Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Serving Up Sound Effects

Over the years of living here in this wonderful over-55 community, I've been involved in our actors group, the CP Players.  My involvement has included acting on stage, being a prompter, serving on the play committee, and working the sound booth.  The group puts on three productions a year...the genres include mysteries, comedies, melodramas, musicals.

Way back when I first got involved, the "sound booth" consisted of a folding table set up behind a screen on the floor at the foot of the stage.  Primitive hardly describes the set-up.   A buzzer was nailed to a small wooden block to serve duty whenever a doorbell was called for.  Two wooden boards were connected at one end with a cord; this was our "crack of thunder."  A tape deck and a CD player were stacked one on top of the other and tapes and discs were queued up to the right song or the right sound effect.  Like I said, it was very primitive.  It also limited the acting club's repertoire significantly.

When the Carriage House suffered significant roof damage from Hurricane Ike in 2008, the interior of the hall was completely renovated and a small but very nice sound booth was built at the back of the room.
I donated this Dell Inspiron 1420 computer to the club. 

We did the musical South Pacific, and that experience convinced me that I needed to help the club join the 21st century.  So in 2009 I donated a Dell 14" Inspiron 1420 laptop running Windows XP to the club.   And that's how I backed into this role as sound effects guru.

With this new laptop, the club now had the ability to manage the sound effects electronically and this ability increased the club's potential range of productions tremendously.  The woman who had been in charge of sound effects for many years was not computer savvy and was a little intimidated initially.  I went over to her house and worked with her a bit on how to use it in this capacity, but she never really felt comfortable with it.

When she passed away rather suddenly in 2010, I stepped in and took over.  This gave me a chance to finally show just how powerful the computer could be in managing sound effects.  The ability to find just the right effects and then edit, splice, and otherwise modify them to fit the needs of the play quickly "earned my keep."

If I wasn't available for a particular play performance weekend, I would get the sound effects done and uploaded to the computer and set up for someone else to use in the booth.   But in the early days of getting the club's sound booth computerized, the sound booth staff would sometimes revert back to using the tape deck and CD players because they just didn't feel comfortable using the computer.

Dress rehearsal for Losing Patients

The production that truly converted the last of the "hold outs" was a clever and original play called Black and White TV, staged in early 2013.  One of our really creative members wrote the script and cast the players.  It was an assemblage of various skits from the black and white TV era, including  The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Beverly Hillbillies, and a few others.  He'd even written classic commercial skits to appear in between the TV show skits, including See The USA (Chevrolet), Alkaseltzer, Timex Watch, Texaco, just to name a few of many.  It was unbelievably clever and the club did a great job putting the show on.

View from sound booth.  Dress rehearsal for "Losing Patients"
Only 6 sound effects needed for this play, one of my easier plays to work.

In all, it was a total of 34 sound effects, everything from TV show and commercial theme songs, to horn honks,  baby cries, a ticking watch.  My challenge was sourcing all of these, especially the old theme songs from the TV shows and commercials.  But some serious time spent doing research on the internet turned up legally downloadable files (some free, most for less than $1 per file, some Youtube files that I could strip sound from video) for everything I needed.  And then I spent massive amounts of time converting them all to WMA files, editing them, splicing some together where necessary, and adjusting and leveling the volumes before renaming them in sequence as they occur in the play and loading them into a soundboard program I'd found.

It was a massive undertaking, both on stage and in the sound/lights booth.  There were so many actors dashing on and off stage that the fellow managing the microphone sound board was busier than an airport traffic controller.  It was a huge success!  Sitting in the back of the auditorium, in the sound booth, I could hear the comments of the exiting audience and all of them were enthusiastic and very positive.

Our latest production was similar to Black and White TV.  Written by another of our creative members, it was a re-creation of The Carol Burnett Show.   It was an assemblage of several Carol Burnett skits with guest performer acts inserted in between.  It was brilliant!  Nearly every Carol Burnett skit exists as a Youtube video on the internet.  Our director had painstakingly transcribed the dialog for the skits she wanted to use and had a casting call for both the actors and for the guest performers.  She herself took the role of the MC, dressed as Carol Burnett.

View from sound booth.  Dress rehearsal for The Carol Burnett Show

It was also the most sound effects I'd ever had to assemble to-date....a total of 44 sound effects to source, convert, edit, splice, rename and upload into the soundboard software program.  But I wouldn't do it if I didn't absolutely love doing it!!

The staging, the sets, the acting, the costumes and wigs for The Carol Burnett Show were by far the best effort we've ever done to-date.  And it was so perfectly cast!  The exiting audience were raving about it!

Sound, microphones and lights!!  In the booth with one of the other booth workers

These productions could not have been done without use of a computer.  We have 3 or 4 members who alternate as directors of our productions.  As they've seen what the computer can do for them, they've become more's opened up a whole lot of possibilities that didn't exist before.  Some have been more creative than others in terms of taking full advantage of the capabilities, but it has definitely changed the quality of the productions for the better.

1 comment:

  1. Fun!! And so cool that you enjoy it so much too.