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  Sound Design for the Theatre
Interpretation, Research, Composition, and Execution

by Michael Rasbury, Assistant Professor of Sound Design
Department of Drama, University of Virginia
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“A sound designer’s work is often so subtle that it can be difficult to notice it at all, let alone articulate why it’s exceptional. That’s a cruel paradox of sound design: when the work is good, people tend to accept it as a natural part of a production. It’s only when something fails — a microphone shorts out, a speaker whines with feedback — that audiences are guaranteed to notice”
Blankenship, Mark. "Making Noise Behind The Scenes."
The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 1 June 2008. 20 July 2009

Definition of Sound Design for the Theatre
The sound designer is a collaborative and conceptual artist that exploits the expressive possibility of sound by employing a synthesis of sound and music proficiency with technology to enhance a theatrical performance. Sound occurs ephemerally in the air and exists in time. It cannot be studied visually for an extended period of time (without recording equipment) in the way costumes, set pieces, or even lighting can. Sound is also difficult to describe in objective ways.

The sound designer is responsible for all dramatic, aesthetic, and practical aspects of sound and music for a given theatrical production. In particular, the sound designer should be concerned with audibility of all aural elements, proper motivation of sound elements; incidental and integral music, live vocal alteration and replacement. The sound designer blends aspects of each of these categories to impact the mood of a production. Sound designers must be skilled researchers and must possess abilities in a range of subjects including play script analysis, composition of soundscapes and musical pieces, sound equipment specifications and installation, physics of sound, and expertise in sound related media. The sound designer must direct all of these components to best serve the script’s theme and production style determined by the greater collaboration of other visual designers and director. Every aspect of the sound design is planned, composed, installed, and operated to support the greater collaboration of theatrical artists.

Sound designers are informed by similar base methods customized using their individual strengths in varying corollary disciplines. The process of designing with sound usually begins with the interpretation of the script and is informed by the work of the multidisciplinary team of collaborative theatrical artists.

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