Sound surrounds Berkshire Theater Festival stage in Stockbridge
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Every great theatre production consists of genuine acting, thought-provoking direction, fabulous makeup and costumes, and marvelous sets. But what about the sound? Sound designers are perhaps the most underappreciated of all theatre professionals. The audience may not be able to see their work, but they’d be pressed to find an actor or director who does not understand the importance of sound and audio in any theatrical production. The newest area of recognition at the Tony Awards, sound design is an art and a science that takes years of experience -- trial and error -- to master.
Scott Killian is one of these masters.
At a young age, Scott Killian knew music was his passion. His taste was far from picky; he played rock and jazz, soul and pop, show tunes and classical. Though he initially studied English in college, he pursued a career as a musician. He started professionally in Minneapolis and started to build up a name for himself.
Eventually, Killian needed a bigger stage to conquer; he moved to New York City. He started in the Big Apple as an accompanist for dance studios around the city. Naturally, this led to musical theater.
From accompanist, Killian next took the large step of composition. He co-wrote "Lenny and the Heartbreakers," which did well in New York theater. The industry eventually led him to the Huntington Theatre, where Killian established his connections with Berkshire Theatre Group. Killian has worked with the company ever since. With the Huntington Theatre, Killian began to learn more about sound design.
"Sound designers are expected to wear many hats," Killian explained.
His hat collection includes microphone technician, hardware installer, sound board programmer, designer of sound effects -- and, in Killian’s case, composer as well.
Though he has since gone back to school to learn more about audio and sound design, Killian has learned most of his craft by trial and error. In fact, he was working professionally as a sound designer before he had received any formal education in the art. He now teaches music and audio technology to high school students in New Jersey during the school year.
Though he is now a teacher, Killian makes it a point to never stop learning.
"You just listen, and you learn so much," he said, though work often gets the listening.
Killian understands the utter importance of communication in any production. After all, the ultimate goal in theater is to effectively communicate a story to an audience. It is the job of the actors, directors, costume designers, scenic designers, and, as Killian knows well, the sound designers to help communicate the story as effectively as possible.
"I love when music can evoke a unique place or time or environment," Killian said.
Killian understands how important the sound is for a play, but, more importantly, he understands that the part he plays is all about teamwork. Communicating effectively with an audience takes proper communication between the entire production team. Telling a story to a room full of strangers with short attention spans requires excellent teamwork.
Communication is the also key to a successful relationship between a sound designer and the director.
"I love the scope of the collaboration in theatre," said Killian. "You all have this thing in common: the script."
The script acts as the bonding force -- a language spoken by all those who work in theater -- that always pulls the team back to the task at hand: telling a story.
Killian has worked on hundreds of plays, with hundreds of scripts, but still has quite a few on his wish list. He would love to work on some more George Bernard Shaw plays, he said, and more of the Shakespeare classics. Also, as a prominent figure in the theatre world, he feels it only makes sense that he designs for at least a few Chekhov plays, which he has yet to try.
Though his name often appears at the bottom of the playbill or the bottom of the credits, Killian is certainly at the top of the sound design world. Sound design is a newly recognized art, but that does not take away from its utter importance.