Listen. Do. Listen. Repeat.

You are all familiar with the various noises heard from the stage or off in the wings—no not talking about the actors or tech crew—the sound effects. Those shrills, winds and sirens are about to make their stage debut in this year’s holiday performance A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play on the Wayside Theatre stage. Everything from the traditional piano to those blustering winter winds will have equal time on the stage time with the actors of the “radio” studio.

So a little information about the sound effects: we are using a particular style of sound effects called Foley sound technique.A quick definition is the natural sounds of an environment are made using usual and unusual methods. One of my favorites would be the creaky door. A simple solution would be to have an actual creaky door or rusted hinge on stage but if you are on a budget, I suggest using other methods, perhaps a piece of resin wood with a screw stuck in it and a pair of vise grips to twist. You may have discovered this sound when breaking down and building theatre sets of the same wood. More traditional Foley sounds include footsteps through the snow made with shoe trees and corn flakes on a wooden tray.

I’m sure you want to know how I came up the objects to make a sound effect. There is no definite answer. There are certain staples for a Foley studio to maintain since the 1920s, when radio drama originated. For example, it is common to have a miniature door and various whistles, a piano and sometimes even a car door (although present day audio theatre productions have found alternatives; a muffled file cabinet). With those foundations, it really came down to researching theatres and sounds, and, of course, listening. Ice cracking on a frozen lake is translated to a three part cue of corn flakes, breaking luan, and a bucket with water.

The important thing to remember about live sound artistry (creating Foley sounds on stage) is that no option is not worth trying. It’s important to have a particular sound in mind but sometimes the answer comes by trying something completely different. For example, in the film It’s a Wonderful Life there is a scene of crickets underscoring George and Mary, the play’s leads. I went around to various stores trying to find the right combs to use to make a substantial cricket chirp in volume and pitch and happened upon it when I grasped tightly on the drum of a bike bell and pulled the switch. A lot of things come down to trial and error and operator use. Listen, do, listen, repeat…and find really good resource material.


1 Response to “Listen. Do. Listen. Repeat.”

  1. 1 John Westervelt January 21, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    interesting article – thanks

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Inside Wayside is a weblog designed and operated by the staff of Wayside Theatre. It serves as a portal for dialogue within our community. Think of this as your backstage pass to our theatre and our world.

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