5 QUESTIONS FOR: ERIC STAHLHAMMER, SOUND DESIGNER
1.How many productions of Love, Janis have you designed, and how has the sound evolved along the way?
My history with Love, Janis began in 2005 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Since then, I have designed the show for nine separate productions. The show has always had the same basic premise in terms of the design. We always ride a fine line in how we answer the question: Is the show a rock concert with a theatrical element, or is it a theatre show with a rock and roll element? As we progress, I try to focus resources in both directions equally to push the limits for both the straight theatrical and rock and roll aspects of the show.
2.Please discuss the tools you use for sound design.
The show has always been an exercise in organization and communication. The national tour we just put out was a particularly challenging one, as we re-molded a sit-down at the Alley Theatre in Houston into the tour. There was a lot of coordination between the Alley, the shop (Meeting Services Inc.) in San Diego, a new assistant, and JBL/Harmon International, as the show is serving as a product launch for their new 4889ADP line array. The tools the team uses for spin up usually are Excel, Auto-CAD, Stardraw, ShowBuilder, Visio, email, and the telephone!
For making the show elements, I use Pro Tools to build effects and a redundant SFX rig for effects. The shows so far have been on Yamaha digital consoles, and the offline editor makes programming pretty efficient. I have really grown to embrace Meyer’s Galileo processor for its quality and tablet interface.
When it comes to the show site, my tablet is my tool of choice. I use it for taking and disseminating notes and for remote controlling a complex network of devices. On this tour, I will have control over the console, a Meyer Galileo, a DBX ZonePRO, both SFX computers, all of the Shure UHF-R wireless receivers, and each individual box of the main arrays comprising 12 4889ADP and six 4880ADPs. A practically infinitely deep level of control we designers love. If all else fails, the backup, of course, is a legal pad, radios, and hand signals.
3.What is the most challenging thing about the sound for Love, Janis?
Doing bio-musicals is always an interesting exploration into the debate of historical accuracy versus practicality. With Janis, the creative team reached the consensus that we were not out to be Janis but to embody Janis. Homage is paid to what was, but we don’t strive to have look-alike singers and Altec Pas. The challenge is riding that line, trying to match elements of what was, and merge them to meet modern standards and audience expectations. Also challenging is molding the particular sounds of individual players in the band into a sound that resembles what people expect to hear after driving to the theatre with one of her albums playing in the car.
The show’s duality introduces a tremendous dynamic range and, with it, the challenge of maintaining control throughout that range to keep the actors’ voices clear in the open over the roar of the band or the 1,500 people enthusiastically singing and clapping along to an a cappella version of ”Mercedes Benz” with the actor wearing an omni-directional lav.
4.What is the most challenging project you have ever designed and why?
Every show has its challenges for different reasons. The most artistically challenging show I think I have done was Pure Confidence by Carlyle Brown. The way the show’s scripting switches from episodic to cinematic to more novel-like creates an interesting artistic challenge that appeared simple in the end, but getting there was a rigorous test of artistic ability.
5.What advice would you give beginning sound designers?
Never stop learning, maintain your relationships, and Bob McCarthy’s book is great.