Sense and Sensibility

PCPA - Pacific Conservatory Theatre

Roger DeLaurier, the director, is quite a fan of Jane Austin and had directed a production of Little Women a few years before we began work on Sense and Sensibility. His experience with the period and his passion for the story provided the design team with a fast start. Roger wanted our production to stay in period while flowing seamlessly from scene to scene. As a sound designer, this style of production is always challenging in that the transitions must be supported by music but with many scenes virtually overlapping the placement and level of each cue is even more critical than in most dramas.

As with any drama, work began with research into the music of the period, roughly 1795 to 1802, in this case. One good thing about researching music for a Jane Austin play is that her novels are so popular that not only is there a good deal of music from around the period, there are collections of music based on her personal sheet music. Before long I had a number of excellent options and, working closing with Roger, choices were made as to style and composers early in the process.

There are several dances that occur within the action and finding the music for these events was at the top of the list in order to provide the choreographer with the specific music before rehearsals began. The reel and other party music was relatively easy to find but the Bolange was problematic. After a long search of online resources including contacting a group of Austin dance enthusiasts, I could find only one song of this type for the dance. It was recorded with a concert piano rather than a forte piano which caused some concerns but once the music became part of the action, this small anachronism went unnoticed. Timing for spirited reel in Act One was adjusted during tech using our friend, Q Lab to create seamless edits.

Since Marianne “plays” the forte piano on stage several times during the play, I spent a good deal of time researching the instrument and trying various combinations of synth voices to achieve a believable sound for the two dummy pianos we were to use. We even investigated installing wireless speakers in the forte piano shells but the budget could not support their purchase. Luckily the pianos were placed in only two positions on stage and we were able to combine a speaker roughly above the location with one upstage center to create a source for the music. The songs themselves came from an online collection of MIDI recordings of composers of the period. With some minor adjustments to the tempo and hours of practice by the actress playing Marianne, the onstage performances flowed along with the action and were successful in telling the story.

The tight integration of the sound cues into the action required some tricky and complex editing for playback but fortunately for me y assistant designer, Graham Howatt, is a master of Q Lab and almost before I could finish explaining what needed to happen, I was listening to the cue on stage.

In the end, the music and sound effects played their part in creating a beautiful retelling of Jane Austin’s story. As a sound designer, I really can't ask for more. Example Cues

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