Sound design might be the most thankless job on Broadway — because when you get it right, nobody notices. Besides, a lot of theatergoers — and more than a few Tony voters — don’t quite know what it is.
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Broadway and West End sound designer Gareth Owen (“Come From Away,” “Summer,” “Diana”) gives listeners a peek behind the sound board on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. Good sound design, he explained, is more than just making sure audiences can hear every word that’s spoken or sung onstage.
“It’s about hearing the details of the orchestrations,” he said. “It’s about emoting the audience. It’s about transmitting the energy from the stage, from the orchestra pit, to the audience in a way that involves them in the production.”
Owen, who got his start in rock n’ roll before transitioning to theater, has made something of a specialty out of musicals with rock scores. For shows like those, he’s got to strike a tricky balance.
“The biggest challenge there is to keep control of the raucous energy coming from the stage and the pit, and deliver it in such a way that it feels like a rock concert without terrifying the musical theater audiences,” he said. “Because of course rock concerts are really, really loud, and not every musical theater patron is a big fan of loud.”
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On the new episode of Stagecraft, Owen breaks down the basics of Sound Design 101, along the way giving updates on some of the buzzy new projects he’s working on including the brewing Michael Jackson musical “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” as well as a new show featuring the hit songs of uberproducer Max Martin.
New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on iTunes, Stitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.