On the Verge; or, the Geography of Yearning
Thesis Production in partial fulfillment of BFA in Theatre Design from Tulane University.
Being a play about time traveling Victorian-era women adventurers traversing through mystical time-forests into the 1950s, On the Verge required an extensive soundscape that covered time and place, helping the audience suspend disbelief and taking them on an adventure of both sight and sound. To accomplish this took special consideration of the sounds themselves, and the physical execution of the sounds in the space.
The sound served the practical purpose of masking the immersion-breaking air conditioning noises that come from the theatre itself, as well as the storytelling purpose of complementing the story with aesthetically-matching audio cues.
The play features locations such as beaches, jungles, swamps, 1950s nightclubs, and the ever popular time-vortex-space-with-lunar-snowfall. Each location featured a fully-realized background audio loop that fulfilled the ultimate goal of full audience immersion into the story.
Between each scene is a moment when one of the protagonists write in their journal, describing their feeling, surroundings, and companions. For these moments, an isolating hum is used to signify the monologue-like nature of the moment, along with the sound of a dusty record for texture. Behind this is a slowed down and slightly altered version of the previous scene's background sound. At the start of each scene, directly following the mourning, the title of the scene is pronounced by a voice, played by Anthony Harvey.
The opening of the play, featuring Victorian-Era Parlour Music that fades into a beach ambiance. The play starts at the beach, as the three lady adventurers disembark from their boat and embark on their journey.
The three protagonists leave the beach by climbing up a massive rocky cliff, which reveals a jeweled jungle at the top.
As they traverse the jungle, our protagonists must whack the underlying brush, and withstand sudden torrential rain.
The protagonists are attacked by unseen creatures in the jungle. This sounds much better in the space, supported by lighting, acting, and variously places speakers.
In the midst of their travel, our protagonists encounter a strange, timeless land where lunar snow falls. The end of a time corridor that began in a time forest, and ends at Woody's Esso, in the 1950s.
Listen carefully to the fade down of "Rock around the Clock", as the tone shifts to a tinnier 50s Radio-type sound the lower the volume is.
Part of the goal of full immersion is consideration of where sound comes from. The theatre features enough amplifiers for only 6 passive speakers, and also features one powered subwoofer in stock.
I used four speakers in stereo left and right configuration on stage left and right: Two speakers are flying in the grid; Two are under the stage. Two more speakers are flying above and behind the audience.
The four forward speakers allow for placing sound both above and within the stage, increasing immersion, and allowing for increased legibility of the effects. For example, the sound of a crackling fire can come from the stage, closer to the fire, as opposed to the speaker above the stage. By combining the fire crackling sound from one on-stage speaker and an evening forest sound from the 4 flying speakers both in front of and behind the audience, the audience is surrounded by realistic sound locations in the 3d space of the theatre, increasing immersion.
Part of the goal of the design of the production is to use this sort of manipulation of sound in 3d space to increase immersion.
Available below in PDF format.