JIM VAN BERGEN

Current Projects:

Mixing: Chicago (Broadway); Recently Designed KaTonga -Tales from the Heart of Africa, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay; Film: WTC View, an independent feature film, original sound design; and many, many corporate industrials.

What is the role of a sound engineer in a Broadway show?

First, it varies greatly depending on whether the show is a play or a musical. You must wear many hats — those of politician, musician, interpreter, confidante, conspirator, dresser, and, of course, electrician. But none are as important as being the sound designer's daily representative in the theatre and maintaining the integrity of the com, radios, video, oh…and that sound equipment, too. (Can you sense the tongue in my cheek?)

Most important lesson(s) learned as a sound engineer:

  • It's all about communication.
  • Ditch your ego at the door.
  • No matter how expensive your gear is, it will break at the most inopportune time.
  • There is nothing so complex as an actor's fragile ego.
  • Two words: show business.
  • Focus, focus, focus!
  • Any note, no matter how large, should be done in small increments.

What working as a sound engineer taught you about sound design:

Broadway theatre is less about art, more about politics, and mostly about money. Get over it, or go do art somewhere else.

KAI HARADA

Current Projects:

Associate Sound Designer, Wicked; occasional mixer, Wicked.

What is the role of a sound engineer in a Broadway show?

First and foremost, the sound designer's goal is to provide intelligible and even reinforcement of the show to every seat in the house. Understanding the interaction of sound within the venue's physical constraints (scenery, lighting instruments, walls, floors, ceilings) and accommodating for variances in the natural acoustic response of the hall are key; in addition to knowing which tools can be used most effectively to provide the best possible solution for the given situation.

The role of a sound designer is to accommodate the wishes and requests of just about everybody. Sound as an art form is inherently subjective; what sounds good to you may not sound good to me, and most people do not know how the technical jargon to describe what they are hearing, or are not hearing, so the sound designer must process all this information — all the notes — from the composer, the orchestrator, the director, the choreographer, the dance arranger, the producers, and make the best possible choices for the betterment of the show (which, I might add, may not be in line with the notes given by the rest of the team). Like much of theatre, collaboration and cooperation is key; we have to collaborate to find good loudspeaker positions, unaffected by scenic elements or lighting instruments, then wrestle with schedules to get time with the cast or the orchestra, then handle the free-for-all notes sessions in which everyone and their brother has an opinion about the sound. Sometimes all this cooperation can become incredibly frustrating, but it's quite possibly the most important thing a sound designer needs to do in order to survive.

Most important lesson(s) learned as a sound engineer:

The first lesson I learned while working as an assistant is the one that I repeat most often to up-and-coming designers, especially those working in an assistant designer position: shut up and listen! When one first enters the “real world,” there is an inherent arrogance that comes with leaving school. This happens in any industry to anybody, and it's perfectly natural, but sometimes it helps to remember that one is working with people who have been doing theatre, theatre sound, or whatever, for many many years, and sometimes, less is more.

The second lesson came from Tony Meola, who said that sound design is 5% talent, 5% technical know-how, and 90% politics. See answer to previous question.

What working as a sound engineer taught you about sound design:

Subtlety is lost on the ignorant.

JORDAN PANKIN

Current Projects:

Sweet Smell of Success, Man of La Mancha, Bombay Dreams

What is the role of a sound engineer in a Broadway show?

The role of the sound engineer is part performer, part technician, and part creative member of the company. We have the day-to-day sound and feel of the show at our fingertips. Each day we shape the show's sound into what the designer and director and musical director have worked on during the production period.

Most important lesson(s) learned as a sound engineer:

  • Keep your mouth shut and learn from your mistakes.
  • Do not keep making the same mistakes over and over.
  • Never blame the gear.
  • Take responsibility for your mess ups.
  • Keep your head in the mix and when you do mess up, cry after the show not during-miss one line or cue, not many!!!
  • Make sure your script is well made and updated all the time — you never know.
  • Do as much work in the shop as possible seeing the show-preparation is the key to a good load-in.
  • Use your ears!!!

What working as a sound engineer taught you about sound design:

There are many roads to Mecca — the best sound designers are the ones that really love theatre and enjoy their work. Life is too short to think that what we do is life and death in nature — it may very well be life altering and we certainly are entertaining the masses, but when people in the audience say to me that the console looks as complicated as a 747 cockpit, I tell them that the difference is that “If I mess up, nobody gets killed.”

Sound design is the most unrecognized and unrewarded field in modern theatre.