Another set of ears — Amy Altadonna mentors Brendan Lynch in sound design
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Brendan Lynch is an actor and a musician. When he came to UMass and started taking sound design courses, he realized that it was a fantastic way to meld his twin interests in theater and music. He found a mentor in sound design lecturer Amy Altadonna, who, like many of our faculty members past and present, has frequently augmented her teaching here at UMass with professional design work. This January, she combined her two professional interests and brought Lynch with her to the Bristol Riverside Theater in Pittsburgh so that he could listen and learn in a professional setting as Altadonna designed sound for the company’s production of Driving Miss Daisy.
|An image from Bristol Riverside Theater's production of Driving Miss Daisy. (photo courtesy of Amy Altadonna)|
“I think it was more impactful than I predicted,” said Altadonna. “It was fun to get to watch him experience (professional theater).” Lynch agreed with her statement, saying that beyond the ability to learn specific sound design skills, he appreciated being in the room to see a professional production’s infrastructure and to have a chance to talk to the other designers about their approach to the play.
Altadonna generally leans toward newer works, but she has worked with this theater company before. Bristol RIverside Theater, she said, has a history of programming well-known works whose message speaks, either explicitly or subtly, to the current times. Sure enough, any thoughts she might’ve had about the value of “dusting off this old thing” were quickly put to rest as she dove into the Driving Miss Daisy script. “As soon as I read it the first time, there was no mistaking why it won all those awards,” she said. “There’s a rhythm and a pacing to this, a real musicality. And it’s socially relevant again — or still!”
The play spans over decades, and the challenge for the designers was how “to demonstrate how the times are changing and keep the momentum going,” Altadonna said.
Lynch got involved in the project as an outgrowth of his work in Altadonna’s classes. He had taken her sound recording class and served as an informal TA for her in the fall semester, and he’ll be an assistant sound designer for The Happiest Song Plays Last later in the spring.
“When (students) are excelling, I try to expand their opportunities,” Altadonna said, and so she invited him to shadow her as she went through the process of designing Driving Miss Daisy.
They did some of the work beforehand. As they wrestled with how much original music versus period music to use, Altadonna had Lynch draw on his music background to compose music for Miss Daisy; although it didn’t end up being used, he still found it a valuable experience to try his hand at “creating something that tells a story.”
|Tech for Driving Miss Daisy (Photo courtesy of Amy Altadonna)|
Then over January break, they headed down to Pittsburgh for a week's work in the theater.
“I was used as another pair of ears,” Lynch said. “I did a lot of listening in the space.” Altadonna had him analyzing how certain sounds worked in the theater, but also had him sit in on discussions with fellow designers to understand how that process works in the professional theater world. Lynch couldn't stay for the entire tech process because he is the lead in Harley Erdman and Gina Kaufmann's Donny Johns, which had a reading in late January. Even still, the time he spent was instructive.
"I hope," she said, "that it affirmed what's going on here and what what happens when you step it up a notch."
For his part, Lynch said he found value in watching "the way Amy operates as a designer in collaboration with other designers. She's never afraid to present an idea if she thinks it's going to make the whole projevy better," he said. "You can tell everyone admires and respects her."