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BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELES

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With still the absence of live theatre audiences, Antaeus Theatre Company creatively pivots with THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELES, its series of six new plays as podcasts.

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELES

With still the absence of live theatre audiences, Antaeus Theatre Company creatively pivots with THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELES, its series of six new plays as podcasts. Each play, set in six different L.A. zip codes, features acclaimed Antaeus actors enacting scripts written by members of the Antaeus Playwright Lab. Two-time Audiofile Award-winner Ramón de Ocampo hosts, with original music by Ellen Mandel.

ZIP CODE's audio producer/sound designer/foley artist Jeff Gardner broke away from his artistic multitasking to answer a few of my queries.

Thank you for taking time out for this interview, Jeff!

Excited to be part of this interview. Thank you!

What have you doing in these crazy times to stay healthy and creative?

When the pandemic first hit, I was doing absolutely nothing, which was both frightening and much needed at the same time. I had been trying to slow down, so this pandemic really put things in perspective - in so many ways. Being at home and enjoying spending time with my wife Dylan has certainly been the cure. Since then, I have been enjoying going back to one of my first loves, radio drama.

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESAt what point in the creation of this series of original audio plays did you become involved? In the very beginning?
Antaeus contacted me at the beginning wondering if the idea to record and produce these was even possible during this time.

Who initially came up with this idea to produce these audio podcasts?
Artistic Directors' Bill Brochtrup, Kitty Swink and Executive Director Ana Rose O'Halloran were looking at a way to continue telling stories during the pandemic.

You sent out mobile recording kits to the homes of the seventeen actors. What did each kit consist of?

Each kit consisted of a RODE NT-USB microphone, an isolation shield and stand to record in, a pair of headphones, an iPad tripod for their digital script, an ethernet cable and all the appropriate adapters.

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESI guess since there's no scenic design budget here as in a live stage production, the sound budget for ZIP CODE can be bigger. What did each mobile recording kit cost approximately?

Each kit was around $400 per actor.

Would you explain the post production process after the actors record their respective roles, differentiating what you do as an audio producer and sound designer, as opposed to what sound editor Adam Macias does? Do you work together in putting the audio plays together? Or is your job done at that point and Adam takes over?

After the recordings are complete, the directors' and I send notes to our sound editor Adam Macias on specific takes and pick-ups we prefer. Adam does all the great technical wizardry of cutting and editing out all the line flubs, mistakes, pops and clicks, adding equalization and treating the sound - in order to give us the best 'edit' to mix and design from.

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESThen it comes back to me where I will edit further for timing and pacing. Once that part is complete, my favorite part of the process begins - designing and creating the sonic universe for our plays, creating an aural landscape for our listeners. Here, I will start creating, layering, and adding sound effects and ambience - clothing, footsteps, chair squeaks, the sounds of nature, birds, wind, traffic. If a sound doesn't feel right, I may record the effect 'live' and/or create the sound through the work I do as a foley artist. For instance, in the play WESTWOOD, there is a scene where our character digs through her purse. I wasn't happy with any of the sounds in my library, so I recorded myself at home using Dylan's purse instead.

While all this is going on our amazing composer, Ellen Mandel, is creating original music for the plays. We have a ZIP CODE 'theme' that runs through the series, and Ellen has created variations that are specific to each show. It's beautiful work and really helps land us in the world of each play.

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESAlso, our host Ramón de Ocampo is busy recording the narration that guides us through the entire series. He takes us on this wonderful journey through the various zip codes of Los Angeles.

The final part of our process is taking all these pieces and mastering them together, creating subtle broad strokes so they sound like they all fit together as one document.

Before the theatre lockdown, you were a reoccurring member of a number of Los Angeles theatre's technical teams. How many shows have you had to juggle at once?

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESBefore the lockdown, I was generally in pre-production on three different shows while in tech for another. Over the years, I've really learned how to stay healthy and understand what I am capable of doing. As a result, I try to limit myself to one or two shows a month so I can give the proper amount of creative energy and time to each show.

In working with all these various L.A. theatres, what factors inform the preliminaries of your sound design? Budget, acoustics, script?

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESIt always starts with the script for me. Finding clues on what the world sounds and feels like, atmosphere, environment. Then through the director's vision, the design team and I discover the thread for the show, the rules of the world and how to create the landscape together. Finally, I will discover what my limitations, challenges, and opportunities are in the space acoustically. How many speakers do I have to work with? Is there a subwoofer to help create any deeper, low end frequencies? Do I have the ability to immerse the audience in a surround experience?

What sound error in a live performance peeves you the most?

Probably the sound-related error that irritates me the most would be when a sound cue is played way too loud. To me it's like an actor 'playing' to the back of the house at the Ahmanson when they are only in a 50-seat intimate theater.

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESI've been to venues where I can hear each instrument of an orchestra crystal clear and yet the vocals were muddy. As a sound connoisseur, what venue do you prefer for the best singing sound qualities?

I love the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the warmth you hear there. That place is such a jewel.

I have seen a number of readings at Los Angeles Theatre Works and my attention frequently would focus on you as the resident foley artist. Do you find you're always tuned in to various sounds going about in your daily life?

Yes, as a sound artist, I am always listening. Admittedly, it's quite the joke around the house. I have tons of foley props and am constantly creating new sounds and 'auditioning' them on my wife. One day I was cooking dinner and started playing with a potato peeler. 'Hey, doesn't this sound kind of like a squeaky wheelchair!?'

BWW Interview: Sound Expertise Jeff Gardner Sounds Off on THE ZIP CODE PLAYS: LOS ANGELESWhat's your latest find in an everyday sound that you're anxious to incorporate in your next stint as a foley artist.

My foley artist friend, Ele just turned me on to these Animold squeeze toys. They have these pink toy unicorns that squeak when you squeeze them. Alongside an ocean drum they sound just like seagulls squawking at the beach. It's such a great, fun sound.

Describe the most perfect sound experience you've enjoyed?

I can tell you what my favorite sound is. The sound in your head when you submerge yourself in water. Water is a great conductor of sound. You can actually feel sound there, the vibration of sound. There's also an absence of sound from the outside world there that is just absolute heaven for me.

Thank you again, Jeff! I look forward to hearing your ZIP CODE PLAYS podcasts, as well as, your live theatre contributions very soon in the near future.
Thank you Gil!!!

All six podcasts can now be shared at no cost on www.antaeus.org or wherever you get your podcasts.


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From This Author Gil Kaan