Problem:

The Chase Park Theatre, a community-based production group in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, attracts actors with limited experience who may not be able to handle complex classical roles and audiences who aren't always familiar with Shakespeare. So when artistic director Karen Fort decided to mount King Lear, she and her husband, sound designer Keith Fort, immediately began talking about the title character's monologues, when he interacts with the storm. Could an older actor sustain the kind of energy the performance required? “As it happened, my fears weren't justified, but we couldn't be sure we would find an actor strong enough to do the monologues convincingly and clearly,” says the sound designer, adding that they decided to treat the storm as a character in the play and to require it to perform accordingly. “I suggested that we try to personify the storm through sound and other [design elements],” Fort adds, explaining that they wanted to turn the monologues into conversations between Lear and the storm. “In some parts, the storm attacks him, beats him up, or questions him.” But it took a while to figure out exactly how to convey that on the theatre's small production budget.

Shoestring Solution:

“The storm begins to rear its ugly head at the end of act three,” says Fort. “I bumped that cue to an early part of the scene, when Lear realizes both daughters have turned against him.” As the scene continues, cues became progressively closer and louder, reaching a crescendo at the end of the act when Lear is shut out into the night. “Part of the problem of playing out those cues was not overwhelming the actor,” says Fort. “I was concerned I would blow him off stage with sound cues.” Fort worked with the audio operator to find points where the storm should overwhelm and other points where it would stay under the dialogue but still be intense. “I wanted that thunder to rock the audience without stepping on the dialogue,” he explains.

The Forts thought about having actors create storm sounds, but they concluded it would have been near impossible for an actor to rattle a thunder sheet, for instance, while engaged in dialogue. Instead, Fort used digital cues, different kinds of thunder accompanied by different types of wind and rain noise, some heard from a castle, some from a hovel, some interior, some exterior. He spent time listening whenever a storm was close during the weeks leading up to the production but didn't try to record any cues because he couldn't anticipate when they would occur. “It doesn't crack when the stage manager tells it to.” He set locales through tone control, dialing out high frequencies for interior scenes. “For the hovel, I dialed out half the high frequency, and in the castle, I flattened it out completely. Each scene had its own sound,” from very sharp cracks to low rumbling.

Equipment for playback and effects included a Lexicon MPX 100 stereo reverb, a Sony CDP-D11 CD player, Denon 1050 and Denon 160 Minidisc recorders, a Gator integral power strop, and a Gator 8-space powered rack. Fort also used a Yamaha MG 12-4 mixer and relied on a dbx DriveRack PA, a Crown DC-300, a Crown Microtech 1200 #2, a Crown Microtech 1200 #1, and a 12-space rack with wheels and fans to accomplish most cues, downloading some from www.sounddogs.com.

In a production with a few columns and arches and very little else, fabric played an important role. Scenic designer Jeff Bauer hung very long strips of sheer gray fabric. Attached to an upstage wall, actors could roll it out over the stage and into the audience, immersing spectators to the back row of the 75-seat proscenium house. “Actors synchronized their movements with light and sound cues. They manipulated the fabric so Lear was completely enveloped, and the audience was, too,” says Fort. “The fabric draped across the stage and ran into the audience, like rivulets.” During storm scenes, non-fabric scenic elements remained on stage but disappeared into dim lighting.

If you have encountered a problem while designing or building a concert, event, exhibit, or play, please tell us about it at davi@comcast.net.

SOUND SYSTEM

Component Make Model
Amp Crown DC300
Amp Crown MT1200
Amp Crown MT1200
Cables Patch: misc 1/4" and RCA
Cables Snake: Conquest 100' 8×4
Cables Speaker: 4 - 50' ban > 1/4
CD player Sony CDP-D11
Effects dbx DriveRack PA
Effects Lexicon MPX500
Microphone AKG - 2 omnis overhead
Microphone Crown PZM - 2
Minidisc Denon DN-1050R
Minidisc Denon DN-1050R
Mixer Yamaha MG12-4
Power supply Furman PL8-II
Rack Gator 8-space powered rack
Rack Gator pop-up mixer rack
Rack SKB19U-12: 12 space
Rack SKB rack casters
Speakers Bag End 1-15 sub (single)
Speakers EV FM12-3 (pair)
Speakers EV S40B (pair), with brackets

RESOURCES:

AKG: www.akgusa.com

Bag End: www.bagend.com

Crown: www.crownaudio.com

dbx: www.dbxpro.com

Denon: www.denon.com

Electrovoice: www.electrovoice.com

Furman: www.furmansound.com

Gator: www.gatorcases.com

Lexicon: www.lexicon.com

SKB: www.skbcases.com

Sony: www.sony.com

Yamaha: www.yamaha.com