It is not enough to merely complement a theater director’s approach for Theresa Huber, of Livonia, New York, who skillfully elevates the psychological aspects of theatrical performances to influence an audience. For her creativity and unique style, Huber has been awarded a 2008 National Fellowship to compete in the sound design category at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C. in April.
“I love the psychological aspect of sound design,” Huber explained. “A good designer is not just throwing some sound effects in or sound background music. A good designer is telling a story through their music and their sound. Every single sound you hear ought to be moving the story forward and engaging the audience or it shouldn't be in there. Watching the audience react whether consciously or subconsciously to my music and my sound effects and how they filled the room, you'd be surprised how powerful it really is and the dramatic effects it will have on a person.”
She was a sound designer in the IUP fall production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane. In the dark Irish comedy, the elderly and infirm matriarch, Mag, impedes the dreams and desires of her aging daughter who is forced to care for her.
Huber focused on amplifying the psychological elements to influence the audience.
“Take the death scene with Mag, if those few dying notes hadn't played as her body fell forward, there might have been a weaker element of fear in the audience,” said Huber, who was selected for the national competition for her outstanding achievement at regional festivals.
Only eight students in the nation are chosen to compete in each of eight categories including set, costume, light, sound and makeup design, stage management, directing and dramaturgy. The regional and national competitions are comprised primarily of graduate students.
The IUP production was one of only seven in its region, which includes all of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., invited to perform at the Region II KCACTF at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in January.
“I initially went just to help get The Beauty Queen of Leenane up on its feet at the KCACTF Region II Festival,” she said. “I entered in a couple of sound designs into the design contest just to get some feedback from professionals and find out whether or not I actually have a shot of "making it" in the business as a sound designer. I am glad I went because not only did I win, I received some job offers as well as grad school offers. Most of all, I was told I was uniquely talented and had great potential in sound design from a professional, something no one else had told me before.”
Huber’s first major sound design was for Guys and Dolls followed by Hedda Gabler last spring. “She worked very effectively not only in creating a design that well supported the production values -- but working closely with the production's videographer and lighting designer,” said Barb Blackledge, chair of IUP’s theater and dance department.
“This spring, she has taken on the sound design for a very theatricalized production of Bertold Brecht's ThreePenny Opera which also involved her learning about sound re-enforcement technology,” Blackledge said. Her contribution to The Beauty Queen of Leenane has garnered her deserved recognition, according to Blackledge. “Theresa has won the regional awards in sound design and is going to the national festival largely based on her outstanding work in sound design for this production,” Blackledge said. “Theresa also only came to discovering sound design as her primary pursuit towards her future in theater professionally. In fact, beyond this national level honor, she has been pursued by at least five major graduate programs in sound design across the country and has already received full ride offers to prestigious grad schools in this area.” Huber said she was able to incorporate her own personal style with the director’s approach.
“In The Beauty Queen of Leenane, I learned that it's okay to take the director's vision and put a little bit of my take on it,” she said. “I didn't have to be a marionette or just a sound engineer. I could actually design my own aesthetic and it would be unique and successful while complementary to the director's approach. I became versatile in my work and also learned not to ignore my own personal style.”
She also blended technical skill and her theatrical vision to enhance the sound design. “Technical skills that I learned included recording live sound and turning it into something else,” she said. “For example, I recorded pickles, meat, and oil frying and turned it into the flesh-burning sequence used in the show. I also took decent recordings of old Irish music and digitally edited in the sounds of static and crackling. I equalized them properly to make it sound like a tiny radio. I also learned how to convert flash files into wave files which means I can take videos
and turn them into sound effects. Little tricks like this really make a difference to a sound designer who works under a strict time constraint.”
Her abilities extend beyond sound design as does her experience.
“I have done everything from acting to stage management,” she said. “Good theater artists ought to have a basic understanding of all areas and apply it to their concentration. Because I have a background in all of the areas, I can communicate well with others and understand where they are coming from. I take everything I learn from them and apply it. For example, sound designers and lighting designers work directly with each other to make sure their aesthetics will flow well in telling the story.”
Huber expects to learn new techniques from other talented sound designers at the national festival.
“I expect to learn a lot,” she said. “I know many special classes in tech and design are offered to us free of charge. I am also expecting to meet some extremely talented designers from across the country. It'll be nice to meet people as enthused about sound design as I am.”
As a sound designer, she contends that, “Sound design is kind of "the odd one out" in theatre. To be a truly great sound designer, you have to be good or at least decent at science, math, programming, electrics, art, music, and many more things. I feel like this has been the one concentration in theater that uniquely fit all of my talents. I get to make the audience react just like an actor does, but I am hidden behind my work.”
Huber, who will be a sound intern in the summer at the Texas Shakespeare Festival, plans to earn a master’s degree in fine arts. “I have been accepted to many grad schools including UCLA, Cal Arts, Ohio University, and Urbana-Champaign,” she said. “I haven't decided where I am going yet, but I will soon, and it will be for a MFA in sound design. I will probably do touring shows and maybe look into design for film. Maybe one day I will teach sound design as it is a growing field.”
IUP has afforded Huber opportunities she said were not available through other programs of collegiate study. “I think IUP was the right place for me because no other school would have given me sound design opportunities unless I had a vast knowledge in electrics and signal flow,” she said. “I have only been doing this for a year, and I was still given wonderful opportunities here in the main stage. That has made all the difference and I'm so thankful to the faculty for that.”