By Kirsten Greenidge
A Hollins Theatre Institute Spotlight Reading Series Zoom Production
Directed by Michelle LoRicco
Baltimore by Kirsten Greenidge was a Zoom play put on as part of the Hollins Theatre Institute's Spotlight Reading Series. This show opened 2 weeks after the first read-through, but I wasn’t brought onto the team as the Sound Designer/Engineer and Projections Designer/Engineer until 5 days before tech. So I learned a lot about trying to create quality work efficiently. I essentially pulled an all-nighter every night of that week to get all of the work done. Michelle LoRicco created a Tech Priority List to visualize what was most important to get done by tech since she didn’t want to stress me out. I somehow managed to complete everything on the list except finding virtual backgrounds for the actors, which Michelle gladly did. Since the show focused around a racist cartoon drawn by a young white woman, I created content that was designed to make the audience feel uncomfortable.
Zoom, OBS Virtual Camera, & Soundflower
Baltimore was the first Zoom production I programmed during the pandemic. Through this 5 day process, I had to learn how to live-stream content from QLab over Zoom. After many sleepless nights of creating the sound and video content, I used QLab’s Tutorial on How to Live-Stream With QLab to set up QLab through OBS Virtual Camera and Soundflower. During our tech rehearsal, we must have had at least 3 computers logged into the same Zoom account. At that stage in my Zoom learning process, I didn’t understand how to stream content from QLab and talk to the crew at the same time. The steep learning curve was well worth it though, since immediately after this production I took on the challenge of creating a sound design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time over Zoom. During Curious Incident, I realized that it’s better to simply Share Computer Sound in the Zoom Share Screen settings when doing an elaborate sound design as the quality and lag is significantly smaller. For Baltimore, we instead streamed both sound and video through OBS Virtual Camera and Soundflower which worked well for this production.
Projection Clip Compilation
At this point in my college career, I’m very comfortable with creating elaborate soundscapes in a short period of time or programming video files into QLab quickly during a tech rehearsal. However, I recognize when it comes to visual arts, I have a lot of room for improvement. The Projections Design for Baltimore called for a visual representation of a college student’s white board throughout the course of the show. The initial drawings are meant to establish the video surface as a narrative tool. A few clips into the play, the projections begin to slowly draw the racist cartoon that causes an uproar amongst the students of this university. I created the white board effect through screen-recording myself using Adobe Sketch on my Technical Director’s iPad. Ultimately, the Baltimore Projections Design challenged me to accept my weaknesses and work through my insecurities. From a sound design perspective, I create a soundscape featuring 9 different dry erase marker sound effects layered together with clocks ticking and a sample of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. I also used several QLab distortion and echo effects to create an uncomfortable viewing experience for the audience.
Racist Cartoon Reveal
*Art Work by Austen Easom
Although I worked through my insecurities for the majority of the projection sketches, I didn’t want to rely on my limited visual art skills for the most important scene of the production. Instead I hired Austen Easom, an artist I commissioned to create content for 2AMK9 the year before, to create the racist cartoon mentioned in the play. I provided Austen with a rough sketch and reference images so they could create something that would fit Michelle’s vision. We went through several edits of the drawing. I used the same soundscape from each previous projection clip with the addition of Jungle Boogie by Kool & The Gang.
After the reveal of the racist cartoon, each of the characters have a monologue about their experiences with race which they use to defend their stance on the racist cartoon. The script has the actors each say the first lines of their monologue in a cyclical pattern that builds in intensity before the first monologue begins. Michelle and I decided to, instead, create a soundscape for this section as we were limited in physicality in the Zoom platform. I asked each actor to send me the opening line of their monologue in as close to performance level as possible. I find as a Sound Designer the hardest part of recording actors is the tendency actors have to not say their lines in the same tone and intensity that they do in performances. That was the case for this recording session. I chose to use Adobe Audition to layer the lines and eventually have them layered so heavily that the audience could only pick out bits and pieces.
As a Sound Designer, making a Pre-Show is always one of my favorite parts of the process. The Pre-Show is the first thing any audience member will hear during a production, so whatever you chose has to reflect the themes and mood of the show in addition to setting the scene for the top of the show. Although we only had a 15 minute Pre-Show, I sought to find a couple of songs that represented the racial tension and politics of 2010s America. I chose artists like Childish Gambino and Beyoncé that audience members would recognize as well as artists like Janelle Monáe and Tyler the Creator that might not be as popular in the public eye. Each song was meant to tell a different experience of being black in America.
*The red Xs are a result of the video surfaces not being available when the screenshots were taken