Resizing Sound

 With its ghosts and magical realist tone, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo makes use of sound in a non-representative way.
With its ghosts and magical realist tone, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo makes use of sound in a non-representative way.
Cricket Myers, sound designer on Broadway’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, talks about making moving sound, no matter the size of the space.

Cricket Myers, an award-winning sound designer in L.A., has worked on more than 200 productions in the last decade. A graduate of CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), where she studied with John Gottlieb, Myers has worked in prestigious venues like the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre, but she has also spent plenty of time tackling productions in venues with 99 seats or less, which is where she feels she has done some of her best work. She recently designed for a show that originated in L.A. (Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) that graduated from a 300-seat space to a 700-seat venue to the 1,300-seat Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, where it is currently playing.

Cricket sat down with Stage Directions a couple hours before curtain on Bengal Tiger’s Broadway opening to talk about her career, her craft and her passion for small, independent productions. You can read excerpts from the interview below, or head over here to watch the video of the interview.

 

Stage Directions: Prior to CalArts, you studied theatre as an undergrad in Michigan, although you originally went in as a physics major. That’s an interesting switch.

Cricket Myers
Cricket Myers
Cricket Myers: My work-study was in theatre because I studied theatre in high school, but I found that I was sitting in my physics class waiting to get out so I could go work in the theatre. I liked physics but I loved theatre, so I made the decision my second year that I needed to do what I love.

Does anything you studied in physics apply to what you do in theatre and specifically with sound design?

Certainly with sound design, of all the categories, we use an enormous amount of physics in the acoustics of the room and the way that sound effects the body and the person and your mood. That’s all science-based in a way. It’s how the brain works and how the brain processes things. And certainly where you hang the speakers and the microphones is all acoustics and physics.

Myers has now had one show open on Broadway, but loves the energy present in working in smaller theatre spaces in L.A. Here’s a moment from Cousin Bette by the Antaeus Theatre company in L.A.
Myers has now had one show open on Broadway, but loves the energy present in working in smaller theatre spaces in L.A. Here’s a moment from Cousin Bette by the Antaeus Theatre company in L.A.
Does that make a difference in smaller houses?

In the smaller theatres I almost never use microphones to reinforce, or if I do—even with musicals—frequently it’s foot mics, which is both a combination of budget and the fact that it’s just not needed. When the piano is five feet away from you, you don’t need to make it any louder. It’s there, which is lovely. When I can use microphones, it gives me a little more variety, like I can get really loud if I want to. But with a lot of the shows I’ve done the singers are so phenomenal that they can just fill that room and bounce off the back wall without a problem. They don’t need a microphone to get them back there.

What has been the toughest production you have ever worked on, in terms of either having a limited budget or facing a difficult challenge?

The project that comes to mind is a musical called Norman’s Ark, which we did at the Ford Amphitheatre, an outdoor space. We had six principals and on any given night 20 or 40 choir members from local churches, and the director’s first comment to me was, “We’re going to have anywhere from 20 to 40 people on stage. I want it to sound like 10,000.” We didn’t have the budget to put all 40 members in mics and they moved all over this massive stage and through this amphitheatre, so I ended up putting up a series of speakers moving back through the audience and hiding 15 foot mics and area mics all across the stage, so no matter where this choir was moving or where they were standing I could pick them up. Then it was a matter of playing with the sound of the actual mics and different ‘verbs as the reverb moved through the space so that the choir could fill the space and make them sound like this huge voice no matter where they were. Technically it was definitely one of the biggest challenges I had because they didn’t just stand still and sing. They also worked as our projection screen and our set, so they would move to stand to represent walls or move to stand to be projected on in certain areas. They were constantly moving and singing throughout the whole thing.

You did the sound design for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, starring Robin Williams, which opens tonight on Broadway. Was it originally a large production out in Los Angeles?

It started at the Kirk Douglas, which is around 250 seats, then it moved to the Taper, which is 700. Now being here, it’s fantastic to see it get a little bigger every time we do it. For me, every time I’ve done it the room has been a completely different shape, so I use a lot of surround sound. I use a lot of sound coming from the stage, or coming from behind you, or coming from the sides, so in the first space, which is really narrow and really short, I couldn’t get a lot of individual points around the room because it was so compact. Then we opened up to the Taper, which is three quarters thrust and their house system has 15 speakers. I had 15 different points if I wanted them in the house, so it was this huge growth. Then to move into this space, where it was like, “Anything you need, we’ll put a speaker there,” has been fantastic. There are a lot of speakers in that space. I’m actually co-designing with Acme Sound, who did all the system design for me and I brought in all the cues from the space, so they took care of all the speakers for me.
Myers likes to use mic elements that aren’t easily visible on musicals, like in her design for the Colony Theatre’s 2010 production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.

Myers likes to use mic elements that aren’t easily visible on musicals, like in her design for the Colony Theatre’s 2010 production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.
As far as gear, are there any microphones you prefer to use in dramas and/or musicals?

I’m a Sennheiser girl. It’s what I learned first and what I’m most comfortable with and more familiar with, so I’ll always use Sennheiser. As far as the elements, like the DPAs and the Countrymans, I like how tiny the Countrymans are because especially in the smaller theatres I don’t want the microphone visible. I don’t want to see it and it’s easier to hide. I like the sound of the DPAs though. If I don’t mind seeing it, I’ll choose the DPA.

Finally, is there any specific type of show or a certain production that you would like to work on that you have yet to?

I don’t know if there’s a specific show I’d want to work on that I haven’t, but I like productions like Bengal Tiger where the sound isn’t just what the script calls for. The sound changes the room, changes the mood of the room and changes the feeling of what’s going on. For me, the sound emanates from the characters, from their emotions, from their moods, from the things that they’re going through. Bengal director Moises Kaufman loves to use—it’s not even underscoring—a tonal thing that my composer put together that really enhances the feeling. It’s not just the script calling for a bomb, so we have a bomb. We can really play with and enhance the script and the characters can feed off that sound that is an active part of their world.