I have had the privilege to work with Lindsay on two shows, and in both, his work, which I would first experience in tech, brought me to a new understanding of the energies of the plays. Says Lindsay, “I always describe music and sound design as the emotional context of the show. If a set is the setting and lights are the mood, then music and sound is the thing that provides the emotional environment that the play lives in. As a result, it’s really important that you’re on the same page with the production as to what kind of environment that is, and how it can best serve the actors in helping them to find the inspiration that they need to play with.”
I asked Lindsay what serves as inspiration for him: The text? The director? What are his jumping off points as he begins his work? “Ultimately,” he says, “it’s all about what I see in the run-through of the play in the rehearsal hall. We can talk endlessly about what we want to achieve but, for me, it’s about a direct reaction to what I see the actors doing in their work. I think it goes back to my own training as an actor.” He graduated with a BFA in acting from the North Carolina School Of The Arts and so, as a sound designer, he approaches his work very much from an actor’s perspective. “I want to respond as honestly and openly as I can in the moment to what is thrown at me by the performers. If what I do is a direct response to them, then it’s almost always going to work out okay. The dangerous thing for composers/sound designers is to create content in a studio somewhere that is about some idealized version of the play they’re doing. I always make sure that directors understand that I’m not doing a version of Hamlet, I’m doingtheir version of Hamlet, and so, as a result, I usually come in towards the very end of the rehearsal process and try to soak up as much as I can about what everyone is doing.”
In Lindsay’s world, sound design and effects work together with music to create an overall environment. When creating music for something, he’s thinking about it with the sound effects in mind so that he can weave an aural tapestry. Although he composes music for both theatre and film, he only does sound design for theatre because sound design in fixed media is “frequently about recreating as closely as possible what things sound like in real life. However, in theatre, sound design is much more about creating a suggestion of what the environment could be like. It leaves much more creative room to find ways to reach the audience through things that maybe aren’t 100% accurate, but those suggestions can evoke a feeling that could be way more effective than just verisimilitude.”
The two plays that I worked on with Lindsay presented very different challenges, for both of us. Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third had to convey fairly realistic off-stage action. The actors on stage had to respond to it, and the audience had to follow it. I got Lindsay to talk about that a bit: “In Rounding Third, the director, BJ Jones, was really interested in using sound to portray the events of the baseball games. That took a tremendous amount of coordination to make it believable, while also making sure that you, the actor, could play along with it at the same time. You really don’t think about how many sounds there are in a baseball game until you break it down into all its parts: the sound of the pitch, the hit, the cheers, the catch, the throw, the next catch, the umpire, the cheers, etc. It’s a lot! And your character had to be able to react in real time to all of these sounds in a way that felt and looked completely natural, while not being able to see any of the action that we, the audience, were hearing. So we spent a lot of time in tech working through those sequences slowly. My work and your work had to be completely organic and fit together.” I remember this collaboration so clearly, and I also remember that the reality we created together was such that we frequently heard from members of the audience that they felt the could actually see the game.
“In The Scene,” by Theresa Rebeck, Lindsay goes on, “it was a completely different scenario. At the top of Act 2, your character was grappling with a midlife crisis and was having the greatest sex of his life with a much younger woman. The director, Jeremy Cohen, simply told me ‘I want the hottest, sexiest music that you can possibly think of.’ But the more I thought about it, the more I came to feel that the moment was really about the culmination of male fantasy. I really wanted to lean into that idea for comic effect. So I created a really slamming house music track, and then layered in sounds of pornography, disco and, of course, the most over-the-top male sexual thing that I could think of: The Tarzan yell. Then we just played it at ‘eleven,’ which I think gave you and the audience the freedom to lose all inhibitions in this crazy moment and just go for it.”
As an actor, I have to say that no matter how much we worked on that scene in rehearsal, it never came together until the sound was there to support it. It called for such a heightened and distilled reality, there was no way to convey it without the hyper-emotional support of the sound. Lindsay says, ‘There’s nothing more rewarding for me than when an actor takes inspiration from something that I’ve created, and what you and Christy McIntosh did with that moment was just pure magic. I loved watching it every single night.” Since it was just a play, not a movie, you can’t see me and Christy perform that moment, but you can listen to the track, Jungle Sex. But do yourself a favor. Don’t imagine me in flagrante while you listen. Imagine George Clooney or Jake Gyllenhaal instead, or someone else of your choice. I guarantee you, it will be much more fun.
You can find out more about Lindsay, and listen to more of his music, on his website.