By Sarah Ruhl
2019 Foeller Fellowship Play, Williamstown Theatre Festival
Directed by Katie Lindsay
Lights by Megan Siebel
Set by Susannah Hyde
Costumes by Charles Neumann
Photos by Joseph O’Malley
Directing Studio at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
ABOUT THE PLAY:
Orlando follows the adventures of titular character as they spans cities, centuries, and eventually gender presentation. After being taken under the wing of Queen Elizabeth the First and having their heart broken by a mysterious Russian princess, Orlando flees England in order to drown his sorrows. Instead, they take a curiously long sleep and wake to an even more curious discovery—they now have a female body. Taking their new identity in stride, Orlando must learn to navigate the world as they never did before, balancing their nature with the expectations of society around them.
THE DESIGN PROCESS:
Orlando spans centuries, leaping forward in the decades sometimes without a line of dialogue to indicate any change. Because of this, sound played a big role in establishing the time period. I found opportunities in dance moments, highly stylized movement and transitions to weave in music and to ensure that it was accurate to the period. Though the average audience member might not intellectually know when certain music was created, they will have a good intuition for different styles, and showing those contrasts helped guide them through the centuries. There was one particular extended dance moment that was especially fun. The dance was choreographed to "Crazy in Love" by Beyonce, so I needed to find a period song that would match. I ended up adding modern drums and bass to that track to pull it all together.
Orlando also contained elements that were dramatically heightened, most often showing the passage of time. At the beginning of the play, these other-worldly elements were rooted in nature, but as the play progresses and society evolves, these elements are rooted in technology, specifically clockwork.
The system design for this show was fairly straightforward, using a LCR main system supplemented by fills to catch all of the seating. I used surrounds to fill out the space, create ambiences, and, occasionally, to localize sounds. I used overhead and upstage speakers to pull the image towards the stage, which was especially important as we were in a 3/4 thrust. This design was built on using many of the elements of the repertory system in the space, though nearly all the speakers were moved, and many were added.
I also hung a microphone from the grid to be used to add reverb in select moments. This was surprisingly effective, especially given that the boom microphone I would have preferred was not available for the show.
The biggest challenge for me in designing Orlando was finding time to create the show. While I was designing the show, I was the Sound Design Fellow in the Williamstown Sound Department. This meant that while rehearsals were happening, I was working every day on the other shows at the festival. This meant that I had few opportunities to be in rehearsal. Because of this, I was not able to build up as strong as a relationship as I would have liked with the director until tech, which led to occasionally muddled communication. As shown in the paperwork below, our conception of the show's design shifted dramatically during the rehearsal process, initially suggesting the use of live music and foley, but with limited motivation beyond the idea. As such, it was cut down and streamlined through rehearsal, and even moreso through tech, though I would have loved a chance to go in and remove the final extraneous cues.