The crash of breaking glass.
The wail of a siren.
The crack of gunfire.
Sounds emerge from the darkness of the theater and meld, seemingly effortlessly, with the action on the stage. Closer inspection, however, reveals the process of producing sound during a performance, in fact, takes a great deal of planning and attention.
The Pocahontas County Drama Workshop is fortunate that Green Bank residents Frank and Janet Ghigo so generously share their expertise with sound, and this year’s production of The People at the Edge of Town is no exception.
While both Ghigos were involved with theatre in college, those skills lay dormant until they moved to Pocahontas County in 1988. Since then they have helped with Opera House productions because, as Frank puts it, “Someone had to do it!”
Work on sound begins as soon as a play is selected. The playwright will include notations in the script about what audio effects he or she wants, such as “Static emanates out of the speakers in the room” or “A heated public meeting can be heard coming from the library next door.”
The director may modify or add to these instructions. It is the responsibility of the sound crew to bring about these auditory enhancements in a way that complements, without distracting from, the movement and dialogue on the stage. This requires the crew to attend many of the play rehearsals so they can practice delivering the sounds at exactly the right moments.
The process starts with assembling the required sounds.
Director Eric Fritzius, who also helmed last year’s Opera House PlayFest, says, “You might not think a play set in a city council chamber would be dramatic enough to require a dozen sound effects, including windows being smashed by bricks, or even a gunshot, but this one is.”
Frank explained that in this digital age most of the sounds can be found online. These are downloaded onto a computer which is then connected into the Opera House sound system.
“The addition of the wall-mounted speakers in the Opera House has really improved the quality of the sound,” Janet said.
Frank records some of the sounds himself.
For the 2016 Drama Workshop production of the short comedy “…to a Flame,” Janet recalls Frank recording the dragging of a tarp over gravel to create the sound of the body of the play’s subject, the legendary Mothman, being pulled along the ground. Frank keeps recordings of sounds from “the last dozen or so” productions in order to have them readily available if needed.
In addition, sounds may be produced live behind the scenes backstage. Actors and crew may stomp their feet to simulate steps, or the stage manager may drop an armful of wood to recreate a falling bookshelf. And, “The Opera House has a great doorbell,” Janet added.
“This year’s play is a little tricky, because in some places there are multiple sounds simultaneously,” Frank said. “We may have to use more gadgets!”
“In this play, the visible onstage speakers are part of the story, and can play only static during the course of the play. So we will technically have two sets of speakers—the pair onstage that play only static, and unseen speakers off stage that will be dedicated to the many other sound effects during the course of the play.”
Fritzius explains that, as with last year’s Opera House PlayFest, many of the sound effects will have to be recorded from scratch.
Assisting Frank and Janet in this will be actor Dwayne Kennison, a radio professional with years of experience at sound editing—who also happens to portray one of the play’s more villainous characters. Fritzius, a former broadcaster and a voiceover artist, may help create one or two as well before it’s all over. And none of this would be happening without the help of Galen Watts, a sound engineer at the Green Bank Observatory, who volunteers untold hours at the Opera House, including laying out the sound cables for this production.
The People at the Edge of Town will be performed Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, beginning at 8 p.m. at the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton.
Tickets are $10 and available at the door.
The public is invited to attend a free dress rehearsal Thursday, May 18, at 7 p.m.
For more information call 304-799-6645 or visit pocahontasoperahouse.org/