As part of the sound design for The Mystery of Irma Vep, the director made reference to British “door humor”. And of course when you think about both English sitcoms and theatre there is a long history of doors and their ability to supply opportunities for both comedic and dramatic entrances and exits. Doors became an important aspect of the sound design for this show.
For this particular set, there were three doors (left, right and center). At center stage are a pair of french doors that provided access to the “outdoor” environment. During most of the show there is a windy/stormy ambience that varies from just wind to a nice addition of rain, hail and thunder. Given the importance of these doors, I wanted to make sure their sound image was authentic – I dedicated a speaker, placed just above and behind the door frame, to the task of adding exterior sound when open. After watching several rehearsals, I started adding sound cues to the Qlab cue list to handle the opening and closing of these doors. But after a few more rehearsals I realized that door activities were in constant flux. Add to this the unusual variable of having two completely separate casts, each with their own use of the doors, and I eventually decided that trying to program the cues was not a wise approach.
Instead, I went in the other direction. An audio fader was dedicated to provide the appropriate level of “outside weather” to the overall mix based on the position of these doors. This approach required constant attention during the show but ultimately provided a very satisfying addition to the overall feeling of the production.
The decision to go “manual” was based on significant observation time at rehearsals. I started bringing sound into the rehearsals about a month before the run of the show. I am fairly convinced that had we taken a more traditional tech week approach to the sound design, I would have either struggled with programmed sound cues for the entire 11-show run or would have done a panic redesign of the sound during the run.
Sometimes you just get lucky. But I vote for starting sooner in the rehearsal timeline.