Summer Internship Report: Jamie Tippett, Sound Department
September 18, 2017
A.R.T. Meyer Sound

When you walk into the Loeb Drama Center, if you're like me, you notice there are speakers on just about every available surface. As of this summer, there are 88 speakers permanently installed in the space (one speaker for every 6 audience members—I did the math). This new system is a donation from Meyer Sound, and with it, not only only can you amplify voices and play back sounds, as you would expect from any sound system, but you can manipulate these sounds and where they sound in the room. By adjusting the relative levels of a sound across different speakers, using Meyer’s SpaceMap software,  you can make it seem like a sound is coming from anywhere in the room you want. (When we first set up the system, we may or may not have sent “Everything is Awesome” whizzing around the room.)

This summer, I was an intern in the Sound Department at A.R.T., and I got to be involved in every step of the implementation process for this new  system. From helping to unpack each speaker (and building an impressive box fort in the process) to assisting the A.R.T. team and learning from the designers on the first two, radically different, shows of the A.R.T. season, this internship opened my eyes to how sound works in a professional theatrical setting.

At my school, most of the productions I work on are entirely student-run, and while this is exhilarating and freeing in many ways, it means that we do not—and cannot—have the resources of a professional theater like the A.R.T. Walking into the Ex on the first day of my internship, I immediately knew that I’d be working on a whole different scale than anything I’d worked on before. We spent two and half weeks looming, soldering, and running cable; hanging speakers; and tuning the system. By the end of the install, not only could I say that I understood the system I had helped build, but I was also starting to get ideas about how I could change the way sound is designed and executed back at my school.

A few weeks later, I was at work on Burn All Night at OBERON. There I got to see a professional sound designer at work for the first time. Most of the time in my theater group at school, the sound designer also mixes the show; before this summer, I had been flirting with the idea of separating the roles for the next big show I worked on, and watching the Burn All Night workflow cemented this. The designer was free to adjust things and could listen actively while the mixer could focus completely on the mix, instead of having one person try to straddle both jobs. (And having done this myself, I assure you it's Not Fun.) I left Burn All Night not only with ideas about how to better work as a sound design team, but with ideas for the shows I’ll be designing back at school.

The week after Burn All Night opened, I moved back to the Loeb to begin work on WARHOLCAPOTE. These two productions represented two very different challenges. Burn All Night was an immersive musical, and a big part of bringing the audience into the world of the show was making sure that the actors’ voices were sourced properly. WARHOLCAPOTE is a more typical proscenium show, so these sourcing challenges are not as present. However, the sound design still is a big part of what invites the audience into the world of the historical figures at the heart of the play—(you guessed it) Andy Warhol and Truman Capote— from the first sequence of the play, to periodically bringing us inside Andy’s head for him to comment on the action. Watching both of these worlds unfold has taught me to listen more actively and critically, as well as understand some of the building blocks I can use to create my own worlds back at school.

Interning at the A.R.T. has been a truly unique experience. I’ve learned so much, from a new way to mix, to a new type of mic tape, to how to properly label cables. The devil really is in the details, and having these fundamentals allows everything to run so much more smoothly. I had never had an opportunity for any kind of formalized training in sound design, and this hands-on experience has probably taught me as much as I would learn in a quarter-long course at school. Being able to see how “real” theater works has confirmed that I’m going to try to turn this fun thing I do with my friends at school into a fun thing I can do with my friends as a job.

Jamie Tippett is a junior at Stanford University majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Theater and Performance Studies.

Publication date:
September 18, 2017

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