Transporting a Place
Director Tim Lee has had to hear me go on about these concepts and their execution many times, so it seems right to put it into [pixels].
A room full of seats, set aside for the enactment of a staged performance, is just that – a room. People arrive in the room and sit in the seats, having walked in off a street, in a town full of cars, after their day at work, where their lives and the world they inhabit all around them, and they carry all that in with them.
This ‘Place’ inside is not that place outside. A fictional story is going to unfold. The fictional place is not a room just off a street. Directions on how to get to the building are written down. Directions on how to get to the fictional place are heard.
Sound Designers have an opportunity to assist the Director by transporting the audience from the place they have entered, to the created place where the performance is located. Pre-show music (or recorded atmosphere, speech, etc) can help create this other kind of place. The pre-show has the function of transporting the audience, and setting the mood for the performance that is yet to come.
I strongly advise against using familiar music (although some directors will strongly disagree with me on this). Even when it seems to make perfect sense, and seems appropriate, use caution. A piece of music that the audience may already know will carry with it associations to something outside, earlier, other, which takes them away from the place you are trying to create. Also, it is comforting to hear something familiar. That is not necessarily helpful. A pre-show sound design that has elements that create uncertainty, or tension, can prepare the audience for the journey ahead. Tension creates attention. Not to say it has to be painfully loud or dissonant, but it should be present, and have a specific purpose.
The first scene, the first lines, the first action – all of this will help inform you what it is that you are aiming towards. Where it is taking the audience, and how, is something you will need to help your director find, and they will help you.