A New Kind of Cue

Darron West Returns to ATL as Guest Sound Designer

By Ninette Shorter

An afternoon in the life of Darron L. West, sound designer: Mini-discs zip in and out of floptical drives, sound samples fill the rehearsal hall and actors and actresses work their parts until they mesh with West's self-designed cues and the director's vision.

This scene is not typical of traditional theatric production, where sound cues are often tossed in toward the end of the rehearsal schedule, seemingly as an afterthought. West brings the sound element smack into the fray of pre-production collaboration, rehearsals and choreography, as if the sound element were as important as lighting or any other dimension of a stage production.

And that's just the point. More than mere signals for action, West' s creations are mood establishers, audio props as integral to a stage set and a play's message as any physical aspect.

West's creative process involves working with the cast and director to derive cues from what's happening on stage. To build cues, West starts by researching music from the period in which a play is set. Then he turns to his extensive CD collection and a mini-disc library that includes sound samples West has recorded on the spot from television or on the street. The final product is a synthesis of sound and music stored on recordable mini-discs (flopticals), played through an Ensonic ASR-10 sampler and a Mackie console.

Long on energy and short on patience with those who would stick to tradition like peanut butter to the roof of a dog's mouth, Darron West is a fresh freshman in a rule-breaking contingent of theatrical sound designers. A 28-year-old Elizabethtown native now literally working the globe from a New York City base, West has found his "niche, what I really want to do" as sound designer in the realm of avant-garde theater.

Coming from a background that both excited and bored his creative senses, West moved through a wanna-be-a-rock-'n'-roll-drummer phase to earn a broadcast communications degree with a theater minor from Western Kentucky University. While attending western, West "fell in love" with the no-rules frontier that was theatrical sound design, a profession for which no classes were then taught, at least not at Western.

When West and avant-garde/impressionist director Anne Bogart crossed paths over a year ago at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where West was resident sound designer from 1990 to 1993, his career path opened before him. Now resident sound designer for Bogart's Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI), in Saratoga, New York, West is in town to serve as guest sound designer for three of Bogart's plays that Actors is presenting this month as part of the Classics in Context Festival. In little more than a year with Bogart, West has traveled with SITI from New York to Japan and now back to Kentucky.

Experience West's work live during January. Call Actors Theatre of Louisville at 584-1205 for information about the schedule for the Tenth Annual Classics in Context Festival.