By: Kerrie Mondy
Three of the four shows I did for New Line required preshow music of some sort, and I really wanted to do something for each production that would start getting patrons into our world the moment they walked through the door. So I crafted three custom half-hour pieces to run during doors. They were a little tedious but well worth it! I’ll detail them below and if you have any questions, (or want to hear any of the sfx/recording used) you can email me at: email@example.com.
Night of the Living Dead: The Musical
Unlike its zombie-musical counterpart, Evil Dead: the Musical, NOTLD is not campy fun, but an attempt at a serious musical interpretation of the film. It’s supposed to be an unnerving account of random strangers in the late 60s who find themselves barricaded in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse as the country is suddenly overrun with walking dead. One of the main themes is how fast our lives can be turned upside down with little or no warning. In looking over the script, one of the parts that stood out to me was a duet detailing the morning’s idyllic drive through the countryside, and the disbelief that this is how the day had ended. So from that, I got the idea of making my preshow the car radio on their drive. First, I picked my songs by researching radio hits from 1960-68. I chose a selection of songs that in some way referenced the themes of the show and set the right mood. I then researched radio stations in 1960s rural Pennsylvania. I chose a radius around one of the towns mentioned in the script and found that there were decade-appropriate sweepers and imaging bits online from a station in a town called Jonestown that would have served that area. So I got a few sweepers, and some radio static to pepper in (reception on 1960s small-market AM radio wouldn’t have been perfect on a long drive, right?) and started assembling my radio station in Adobe Audition. It was a very detail-oriented process – it probably more than 15-20 hours to create. After it was all put together, I mixed it down and put an EQ on it to worsen the fidelity. When I was done, I had a very authentic-sounding station for my preshow!
For this iconic show, I wanted to set the mood of the city, and I knew right away how I wanted to do that – by making a cityscape that took patrons on a walk through the streets of our “New York” as they waited for showtime. I needed to make an equipment purchase to do this, which I wasn’t thrilled about, being of the poorer persuasion. But it ended up being a great purchase and I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. I bought a handheld stereo recorder, a Tascam DR-05. I got it at Guitar Center for about 85 bucks, and spent another 10 on a cheapo selection of assorted-size microphone pop filters. One of the larger ones fit right over the entire top of the recorder. It looked goofy, but it worked!
To make my cityscape, I chose 4 areas around the St Louis metro region that would give me the types of atmosphere I could layer and use to create a realistic New York. One was the University City Loop, a college-hangout/concert area that has a ton of pedestrian traffic, cabs, outdoor eateries, and street performers. The second was downtown Clayton, a ritzy suburb of St. Louis that I chose because of its cluster of tall buildings, traffic signal noises, and bus/emergency vehicle traffic. The third was downtown St. Louis. Here, I got not only the ambiance of a large downtown area with busy streets lined with tall buildings, but construction and commerce sounds, including many workers out for lunch. And finally, the Grand Center area, an arts/theatre district on the campus of St. Louis University. For about 20-30 minutes in each area, I just walked around with the recorder on. The little Tascam did a great job of capturing everything, including bits of conversation and music, without anything seeming too heavy or intrusively close. I ended up with a lot of variety in my recordings, and layering them gave me a really fantastic base for my cityscape. But it still needed help in some areas. So I took a few stock sfx, like police cars, dogs barking, car alarms, outdoor markets, etc, and peppered those in here and there. I was also able to take and copy bits and pieces of my actual recordings (like a bus going by) that I needed more of and distribute those throughout the project. For a final touch, I recorded the cast members casually talking about things that were in the show – for example, there’s a bit in the show about a neighbor’s ceaselessly barking dog jumping out a window, so I had a few of them converse about pets, and their neighbor’s dog that used to bark all the time…but they haven’t heard it in a while. Weird. 🙂 I used those as “passing conversations’. They blended nicely with the real deals.
This was by far the most time-consuming project of the three, but it’s my favorite. It ended up complementing the set and preshow lighting so well, and there were always new little things to notice in it, which was great because we had many patrons come to see Rent multiple times.
Hands on a Hardbody
So I was conflicted about this one, because the obvious choice was to do another radio station thing, and I’d just done one 2 shows earlier. But my director didn’t care, and it seemed like the thing to do – the show is about people trying to win a truck by keeping their hands on it, and the contest is covered by a radio station doing a remote broadcast.
Luckily, there was plenty of opportunity to do something different with this one. I decided that I would make the country radio station in the musical, KYKX, as it broadcast live from the dealership, leading up to the start of the contest. This show takes place in the mid-90s, so I researched country hits from that time and chose songs that in one way or another, represented characters or themes in the show. With my songs chosen it was time to record. I again called to duty my little Tascam, this time, recording the radio DJ character, Frank, interviewing the contestants. I told them to simply riff, as if they were actually being pulled aside by Frank and interviewed for a brief segment during programming. They were surprisingly nervous about doing that, but it worked out wonderfully, because it kept the segments from seeming too canned, and the actors knew their characters so well by that point, they came up with some terrific stuff. I also needed to make some sweepers for the station, so I needed some imaging voices that weren’t in the show. So I actually used our lighting designer as the voice talent for my sweepers, saying things like “KYKX, Today’s Hot Country”, and the like. And then I took about half the cast and had them record “shouts”.
Then it was time to chop and assemble. I cut the interview bits to about 15-20 seconds each. I got some various swooshes and sounds for my radio station imaging and constructed my sweepers. Then, I just put everything together. I used to work in radio, so I had a good head-start on how things should sound, but I did learn that there’s a price to pay for previewing the finished product in my computer. The fade-ins and fade-outs of stuff didn’t sound anywhere as smooth playing through the mains in the theatre – they were a bit exaggerated, and the fades of songs seemed to go on a bit too long. So I’d highly recommend avoiding nuance in this type of project and making your transitions faster and more to the point than I made mine.
I hope this has given you some ideas to use, and again, if you have any questions or ideas of your own, or you’d like to hear any of these projects, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day!