June 2015

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June 2015

News & Notices

Collaborators Parties Planned - Award Winners Talk Sound Collaboration

Janet Gramza Communications Associate

The 2015 Tony Awards on June 7 will be the first time no award will be given for sound design of plays or musicals since the sound category was added in 2008, but that does not mean that sound will not be celebrated.

Days after last year’s Tonys, the Tony administration inexplicably voted to eliminate the sound category. A massive protest ensued, and recently the committee agreed to revisit its “carefully studied decision,” with no results yet.

Without an award, sound designers decided to celebrate the unsung heroes of theatre technology – in sound and other fields – with The Collaborator Party to be held in New York City on Tony night.

USITT has joined the party as a sponsor, providing financial support for a live feed of the event so it can be shared at smaller parties around the nation.

Meanwhile, some of USITT's 2015 Award Winners weighed in on the issue.

Jane Greenwood, USITT 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award in Costume Design and 2014 Tony Lifetime Achievement Award (also nominated for a 2015 Best Costume Design Tony for You Can’t Take it With You):

“Eliminating sound design as a category -- that was surprising. I come from way back when the thinking was in terms of scenery, costumes, and lighting. And lighting was really beginning to come forward when I began to design. Since then, we’ve seen lighting design become an important discipline, then sound design and projection design. All of us are now encompassed in what happens on stage. As they have grown, they have all become accepted as essential design elements. So it seems curious to take one away without another.”

Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group and USITT 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award in Management:

“I think the sound design category should be reinstated. I was a nominator for three years and found it to be quite relevant. I wrote to the Tony Administration committee urging them to reverse their decision. TCG, when it had a decades-long grant program for directors and designers, purposely included sound design because of our belief in the creativity and artistry that goes into an effective design.“

Douglas W. Schmidt, USITT 2015 Distinguished Achievement in Scene Design and 2015 TDF/Robert L. B. Tobin Award for Sustained Excellence in Theatrical Design, also the subject of a new USITT book, The Designs of Douglas W. Schmidt:

“Absolutely, sound design should be a Tony Award. Sound designers are integral to the design process, and sound design often relates specifically to set design. Sound technology has become so sophisticated that it’s amazing to me what they can achieve. Where the anti-fidelity of canned voices used to be so grating and unconducive to the theatre experience, now you don’t even think about it, it’s so natural. And yet it’s a very complex process, and I know because I sit there and watch them do it.”

Loren Schreiber, automation designer and technical director, USITT 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award in Technical Production:

“I absolutely support the sound design Tony! Theatre can only reach two of our five senses, and if scene, light and costume designers deserve recognition for enriching visual sensation, why not sound designers for doing the same for the aural experience? It's only (relatively) recently that technology has developed sufficiently for sound designers to contribute to the degree that scene and costume designers have for centuries. Lighting, too, evolved into an art form once technology allowed designers to realize more than lights on/off. And no one thinks lighting is inconsequential these days. Imagine a show without sound, especially the complex underscoring we have come to expect in modern theatrical production--it's called ‘silence.’ Clearly, the Tonys are on the wrong side of history with this shortsighted decision.”

Wendall Harrington, the “godmother of projection design,” USITT 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award in Education. (She has argued that projection design should not be a separate award category, but the projection designer should be recognized as part of the scenic design team.):

“The difference between projection and sound is that all shows have sound, and all shows shouldn’t have projection. That said, I’d rather be judged by my peers than by a bunch of producers who are calculating numbers for shows that will tour. So if you could take the people with 'ears' and eyes to be judges, it would be more meaningful I think even to the sound designers. That the Tony committee took it away is just insulting and insane. I mean, what were they thinking?

“I know we technical folks don’t mean much -- even the Oscars don’t spend a lot of time with the technical stuff, but they do love special effects, which are getting less special and more common. In the end, awards are nice, and in our world, sadly it is how we are judged, and even paid. But we all know in our hearts that the only applause that matters is our own.”

Chris Wood, 2015 USITT Rising Star Award sponsored by Live Design, is a Nebraska-based lighting and sound designer:

“As a designer and college professor, I have often found myself thinking about the removal of the sound design category from the Tony awards while teaching my concepts and collaboration course. One thing we constantly discuss in class is that age-old question, ‘Does it help tell the story, and how can we as an artistic team achieve it?’ Sound designers create, develop, and help support the artistic vision needed to enhance the story -- whether it is creating new locations sonically in collaboration with scenic and lighting, or harmoniously conveying the emotional energy of the artist onstage.

“Just about any theatre patron can tell you if an artistic element affected them emotionally even if they do not need to know the technology behind it. They can feel the energy shift in Evita! as Mick Potter takes us from a full and chaotic room, to zeroing in on Evita alone in an intimate and small space. Through his use of vibrant sound and location, Robert Kaplowitz took us to the Afrika Shrine in Fela! We could talk at length about Tony Meola’s well-placed reverb and echoes after powerful vocal moments in Wicked. There are so many more designers to mention that have impacted audiences through their intelligent and artistic use of sound. Let us forget about the technology side and bring it back to ‘Did the sound design in collaboration with the other artistic categories enhance and help tell the story?’ Maybe we should ask the audience.”