Uptown. Chicago. And Superior Donuts.

March 14, 2011

By Rob Kaplowitz, sound designer for Superior Donuts

When figuring out the soundscape that would fuel my part of this production it became apparent to me that the world we would hear is a world heard through Arthur’s focus.  Just as Kevin’s set gives us resonant pieces of the shop and the neighborhood above and beyond, I realized that we needed to hear the world of the play through the pieces – the pieces that Arthur knows so well that they almost disappear from his consciousness.  So everything we hear such as all of the scoring I created inside the play comes out of the real.  The hissing steam pipe or the hum of a fridge rise up out of their sources and transform into the music beneath his soliloquies. 

In the same way, the El train was very important.  The sound was so important that I wasn’t willing to fake it. 

Uptown is served by the Red Line and every train line in Chicago sounds distinctive.  When the Red Line passes every Chicago resident knows it.  It’s not just some elevated train I could pull out of a stock library. It sounds different from A, L or M running out through Brooklyn and Queens, the Market-Frankfort running down the road from me here in West Philly or even the Blue Line that runs out to Jefferson Park, where Arthur lives.  It sings its own song.

Luckily for me (and for the Arden’s budget), our set designer lives in Chicago.  So, instead of me having to travel out there (or ask a Chicago colleague to go out and record), I was able to give a portable recorder to Kevin at a design meeting and he did a bunch of walk-around recordings for me.  This gave me a sense of the rhythms and paces of the street. It also gave me a great recording of the Red Line passing overhead.

First time I played it in the theatre, our Chicago natives (Craig, Ed, Kevin) just looked up and said “Red Line!”

Sometimes the only way to make it sound like something is to find the something, record the something and then play back the something.  I guess it’s a pretty simple lesson…

2 Responses

  1. i did not know how authentic the sound was but it all worked to make the place feel right and true. we saw the play tonight and loved it. i am a real tracy letts fan, having seen all his plays. i really liked arthur and thought the donut shop and its surroundings fit his character very well, including the el and its distinctive sound. once again the arden does a magnificent job!! bravo.

  2. Mark Kennedy says:

    Rob I didn’t know you did that either! What a truly awesome thing to do.

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