For Darron West, the initial inspiration for the sound design came, appropriately enough, from the War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. He and Bogart had worked on a presentation of the radio play at the West Bank Cafe early on in the process of bringing the SITI project to life. "What we were trying to attack in this thing is how to take cinematic ideas and transfer them to the stage," he explains. "And I thought, let's go back and start with the radio play, which was something I knew from college. That informed a lot of the structure of the piece; the radio sequences in War of the Worlds came directly from our work on the radio play."
During the course of his research - West says he saw Citizen Kane and The Trial at least 15 times each - the designer discovered that Welles - always known for his visual flair - was just as experimental with sound. "There's that story where a reporter asks him why he used this sound of a shrieking cockatoo coming out of nowhere, and Welles' response was simply, `Just to wake 'em up,' " West notes. "He was very, very attentive to sounds. There's an office scene in Kane with the specific sound of a clock ticking, which I latched onto for War of the Worlds, in the scene where Bernstein [Kane's managing editor in the movie, his friend in the play] is being interviewed. I used that to give the audience a line to understand that this is happening now. But that's what Welles was all about, all those various layers: the shutting of a door, cutting out a piece of music. He used sound basically the same way I like to use it in the theatre."
Welles often speaks directly to the audience; he even introduces the piece at the beginning. So does a film scholar, who discusses Welles' triumphs and tragedies in Hollywood. In order to delineate between the film and theatrical worlds, West miked the "film" actors but not the "stage" actors. The designer's biggest challenge was reconciling the heavily cinematic and radio scenes with the quiet theatrical moments. "I would have a huge radio sequence with all these sound effects - typewriters going, bells ringing, music, and actors speaking into microphones - at 85dB, finishing it all with a dial tone, and then the next thing you hear is a dry actor's voice. I was always dealing with getting the fully designed sections of the show to correlate with the sections that were just silent."
West used Marshall Electronics MXL2001 large diaphragm cardioid microphones on the film actors, "which for the money sound amazing," he notes. "I'd called a buddy at Full Compass, looking for some large diaphragm mics. Now, in an ideal world, I'd have three U87s up there, but we're a small company and there are other places to spend your budget dollar. So the guy at Full Compass recommended these to me, and I love them." The rest of West's spare rig features his stock equipment, including an Ensoniq ASR10 sampler workstation with a 100meg Zip drive, a Mackie 1402 console, Klark-Teknik signal processing, Denon 900 series cart mini-disk players, and EAW speakers. Other equipment used in the BAM production included a range of QSC amps, a Crest GTX 32-channel console, and Sennheiser wireless mics. "It's a tiny rig," he says. "I'm kind of old-fashioned when when it comes to my playback systems. I'm not into a lot of multichannel stuff anymore. I think we all got swept up in our toys in such a big way that we kind of forget about the act of making a play. As I've gotten older, I'm not interested in panning a train around a room anymore. Go to the movies if you want to see that."
West may have a relatively small budget for the SITI projects, but he is still no doubt the envy of his peers for the way in which sound is incorporated very early in the overall design process. Because of West's involvement with the War of the Worlds radio play last October, his involvement began even earlier, essentially from the project's inception. "What I usually end up doing is correlating notes and sounds with dramaturgy and style," he says. "Then I fill up with as much stuff as I possibly can on paper and do a pool of music and a pool of effects that I will not deviate from. I went into this show with about 300 to 400 music samples and sound effects already loaded in. And I restrict myself to that. So I can't run away during the process and get a great piece of music for a radio sequence we thought of that day. I need to find something with the palette that I pulled to make it work, and sometimes ideas will come out of that I didn't expect. We like to call it following the Ouija board." A perfect turn of phrase for a subject like Orson Welles and a project like War of the Worlds.
Scenery construction for War of the Worlds was by Actors Theatre of Louisville Scene Shop and The Production Studio. Costume construction was by Donna Langman Costumes, Mr. Tony, Harwood Lee, Margaret Fenske, and Actors Theatre of Louisville Costume Shop. Audio for the BAM production was provided by Full Compass. Light for BAM was mostly in-house. War of the Worlds is tentatively scheduled to be performed in St. Louis in the spring.