Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)
Ali Berkok is training in sound design with Debashis Sinha and Verne Good at the Stratford Festival
(June 11, 2017) Halfway through my training schedule, I’ve had an inspiring and substantial look inside the world of sound design at the Stratford Festival: Verne Good’s sound design on Romeo and Juliet and Debashis Sinha’s sound design on The Changeling. Though I expected my training program to be largely about how to make a sound design, two strong lessons emerged from the training that I hadn’t anticipated: that time available in the theatre for testing is scarce, and that the relationship between sound designer and sound technician must be a strong one.
Because Stratford Festival theatres each contain several shows in overlapping rehearsal and performance schedules, time in the theatre space is at a premium and there is not a lot of time for testing and experimentation. This means the designer must be ready to pounce on the small pockets of time they do get by being utterly prepared. As well, ability to communicate clearly and directly with the director seems to be a great asset, as it is the director who can grant that precious time to, say, test the volume level of a sound cue in the space. Experience in the theatre space and the ability to imagine the results of changes to the speaker levels save time and help the sound designer to work smoothly into the rest of the production schedule (e.g. what’s the difference in sound levels when bodies are finally in the theatre?) I saw both Verne and Deb demonstrate all these amazing traits, and it has strongly impressed on me how important it is to be more-than-prepared and easy to work with.
I was also witness to the relationship between sound designer and sound technician. As both Stratford’s Festival Theatre and the Tom Patterson Theatre are IATSE union halls, sound designers are not permitted to physically program cues into the theatre system, but instead must relay files and information to the theatre sound technician. These designer/technician relationships are crucial to the running and realization of the design, and I was lucky enough to see two great examples of this in partnerships between Debashis & Michael Duncan (The Changeling) and Verne & Scott Matthews (Romeo and Juliet) during the first part of my training schedule.
It’s a great relief to know, however, that at least on my first sound design in the world, I’ll be working in smaller local theatres with just a couple of speakers as opposed to the dozens in the Stratford Festival Theatre, and likely be legally permitted to physically program the cueing software. Until I work in a major union hall, I’ll be able to keep in mind the values I was able to witness at the top of the field.
Though the nature of my mentorship has mostly stayed the same throughout the training done so far, I am being invited repeatedly by my mentors to ask questions and simply hang out to discuss the finer points of sound design (mostly wrestling with the ins and outs of content creation and digital audio workstation software). I am consistently met with rapid and accessible generosity from both Deb and Verne and they have checked in on me often since my initial run with them.
Coming up in the second week of August is the remainder of shadowing Verne Good as she completes her sound design on The Pigeon King at the Blyth Festival. One huge difference between Blyth and Stratford is that the Blyth Festival theatre is not an IATSE hall, and so the mediation of a sound design through a union sound technician is not necessary. Because of this, I expect to witness much more hands on work as Verne plans and implements the physical speaker set-up and “image” (the dimensionality of the sound design in space) without having to relay the information to the union technician first. And since Blyth is a much smaller organization, time in the theatre to test sound cues may not be at such a premium.
The first half of my proposed PTTP training schedule has been an absolute gift, and I’m looking ahead to working through the rest of the training plan as I contemplate and implement these early steps in my sound design career.
The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.
Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.