17th May 2021
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Theatre Sound Design: The Art of Documentation

Theatre Sound Design
By Sound Girls
Kirsty Gillmore

When you work on a production, you never really know what sort of life it’s going to have after that initial run or tour. A production you designed two years ago may suddenly get another run, and you realise you need to dig out all your sounds and designs and make them work in a different venue. Or, you need to hand it over to an associate to do the same. It’s at times like these that you discover the value of two things: accurate, detailed documentation and an organised filing system.

I know that documentation and filing are the least exciting aspects of a creative sound role, but I cannot overemphasize how much they will save your bacon when you need to recreate the sound design for a show.

In the time sensitive, pressured environment of theatre and theatrical productions, it’s very easy to let documentation lapse, so you need to either delegate the task or make time for it. You don’t want to be tearing your hair out the night before tech week kicks off because you have no idea where you put that crucial sound effects file you recorded four years ago.

Here’s a starter list for what you should be capturing during the production of a show:

Rehearsals and production weeks before tech week

  1. Make sure you have copies of all your design drawings, whether you created them in CAD software or hand-drew them. If they’re hand drawn, scan them so you have an electronic copy as well. Ask for model box photos as well (or take your own), so you have a visual reference point for this production.
  2. Make sure you have an electronic copy of the script, score or both, and any additional material e.g. song lyrics, prologue/epilogue, as well as paper copies.
  3. Take photos of any pictures, sketches, diagrams, props or anything else that were used in the rehearsal process or in your own creative time that directly influenced your sound designs. They may come in handy if you need to create any new files for subsequent runs.
  4. Label each sound file accurately as you create it, including documenting the recording process if you recorded it from scratch.
  5. Label and save all venue tech specs and sound hire quotes.
  6. Label and save all photos taken during venue visits, including any notes about potential speaker/equipment positions.

Tech week to press night

  1. Once speaker positions are set, take photos from multiple angles to accurately capture positions. If you have to hand a show over to an associate further down the line, it’s far easier to show them a picture of how you positioned a particular speaker in a venue than explaining it.
  2. Note positions of racks, microphones, processors, desks, screens, comms, cue lights, everything that’s specific to that show.
  3. If there’s anything particularly unique about this production that you may need to remember at a future date, write it down.
  4. Keep sound cue sheets and update them as necessary, including a record of deleted cues. They may be reinstated for future productions.
  5. Make sure you have an accurate list of hired sound equipment, including the hire company, any existing venue equipment used in the show, and any equipment purchased by the production.
  6. Save all show and desk files.

After press night

  1. Save copies of the final show files and desk files with copies of all final sound files.
  2. Save any sound files not used in the show to a separate folder. You may need them for subsequent productions.
  3. Save all documentation, including sound design plans, final cue sheets, radio mic plans, scene maps, etc.
  4. Confirm where any sound equipment purchased by the production company will be stored following the end of the show’s run and save that information in a document.
  5. Label everything clearly and put in a single folder so you can quickly find everything for that show.
  6. Back up everything!

Managing your documentation should be an integral part of your sound design work, not an addition to it. Do it once and thoroughly for each production, and you’ll save yourself a lot of potential headaches in the future.


Article by SoundGirl: Kirsty Gillmore

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Another great article by SoundGirls: Julie Rix: Sound Engineer/Music Industry Professional

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