Tuesday, August 25, 2009

ASK SOMEONE ELSE, GOD- Notes from the Director

Shari Johnson

In Ask Someone Else, God, Ken Nowell has graciously given a director a lot of room to experiment. In order to make the production a sensory rich event, I decided to make all the sounds of the show live. For almost every scene, one actor or more is off to the side providing a soundscape. I tried to use everyday objects to make the sounds and also tried to find objects that relate to the scene. For example, the restaurant scene's sounds are made by a water glass and silverware. The argument scene in the city is accompanied by snick and click of spray cans. Finding and playing with these objects has been fun and exciting. It's surprising to discover the different sounds one object can make. When we find the right sound to balance the scene it's immediately obvious to all. I'll look over at my two AD/SM's (assistant director/stage manager) and we'll nod our heads and say "That's so cool!"

Ken wrote a scene towards the end of the play that is inspired by Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Like Wilder's Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, two women sit and gossip while miming snapping beans. I wanted to find something that would make the sound of the snapping beans, something that was reproduce-able. One person suggested breaking pasta. That would be a perfect sound, snapping spaghetti, but it would leave us with a lot of broken pasta. Every night we'd have to have inches of spaghetti for dinner.

During some down time one afternoon at my workplace, I was looking around for inspiration. I tried clicking pens, snapping paper, shaking potato chip bags- nothing seemed to replicate the sound of a bean's stem being snapped off. I came across one of the plastic yellow woven strips used in binding large boxes. When I flicked it with my finger, it made a passable snapping sound. Happy with my discovery, I took the strips to rehearsal.

When I pulled them out for the scene and tried to demonstrate their usage, I was dismayed to discover that the noise didn't carry at all. What sounded great in the office was swallowed by the large theatre space! I handed the strips to my actors, challenging them to fix my "great idea". No problem; within half a minute, actor Adriana Disman had figured out a way to fold the strips over to double them and flick them against each other, doubling the sound. She quickly showed the other actor what she was doing and we got down to rehearsing the scene. We made a few adjustments, such as placing the sound makers where they can see the speaking actor's hands. We let everyone practice so that miming and the sound were timed perfectly together. Eventually, things started to click (or snap?). Maureen, one of my AD/SM's turned around to look at me. "That's so cool!"

-Shari Johnson
Director of Ask Someone Else, God

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