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Dear Professor Production
A Designer Dilemma


Dear Professor Production:
Our sound designer is one with whom the stage manager (SM) and I have worked before, and we are not at all pleased with her performance. She is flaky, irresponsible, selfish, and not once have her cues been done in time for a final dress rehearsal. Our SM went to the production manager (who is staff at the university) and asked if there was any possible way the show could bring in someone else to do the job. The request was denied, and we are stuck working with her again.

My questions to you: What point in the rehearsal process is a realistic cut-off time for changing and adding new things (cues, costumes, props, etc.)? Who typically sets this deadline? When a designer just doesn't quite seem to understand the importance of a deadline, how does one explain that it's too late to add another sound cue without stepping on his or her pretty little artistic toes?

Professor Production replies:
This is a very good question. Usually, design deadlines are set and enforced by the production manager (after consultation with the director and production department heads).

As an SM, I find it most beneficial to have a "final" sound plot and tape or CD before I leave the rehearsal hall so final run-throughs can include some semblance of sound. Of course, it will be different in the theatre with the added equipment, but at least the actors and the SM can begin to understand the timing. Deadlines for all other production areas should be set by the production manager as well, knowing that there might be some changes necessary during the technical and dress rehearsal period.

I don't know where you are in the rehearsal process, but if you are just beginning, perhaps you can assign an assistant SM to check in with the sound designer on a regular basis - two or three times a week. S/he could work with her to keep the sound plot updated, get tapes or CDs to feed into rehearsal, and become her new best friend. Invite the designer to rehearsals, seek her responses, pull her into the fold. Make your expectations clear about her role in the production, and get her to agree to what you need. Maybe treat her in a way she has never been treated before. She is, after all, a designer and should be working hand in glove with the Director and the rest of the design team.

That said, theatre is an ever-changing enterprise. We know that actors and the director will make changes in the theatre based on reactions to the space, set, and costumes. And lights can certainly be quite fluid until opening. Sound also can evolve, but certainly major changes requiring hours in the studio and extra rehearsal should be avoided. In a university setting, the final word often falls to the director. What does the director want? Is production able to accommodate him/her within available resources? If the sound designer is adding cues that don't serve the play and the director, then the cues are meaningless. We are all involved to serve the play.

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"Professor Production" is available to answer your questions. Please forward any questions to