Monday, February 20, 2017

The Many Voices of THE FEW

by Kaitlyn Martin

Samuel D. Hunter's THE FEW is set within the "newsroom" of an unorthodox publication: a newspaper designed for truckers, populated largely by personal ads submitted by travelers just as lonely as our protagonists.

Sound designer and UWM professor
Chris Guse worked with director C. Michael Wright
and voiceover coach/casting director Raeleen
McMillion to find just the right voices
for the play's lonely souls placing personal ads. 
As such, the play's characters are often interrupted by incoming calls from readers, played over the office's answering machine (this is 1999, after all!). These callers, about a dozen in all, each provide a glimpse of the world outside our surroundings, conveyed in only a few lines.

To find just the right voices for those calls, director C. Michael Wright turned again to UW-Milwaukee's theatre department. MCT has previously partnered with the university on three other productions -- LOVE STORIES (2015), THE DETECTIVE'S WIFE (2013) and PICNIC (2009) -- and has a strong working relationship with many of the professors and students who have been a part of the program. For this collaboration, Wright worked with UWM professors Raeleen McMillion and Chris Guse to select and record more than a dozen students, faculty and alumni whose voices will be featured in the production.

Guse, also the sound designer for THE FEW, says the answering machine plays a central role in the drama, letting these voices be heard over the tension between the characters on stage.

"The characters that are on the answering machine are important to the description of the play [and] the description of the location, as well as evoking the emotional state of the characters and reinforcing the themes," says Guse, adding that they echo the emotional state of the small-town Idaho residents.

As the sound designer, Guse's role isn't just limited to lining up each of these voices. He's in charge of every sound cue, from scene change music to the beeping of the answering machine itself.

"Finding out ... the sequence of events that you go through with the simple operation of an answering machine is really much more complicated than it seems," A lot of thought was given to the amount of beeps needed, the starting of the answering machine tape spinning in its track, and the clicking and whirring of all of the moving parts that -- once crucial to hearing the voices of those you have missed -- are now obsolete.

Through the use of music from the late 90s as well as carefully designed soundscapes, Guse looks to reflect the emotional states of the characters onstage as well as invoke a sense of foreshadowing. Cueing the audience as to what is approaching in the story or allowing them to reflect on something they have just seen is all part of the subtlety and emotional sharpness of Guse's design.

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