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  • Twi McCallum

*Taps Mic* Ode to a Sound Designer with Stage Fright

My favorite love language is the concept of words of affirmation. Even at 24 years old, I am constantly worried about if I am offending anyone, being annoying, talking too much, not talking enough, dressed appropriately, and generally being likeable. However, the more I work, the more I learn to relax and overflow my cup with positive thinking, no matter how big or show the production is.

My first hands-on experience on the horizon of Broadway was during an internship at Ford’s Theater (a LORT stage in Washington, DC) so I got to shadow the process throughout the summer of Come From Away as it toured and prepped for Broadway. In my undergrad years at Howard University while I was still close to my hometown of Baltimore, I often shadowed backstage at The Hippodrome Theater for productions like Motown the Musical and Wicked before they went to Broadway or West End. What these small doses of pre-Broadway taught me is that it can take years for a production to reach a big NYC stage, which is indicative of the intense investment a sound designer needs to dedicate towards perfecting their work for that show.

My first job when I moved to New York City from Baltimore in 2018 was a technical apprenticeship at a dance company called New York Live Arts. Everything was hard for the first few times, like hanging heavy speakers while on an A-frame ladder, patching lots of microphones, and mixing on a big Yamaha sound board. It’s totally okay to admit that learning a new skill is hard or unenjoyable, but don’t ever give up. I took notes vigorously and still have that sacred notebook that I reference. Simultaneously, I was working as a stagehand at Manhattan School of Music, so I enjoyed the lucrative benefits of being in a IATSE Local 1 union venue and the exposure to classical music and operas.

Thanks to that foundation in engineering and hands-on backstage work, I was able to pivot into becoming a sound designer. Design interested me more than engineering jobs because of the creative freedom, dramaturgy, and interaction with the director.

After 2 years of being a freelance sound designer, I am currently in Yale School of Drama’s one-year sound program while designing professional virtual productions. 2 of those productions have been directed by my absolute favorite director thus far, Zhailon Levingston, who often works as an associate director on major Broadway musicals. Additionally, I am in the interview process to be a junior design assistant for my first Broadway musical prospectively opening in 2021, and I look forward to building my career working for mostly Black/POC directors on and off Broadway.

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