Thursday, 26 October 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Ali Berkok

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 trained in sound design with Debashis Sinha and Verne Good at the Stratford Festival and Blyth Festival

(September 19, 2017) I’ve finished the final leg of my PTTP training and it is time to launch out on my own.

In August I visited rehearsal for the Blyth Festival’s production of The Pigeon King, once again under the wing of sound designer Verne Good. The company collectively created The Pigeon King without an overriding script, so Verne had to be ready to create and change content as needed. Witnessing this readiness and spontaneity left me eager to continue my education in the tools and technology of the trade so that I too might be ready when requests are made on-the-fly.

Another key way in which this production differed from others I witnessed during the training is that the underscoring came from live players right on the stage (including the great George Meanwell.) This meant that much of Verne’s work was in balancing live sound, and enabling access to the right sound equipment. This overlaps with my own experience of playing live music in the city, and is something I’ll have to keep in mind as most of my starting work is likely to be in smaller venues (even spaces that won’t be dedicated theatre spaces.)
The company of The Pigeon King at Blyth Festival
Photo by Terry Manzo

Stratford, as a large festival with complicated resource allocation, leaves less breathing room in rehearsals to try things out, especially as a sound designer. Blyth is a much smaller town, company and festival than Stratford, so the company and crew work more closely together—no less professionally but certainly more informally. In this environment, Verne requested more stops in the flow of rehearsal to adjust cues, reminding me once again about those soft skills of reading the room and accepted work flow in a community. One example I witnessed saw Verne replace one sound cue with two, to better represent a barn full of pigeons being set free. Another content change Verne had to make was to take a cue representing pigeons flying around a barn several times and make it into one, slower fly-around. This was required to make the timing of a scene work. I am thrilled to take on creative problem solving such as this.

The support of the PTTP and mentors Verne Good and Debashis Sinha have given me the confidence and emerging skillset to take on my first gig. I’ll be doing both sound design and composition duties on the Alumnae Theatre (Toronto) production of Carol Shields’s 13 Hands, opening at the end of October.

Because 13 Hands is my first show, every challenge is new: selection and timing of sound effects, imagining my sound design in the theatre space, communication with the rest of the creative team, and in this show’s case, anticipating the needs of the cast around singing (three songs in the script required a musical setting provided by me.) This morning I am working on a backing track to underscore one song (“It’s Not A Sin”.)

I am finding this first experience very satisfying. It is thrilling to come to the table with an offering of what the sound and music will be. This is probably the most difficult thing to write about—that sense of offering your ideas that comes along with a willingness to change and modify (sometimes very quickly) depending on the needs of the show. This strength and flexibility, and straight-up caring deeply about what’s being made, is a thing I observed in my mentors and all the fantastic professionals I witnessed over the course of the PTTP.

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2018.

Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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