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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

August Wilson

Dir: Tre Garrett

Jubilee Theater

2014

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was a fun show to design for many reasons.  The first is that it takes place entirely inside an old recording studio, along with a rehearsal room, tracking room, and control booth.  One fun aspect was hooking up a microphone in the control booth that fed an old speaker in the tracking room instead of going through the main PA to add the realistic touch of a studio talkback mic. 

 

Additionally, a large portion of the show consisted of the actors who play the band members either rehearsing or performing their songs on the trumpet, trombone, stand up bass, and piano.   Since none of the actors were also musicians, I had the task of fooling the audience.  I worked with local musicians to record the individual instrument tracks for each song, which could then be played back individually through speakers hidden amongst the stage near the actors.  Along with the movement of the actors on stage pretending to play, the overall effect worked well.

I’ve included an example of the Qlab playlist for one of the scene transitions.  This scene had the band rehearsing in one room, and then focus moves to the room next door as the muffled sound of the band continuing on fades out.  

Reviews

Jan Farrington

TheaterJones

"And director Garrett has worked hard with sound designer David Lanza to produce an in-the-moment sound for the musicians (recorded tracks for each instrument emanate from separate, strategically placed speakers) that lets us hold on to the illusion of live performance."