31 May 2011

Go and see it: The Lead Wait

A sound editor on many major films, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Chris Ward returns to take the reigns on the sound design for The Lead Wait, after revolutionizing surround sound for the original production at BATS 14 years ago.

DOTW: What is your role in The Lead Wait?

CW: I created the Sound Design for The Lead Wait and was very lucky to be assisted by Gillian Craig, who took care of the installation for me. This was the first time our paths have crossed and I’m looking forward to collaborating in the future.

DOTW: What can you tell us about the sound design for this show?

CW: The house is a character in this play. I went to a friend’s place in Central Hawkes Bay, set up my equipment and left it recording in their empty house for 24 hours. Then I chose the bits that best suited the moods I wanted to create and edited it all together. It was magic to listen back to all the creaks and groans of the house settling at the end of a day baking in the sun. I loved the wind in the chimney flue and the angry fridge motor. Even the birds on the tin roof at the beginning are aggressively fighting for their places.

DOTW: You were involved in the original production at BATS as part of the 1997 STAB festival, for which the sound design was recognized as innovative. How have things changed since then? What is different about the sound design for the current production?

CW: I restored the original design, from old computer backups, as a point of reference before starting the new one. Lots of “library” style sound FX with some original recordings. Looking back at what I achieved then I was pretty happy but also it made me realise how much I’ve learned in the interim. It was the first time I’d ever done a surround sound theatre project, and operated a show on a computer.

The new design is in surround and also computerised but the content is vastly different. This place is a real snapshot of a real place where the closest neighbour is kilometers away and, as Juliet says in the play, no one ever goes there.

DOTW: What challenges were involved in the Circa production in terms of sound design?

CW: The biggest challenge for me was choosing what to leave out. Listening through the recordings there was so much great content to play with. The choice of working in traverse also meant we had to double up the equipment requirements to serve both sides of the auditorium. This also meant we had to play the sounds a lot lower than I intended as the actors dialogue was easily lost if they had their backs to the audience.

DOTW: What is it like for you to return to this show after 14 years? Has your approach changed?

CW: Looking back I had to laugh at some of my efforts from the original design. My approach now is that if I need a sound I go to where that sound is and record it. Where possible I want to present something that people haven’t heard before. These days I also prefer to record in surround formats rather than make up surround content from lots of different stereo or mono elements.

I had a real sense of déjà vu returning to this play. There was a lot more clarity for me in terms of interpreting the writing and how I was going to support that. 

DOTW: Finally, what should audiences know about The Lead Wait?

CW: The Lead Wait is an experience. I wouldn’t call it entertainment. It will stick in your memory and linger there longer than you would like it to. The actors do an amazing job of unfolding this story to the audience every night. This is one of those dark tales that seems to resonate all too easily with us as New Zealanders and wouldn’t be out of place on the big screen. Go and see it. 

The Lead Wait is on in Circa One until 11 June. Tickets are available at the Circa Box Office, 801-7992, or online at www.circa.co.nz. $25 ticket specials on 1 June, 2 June and 5 June - just quote 'Web Promo' when making a telephone or internet booking.

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