we still had left to do in the shop.
I barricaded a space backstage of all the equipment that we needed and made a patch sheet so I knew where all my cables would plug in when the time came. I was aware that people would be helping me load-in, people who hadn't been there when I was pulling everything out of the booth, so labeling everything became a huge task that was necessary to complete. I wanted someone who knew nothing about sound to be able to pick up a cable labeled "trumpet," plug it into a microphone labeled "trumpet," and plug the other end into the snake channel labeled "trumpet." This not only would help load in, but also would help with any troubleshooting problems that would arise in the future. The patch sheet also lent a hand in that aspect, because I didn't have to remember where I patched everything off the top of my head. It was the first time I actually made one instead of having them spread over many pieces of stray paper lying around the soundboard.
This process wasn't made any easier considering I had mono during the last half of tech week and the entirety of our run. If that isn't love for what I do and who I do it with, I don't know what is.