It’s an embarrassment of riches, including some dazzling marquee names. All these high-profile shows are in March previews:
If you’re a reader of theater programs, your eye probably travels across the name of the show’s sound designer without registering it. Your ear may similarly absorb without consciously hearing the sonic world of the play — all that we hear in addition to the actors’ voices. How does the sound designer design?
I asked Mikaal Sulaiman, 38, a much-in-demand sound designer whose work can be heard now in By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at New York’s Signature Theatre. He’s off next to Trinity Rep, and is booked at similarly prestigious venues until he returns to Philadelphia in August for a Pig Iron show.
A graduate of the University of the Arts (full disclosure: he was a student of mine there) and of the LeCoq School in London, Sulaiman came to theater through acting and then — in that curious way that careers happen — he discovered sound design, studied it, and was launched. A phone call invited him to work on a new project — little company, no money, the usual — which turned out to be the runaway hit Underground Railroad.
“Sound design is one of those mystery aspects of theater that people, even directors, don’t quite understand," he says. "You’re really designing the audience’s experience.
“Where I place speakers in the theater will change how you experience the show,” Sulaiman says.
"Another aspect is trying to crack the code of the director’s desire — sometimes it’s more like a therapy session. … I’ll ask them what color, what temperature is the soundscape — their fever dream of the play — and I translate that.
"A tricky thing about sound designing is that unlike sets or lighting or costumes, sound is so subjective. You can make a set bluer, but if you’re not a musician, how do you say, ‘Turn that cello down?’ …. We don’t have a vocabulary for what I do.
On the other hand, he says, "I know that everything I know about theater I learned in Philly.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a bill into law to protect the state’s ticket-buyers from “white-label" internet ticket resellers who try to mislead customers by using the name of venues, productions, and performers in their internet domain names.