• Cabaret

    Music by John Kander

    Lyrics by Frank Ebb
    Book by Joe Masteroff

    Directed and Choreographed by Erika Chong Shuch

    Conceptual Sound Design by Matt Stines

    Lights by Tony Shayne

    Set by Erik Flatmo

    Costumes by Connie Strayer

    Music Direction by Chris Yoon

     

    Photos by Frank Chen & Zach Dammann

    Department of Theater & Performance Studies at Stanford University

    Roble Studio Theater, Stanford, CA

     

    This design served as my capstone project for my Bachelor of Arts in Theater & Performance Studies

    ABOUT THE PLAY:

    Director and Choreographer Erika Chong Shuch brings a fresh, contemporary re-staging of the Kander & Ebb classic musical. This production shares a delightful, wild, and exuberant celebration of music and movement within a story that reflects a deep and ongoing crisis of oppression and fascism. Within Roble Studio Theater, the artistic team has built a world that reflects the individual and collective interests of the cast, and amplifies the themes of the original production in a modern context, asking the audience “What Would You Do?”

    THE DESIGN PROCESS:

    The task of the sound design for Cabaret was split between myself and Matt Stines. Matt created the playback side of the design, sitting in on rehearsals and devising it with the director. This allowed me to focus on the reinforcement side of the design, designing and tuning the system and making all non-playback choices. I was also the engineer for the show, so I mixed the show and took sound cues.

    As is clear from the production images, this was not your traditional production of Cabaret. This gave me some freedom to strategically push beyond realism. My aim for the live design was to initially create a divide between the "real world" and the world of the Kit Kat Klub. This was achieved through using much more dramatic processing in the songs placed in the Klub. However, when we get to Act 2, this begins to break down as the characters are less able to separate their lives from the larger events happening around them. The songs in the club are more sparse, and when reverb is used in this act, it is used with the intention of creating a sense of isolation rather than blending voices together --i.e. emphasizing the loneliness of one or few voices in a large space rather than using a space to bring together many voices. These effects were accomplished using MainStage, interfacing with the console via Firewire. This allowed me to create each of these effects, and have them be dynamic throughout the show, easy to edit, and have changes triggered by MIDI from the console.

    Each actor wore a Countryman B3 placed to maximize invisibility and adapt to their costume and hair. I mixed the show on an Avid SC48. While not a traditional theater console, this is one I am very comfortable with and was able to push to its maximum capabilities for this show.

    The system design for this production was a little non-traditional. The set was in an alley configuration, which created two audience banks, and the band was on a raised platform at one end of the stage. For each audience bank, two 2-speaker line arrays were hung above the band, one for the closer half of the bank and one for the farther half. This placement allowed the entire audience (and the cast on stage) to hear the band, but also sourced the amplified sound to that platform. This was especially important in allowing the keyboards to blend with the acoustic instruments. Each audience bank also had three speakers hung at the edge of the stage for vocal reinforcement. These were hung as low as possible, working with lighting, to allow for an ideal sonic image. Overall, the mix aimed to just barely reinforce vocals during scenes, but then to allow those vocals to grow as much as needed over the band during musical numbers.

    CHALLENGES

    Cabaret was the first show the TAPS Department at Stanford had a student as a lead sound designer for a musical. Because of this, there were naturally some bumps along the way. The initial intention had been to rent a system, using primarily L'Acoustics speakers (the initial system design is below). However, the set ended up being more complex and costly than originally imagined, so the system design had to be reimagined from what the department had in stock. Since there was no one in the department with a focus in sound, these conversations were had between myself, the Technical Director, and an outside engineer with whom both myself and the department had worked with extensively.

    The biggest difference of opinion between this group was about how the show was to be mixed. Until about three weeks before tech, I was planning on mixing the show on DCAs, line-by-line as it is the professional standard and something I had experience with myself. However, when I brought this up, I received pushback because this is something neither of them had used before. Though I provided them with both textual and in-person resources they were ultimately not comfortable with trying this different technique, in large part because it did not allow someone else to take over mixing the show if something should happen to me. This choice also made the show a more complex mix for me since it doubled the number of snapshots needed to run the show, and had me use all 16 input faders to mix rather than the 8 DCAs. I was not thrilled with this decision and was ultimately never completely happy with the mix of the show in this respect, though I understand why the choice was made.

    There were also some set and blocking based challenges including a hidden ball pit which actors both emerged from and put their faces in while singing, and a set of swings, also used during a number. These were ultimately mixing challenges since not much could be done to prevent the issues (available windscreens were too bulky) and were not distracting while watching the show.