Brigham Young University
Director: Janine Sobeck
Co-designer: Taylor Glad
Composer: Emmaline Sanders
This stirring sea adventure by Mary Zimmerman follows the ancient Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts as they set sail on what was supposed to be a suicide mission to retrieve the Golden Fleece - a lost relic 'important' to Jason's uncle, the king. They encounter sea monsters, box with a giant, and best bulls that snort fire with the aide of the Greek goddesses Hera and Athena.
The sound design for this show was all about adventure - exciting, dangerous, and at times slightly anachronistic. My co-designer and I made use of a surround sound system coupled with live voice effects to help make the members of the pantheon larger than life, as well as special effects speakers to help localize the sound, all layered on top of original music composed by Emmaline Sanders to help tell this hero's journey.
Sound Design Samples
As Jason and his crew are traveling across the ocean, they happen across an island with a sole occupant - the giant Amycus. As luck would have it, Amycus really enjoys boxing with sailors to teach them a lesson. The sounds for this started with some deafining footsteps coming from offstage as an ignorant hot shot in the crew was talking a big game until Amycus appeared. Some fiesty dialogue later, the fight begins. We tried to get the sound of a modern boxing fight, and pulled a lot of inspiration from that as we tried to emulate it (the crowd noises, boxing bell, etc.). We also wanted some music a la Rocky to underscore the fight, and then slowed everything down when the crew member goes into slow-mo and manages to land the final knockout punch.
Sea Monster Storm
At another point during the trip, Hercules and his manservant Hylas happen across a lady tied up on some rocks, a sacrifice by the local village to the sea monster haunting their shores. Distracted by the thought of being the hero, Hercules doesn't notice the monster creeping up behind them, but due to his monumental strength is able to defeat the monster with a well placed rock. The monster was formed by cast members, and the directed wanted them to make the sounds of the monsters, so we provided the stormy backdrop that developed as the monster approached.
The Crashing Rocks
As the Argo nears its final destination, they face one last obstacles - mountains of rock clashing together, crushing any ships that attempt to pass. With the help of the gods, the Argonauts are able to narrowly squeeze their way through, when at long last, they see the Golden Fleece shimmering in the sun. The clashing rocks were portrayed by two actors, so we had the clashing rock sound loaded onto a hotkey so that way the operator could take the sound effect based on the timing from on stage.
All production photos: Michael Handley
Costumes: Juliette Lewis, Hanna Cutler
Hair and Makeup: Sarah Bult
Scenic: Bradlee Hager
Lighting: Marianne Ohran
The Argo's Launch
For the main musical theme we created, we wanted was something that would be stirring and adventurous, almost like we were off on another adventure with Indiana Jones, or off sailing with Captain Jack Sparrow and crew. This example is typical of how much of the process worked; my co-designer and I would mock up a theme we thought worked well (I made this particular one) then would share that with our composer, who would worked her magic and send back the final version.
This was also the theme that was used when the Argo was traveling to a new location. To the right is an example of the type of underscoring that would pick up when the Argo set sail, and Athena (who acted as a narrator) would describe where they were headed.
This particular music came at a time when Medea found herself between a rock and a hard place - on the one hand she was stricken with love for Jason, the protagonist, and wanted so desperately to see him succeed and not be killed by her father's impossible tasks. On the other, she didn't want to betray her father. Medea was contemplating suicide, and the underscore is the same music that had been played when Hades had opened itself up earlier in the show. Just as she is about to commit the deed, the heavens open and Medea reconsiders.
This final theme played during the final scene of the show. It was a compilation of almost the entire themes that had been used up to that point. It was during this scene that Athena was narrating how all the constellations came to be. As she would mention each new constellation, the character for which it was named walked on stage and held up a light as their constellation was lit up above them.
Mary Zimmerman’s modern telling of the ancient myth of Jason and the Argonauts is a thrilling adventure on the open sea. On his way to his uncle’s birthday celebration, Jason unknowingly comes across and helps the goddess Hera, who after his demonstration of kindness pledges her allegiance to him in helping him throughout his life’s journeys. After this encounter, Jason arrives at his uncles, King Pelias, who is worried about that Jason is plotting to kill him, as Pelias had taken the throne from Jason (the rightful heir). Because of his fears, Pelias commands Jason to travel across the sea to return a relic that belongs to their society – the golden fleece – which was supposed to be a suicide mission to rid him of his potential usurper. Ignorant of this ulterior motive, Jason assembles the greatest crew ever seen, and
with the help of the goddesses Hera and Athena, he and his ship the Argo are off.
On their journey, they encounter a variety of obstacles, such as sea monsters, clashing rocks, water nymphs, the god of wind who doesn't like sailors, a giant who likes to box, the list goes on. After they arrive at the island of King Aeetes, who currently guards the golden fleece as one of his most prized possessions. With the help of the gods, Jason is able to win over Aeetes daughter, Medea, who helps Jason prepare for and ultimately best Aeetes’ impossible demands to retrieve the fleece on the condition that he marry her afterwards. After Aeetes realizes that the only way Jason could have succeeded was by his daughter’s betrayal, Jason and his crew are forced to make a hasty getaway. While Jason marries Medea on their return home, he ultimately ends up leaving her for a princess to regain the throne, which doesn’t go over well. Medea then curses him, causing him to roam the land until the end of his life.
Because this play takes place in so many different places, one of the big things that music and sound did was to help us know when we were traveling, and when we were in different places. We achieved this by playing variations of the main theme associated with the ship Argo whenever the Argonauts were traveling from one locale to the other, or by having different sound effects that would play in different locations, like a campfire vs the impending storm of a sea monster. Another big element that the director wanted to emphasize was the theatrical telling of this story. She was fine with and encouraged anachronisms, so we employed that in a variety of ways. The first was by using a soundtrack
that matched the adventure of the story, much like a film score. We worked with a composer who helped us to achieve a score that bolstered the adventurous feeling of Jason, while also helping to strengthen the emotional moments. With that, we also used a modern orchestra instrumentation, as opposed to period accurate instruments to help the story be more engaging with a modern audience, as well as add to some of the anachronistic storytelling that the director wanted.
Another crucial element of the director’s concept was to focus on the difference between the gods who were controlling the lives and events of the mortals down below. We helped her achieve this by micing the gods and supernatural characters, then running their voices through effects processing. Some examples include reverb for the two main goddesses, an octave drop and a little bit of reverb to make the giant sound huge, and then a phaser that made Boreas the god of wind – who was trying to sink the Argo - sound bigger than life and angrier than possible by a natural voice.