As you all head into tonight’s music rehearsal, what better time to share this recent interview I caught in a recent issue of Stage Directions (a technical theater magazine) with a B’Way sound designer turned producer Tony Meola. It seemed particularly relevant to what you’ve been hearing the artistic team saying about projection vs. amplification and the embrace of a grittier sound from a previous era of performance. Especially these sections:
Q: There’s a lot more technology on Broadway these days, even since the time we first spoke back in 2004. What do you think about the changes that are going on sonically? Are you worried about shows getting too loud, and do you worry that sound is becoming too noticeable in some cases?
A: I’ve always been a critic of shows that make it sound like a CD or a recording because that’s not what excites me in the theatre. When you walk down the streets of New York and there’s a flutist playing on the corner with a case open, you have a visceral reaction that makes you turn to hear that live moment. When you have a record store that has a speaker hung outside the door, you don’t have the same reaction as you do in the theatre. I think when we forget that, when we completely cover up an orchestra pit or take a violin and put it in another room, I think we’re doing a disservice because we need to hear that stuff and to hear it as it’s heard. [...] I think we need to stay near that natural stuff as much as we can.
I haven’t done a play in 100 years that I haven’t been asked to amplify. [...] We had regular microphones with us for huge theatres, and they ended up using them at the Shubert, which was the second stop in Chicago, simply because [the actor in a two-character play] didn’t project. It’s a very simple thing: If an actor projects you don’t need amplification, in many old theatres especially.
I’m not sure many young actors are learning that skill [projection]. I’m sure they’re not. Many years ago I did Picnic at the Roundabout Theatre, and the older actors in the show were absolutely brilliant. Anne Pitoniak and Debra Monk did an intimate scene that was absolutely brilliant, and you could hear every word everywhere in the theatre. Then every time we would ask Ashley Judd and Tate Donovan to speak up, they would feel like they were shouting. You always wanted to say, “Act like you’re not shouting.” That’s what is not being taught anymore.