Robert Dagit, sound designer and engineer for PlayMakers, spoke with Daily Tar Heel staff writer Paige Connelly about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into PlayMakers productions, specifically his role in creating the sound for “Trouble in Mind.”
THE DAILY TAR HEEL: As the sound designer, what is your role in the show?
ROBERT DAGIT: The simple way to put it is that any audio equipment that is in the show or sound effects, like music, I’m in charge of.
The way the show was designed, this one, it’s about the actors and about the action and trying to help ease getting into the show with top-of-show music.
It kind of depends show to show what I do and what influence I can bring because it’s about the story and the script as opposed to sound cues.
DTH: Did you have a lot of creative control? Or were you told what to do?
RD: With this show, one of the big sound elements is the reel-to-reel player, so I had to look and see what kind of sound effects were available for the 1955 time period.
Unlike now where I can go online and have my nice libraries where I can find 17 different sound effects for applause, in 1955, they were still working off of 78s, 54s, big records that people were playing with. I would look into what they would actually have access to, what would they use and how can we form to that.
DTH: What does the reel-to-reel player have to do with the vintage effect?
RD: The reel-to-reel player, it’s an old looking machine, and the reels are working. We leave as much control as we can out of the actors hands, though, and the technical team controls it. It’s a safety precaution because we want to make sure we can activate the queue the same way every night.
But it was cool to make it look like that reel-to-reel player was actually working.
So when we start putting the show together in the space, it makes it that much easier for us to get the process done with (the actors) having already started working with it.
So having the reel-to-reel player and the stage manager playing the clapping queues during the rehearsal is something that would have actually happened back then.
DTH: Would you say that the time period and complexity of the plot makes this play different than other plays you’ve work on?
RD: Making (the play) look vintage is something that I like to do with hiding speakers in places. It’s kind of cool to give the illusion to the audience that this is really happening for the actors — this is their world.
So it’s quite common for me to have an old radio that we don’t have the components for in order to hide a modern speaker in that shell of a radio. So that the radio is actually making sound, but you can still control it at the booth.
DTH: Is it difficult to come up with these sound tricks?
RD: It all depends on what we have to transform and what we have available at the time. Some devices are really simple (to put a speaker into).
But with the smaller radios that we’ve used, there wasn’t enough room to put a speaker into it, and we had to take it apart while making sure the parts lined up correctly. Any shows with cellphones are a little bit tricky to do, too. I end up hiding speakers in the furniture around where the person is speaking. You have to be a little bit sneaky about it.
DTH: What does the play mean to you?
RD: The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this play is how strange it is that art can imitate life, which is imitating art.
This play expresses that because it’s a play imitating life at that time, doing a play. It’s not a happy-ever-after play, and the producers wanted to re-write the ending so it was lovey-dovey, everybody loves each other, we’re all friends. But that’s not what this play is about. It exposes the truth of, ‘This is the way things were.’