Jill BC Du Boff, a new faculty member at the Broadway Sound Master Classes, has had her designs on two Broadway plays this year, Wit (January to March) and Other Desert Cities (open since November). We caught up with her close to the eve of her BSMC debut.
1. You’ve designed for theatre, radio, television, film, and special events. How did you get your start?
I was actually one of the Live Design tyro talents of 2001 [then Entertainment Design], but in ’94, after my first semester at Bard College, where I was studying dramaturgy, I came to visit a friend in New York, who was a stage manager. The designers were there to see if the show would move, and I met Jim van Bergen, who told me how he started as an assistant. He hired me as an assistant during my first college break on Booth at York Theatre Company. The York took a liking to me, and I did a semester internship there. I also had a connection at Primary Stages. I basically learned it all by doing.
David Van Tieghem became my mentor. I was subbing on one of his shows as a board op and asked if he needed an assistant, and his next show was eight months later, The Gray Zone at MCC. I also wanted to be a casting director and took a job doing that in the meantime. During The Gray Zone, I asked David again if he needed an assistant, which he said he didn’t, but I told him he did, because I wanted to quit my casting job and work for him. Luckily, The Gray Zone was a huge hit—he won an Obie for it—and he needed an assistant. In 2000, David had designed Wit Off-Broadway and didn’t want to do the tour, so I designed it and was board op. I made enough money that, when I got back, I could quit being a board op and design. It grew from there—a slow burn but ultimately worth it. I designed my first Broadway show in 2002, Bill Maher: Victory Begins At Home, when I was 27. When I was hired for Wit on Broadway this year, they didn't realize that I had worked on it Off-Broadway, but the productions couldn't be more different.
2. Was there a time when you thought, “What am I doing?”
Lots of times when I thought, “How long can I live hand-to-mouth?” I started branching out to other things—as casting director, working at a post-production company, at NPR as a freelance producer—but it wasn’t as exciting as theatre, though I still do some work in post and for NPR.
3. You also teach at Sarah Lawrence College and design plenty of Off-Broadway and regional shows. How do you juggle it all?
It’s pretty hard-core. I teach only once a week, so it’s not when I’m in tech, but I can be working seven days a week for months at a time. The students are so great though, and they’re really smart, work so hard, and are super-creative.
4. What advice would you give to sound designers just starting out?
Say yes to everything you can afford to say yes to, and be nice. Make sure you’re always having fun and that you’re nice to everyone. If you’re in tech 12 hours a day, and you’re grouchy, people aren’t going to want to work with you.
5. What gear are you finding interesting?
I love where editing technology is going, like [Apple] Logic Pro 9 and [Avid] Pro Tools 10. You can do so much more now. I just designed the audio for the iPhone app for Botanical Gardens in the Bronx on those programs, and they made it so simple to edit and make adjustments during the three months I worked on that project. I also learned a lot working in radio, like how to tell a story in 60 seconds, so that helped inform the app.