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Meeting The Challenge: Delivering Quality Theatre Sound On A Very Tight Budget

Part 1 of a series on making it work despite ever-present financial challenges.

Producing musical theatre on a slim budget can be difficult, but at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), we’ve been doing just that for many years. Thus, our motto: Budget limitations are only challenges to overcome.

The musical theatre productions at CCSF are co-productions between the Music and Theatre Departments. The Music Department provides all of the musical needs and obtains the rights to produce the shows, and the Theatre Department provides the theatre and everything required to mount the shows on the stage at the Diego Rivera Theatre.

Casts are comprised of CCSF students who audition for their parts and the crew are students from the Theatre Department stage crew. I’m the sound designer for the Theatre Department, charged with all sound requirements for events in our venue.

Sound for the theatre is very misunderstood; it’s the stepchild of the pro audio industry. Being that we’re continuously exposed to sound and that as long as the information that the sound is required to relay to the listener is present, it’s thought of as having a secondary supportive role in the storytelling.

Sound design’s cousin, music, plays a similar role in the storytelling; just as music supports the storytelling, in its creative way so does sound design. Although there’s some truth to the fact that sound is a supportive attribute of the storytelling, it’s not secondary because when it’s done poorly it can have detrimental effects on the storytelling.

Credit: Michael Lawrence

Active — Not Reactive

Storytelling is the first and foremost consideration; the actors put the story on its feet and give it a soul, while the technical aspects create the world within which the story is relayed to the listener. Although the story is not directly affected by the budget of the production, the implementation of the technical aspects is guided by it.

When the budget of a production allows for a sound design “team,” the creative and budgetary challenges of a production can be more easily overcome; but when a slim budget requires the sound designer to work solo, the financial limitations can test the talents, creativity, resourcefulness, skills and experience of the designer.

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