Little Shop of Horrors
Brigham Young University
Director: George Nelson
Impacted by COVID-19
At the beginning of our Little Shop of Horrors production process at Brigham Young University, our director, George Nelson, shared his vision for the show. One of the main through-lines he wanted to emphasize was how Seymour and the other residents of Skid Row wanted desperately to get out of there. As the sound designer, I was able to help support his vision for this by making Skid Row sound miserable; as the audience entered and saw the dilapidated set, it was accompanied by a rainy city soundscape that set the mood for the top of the show.
Similarly, another major arc that our director wanted to follow through the show was how Audrey II’s plan unfolded ‘like a flaxen cord until it was everlastingly too late.’ As the show progressed, the ticking that accompanied a giant ‘doomsday clock’ front and center in the set beat a little faster over time. The changes were subtle from moment to moment, but just as Seymour didn’t quite realize how overbearing Audrey II had grown until it was too late, the clock ticking accelerated a little at a time until it matched the chaos and frenzy at the end of the show.
The last major element of the director’s vision was treating the Trio as a modernized Greek Chorus that helps us move through the story. Hearing and understanding them above the live band we were using was consequently one of the major focuses of my design. To this end, I worked with the director and the hair and makeup team to use boom mics on the cast. As our stage is low and wide, gain before feedback is typically a problem, but by getting the mics so close to the actors’ mouths it solved this problem rather well. I also worked with the music director to use direct inputs for all the instruments on stage, with the drum kit being the one exception. We were fortunate enough that we had a scenic designer (and drummer) willing to let us use a drum shield on stage, which helped keep the stage volume at a reasonable level. All this combined to create excellent vocal reinforcement that helped the audience understand every word while still enjoying the music of the show.
I was lucky enough to work with a great A1, Grant Porter, who helped me immensely with the implementation of the sound system allowing me to focus on other parts of the design process. Our theatre had a rep sound system, but I requested a handful of extra speakers that I wanted to add (on-stage monitors and front fills, primarily) and he was able to figure out a way to get them on stage and wired up. He also was able to help figure out how to mic the band and organize everything associated with that. I shared with him an input list of what microphones I wanted on what instruments, and he was able to take it from there and solve the rest of the puzzle. With all of that, he also created and maintained a set of paperwork that helped us stay organized and provide an easy reference as questions arose. As we progressed into tech, Grant also took charge of running the crew and overseeing load-in. I shared with him dates and times when I needed to have certain things ready by, such as cueing time or the sitzprobe, and he made sure that it happened. As I would share notes during the tech process, he helped communicate that to the rest of the crew to make sure everything was done in a timely manner without overwhelming any one person.
One of the fun elements I was able to add to the show was a midi-controlled drill sound. It was important to the director that the Dentist have a drill he could use to threaten Seymour while in the chair. Since having an actual drill was both unsafe and impractical, I wired up the prop drill that props had made so that when the handle was depressed, it completed a circuit that a Midi Solutions F8 converted into a MIDI command that QLab was able to understand. This then triggered a designed drill sound that played out of an on-stage monitor that was adjacent to the dentist’s chair, and when the handle was released, it stopped the body of the drill sound and played the slowing down of a drill. I worked with the actor to show him how it functioned and its limitations during tech, and he was able to use it to great effect during the show.
Sound Design Samples
This was the soundscape heard spread across multiple sources thoughout the theatre as the audience walked in.
Business Is Slow
All production photos: Michael Handley
Costumes: Dennis Wright
Hair/makeup: Denyce Hawk
Scenic: Glenn Pepe
Lighting: Marianne Ohran
After the pre-show announcements finished, this was how the audience was introduced to the depressing world of Skid Row.
The dentist, in all his sadistic cruelty, liked to pull teeth in the most painful manner possible. In our introduction to him, we see (and hear) him pulling the tooth of a patient.
Block Diagram/Speaker Plot
This was the drill that I wired up for the Dentist to intimidate Seymour. When the handle was pressed, it would close a circuit, triggering a MIDI Solutions F8 to send QLab a MIDI note on. When the Dentist let go, it opened the circuit back up sending a note off command, stopping the sound and play the
The wiring used to activate the drill sound.
The drill in action. Photo by Michael Handley.
The wiring used to activate the drill sound.