2015 Best Sound Design Nominee: Patrick Greene for Wax Wings Productions' "Eyes Shut. Door Open"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you are nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: EVE Photography

Photo Credit: EVE Photography

Patrick Greene was the Sound Designer for the hauntingly beautiful production of the new play, Eyes Shut. Door Open.  This modern Cain and Abel story integrated sound and lights to transport the audience into the psyche of some of the main characters at integral moments in the production.  Patrick's deft use of the soundscapes and music was a remarkable feat in the audio storytelling, and made the production feel even more visceral. 

In his Interview, Patrick explains some of his techniques for creating this unique sound design, movie night at the Greene house, and his most embarrassing moment.  We're glad that it didn't happen to us!

Hi, Patrick, and thank you for interviewing with us!  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks! It’s an honor to be nominated. My path to theatrical sound design is a bit of a curvy one: I started off as an actor/singer, became a composer, and just now (over the past couple of years) have been returning to stagecraft as a sound designer (who also composes).

My wife (Micah) and I met while performing together in a musical, actually: a 2008 production of Birds of Paradise, in Rhode Island. Our two-year-old boy, Jude, is currently working on his belting technique.

What inspired you to work on Eyes Shut. Door Open?  What excited you about the project?

As soon as Cassie Seinuk (the playwright) asked, I agreed to do it. I’d recently seen another of her plays (Boston Public Works’ production of From the Deep), and I found it remarkable.

Eyes Shut. Door Open (ESDO) is a truly special play, and it was clear from the script that sound was an enormously important part of the fabric of the thing. The director (Christopher Randolph) agreed, and we met early in the process to talk through some ideas. I quickly realized we were operating on the same wavelength, and that I was going to have a wonderfully expressive sandbox in which to play.

Talk to us about your concept for the production.  From what other media did you draw your ideas?

About 80% of the sound design for ESDO occurs in the eight “hauntings” scattered throughout. The hauntings – which are distorted, horrifying trips into the protagonist’s psyche – are both “real” (based in memory) and “imagined” (distorted by time, distance, and fear). I wanted to find a simple object that could bridge the two worlds together: something totemic, something pliable, something unique. What I decided upon was a thunder tube – a simple percussion instrument that generates some tremendous overtones by resonating a vibrating spring in a narrow chamber. It’s identifiably “real,” but it also doesn’t quite sound like anything else you’re likely to have heard before. It’s like a fuzzy memory.

Thunder Tube used in Eyes Shut. Door Open by Sound Designer Patrick Greene (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene).

Thunder Tube used in Eyes Shut. Door Open by Sound Designer Patrick Greene (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene).

The thunder tube’s complex, dark sound informed the textures of the hauntings, which embedded ‘found’ sounds (air raid sirens, radio transmissions, glass shattering inside a box, helicopter blades, etc.) in dense percussion textures using obscure instruments (other than the thunder tube, the most prominent one is probably the Aboriginal bullroarer).

There is also quite a bit of dialogue embedded in the sound mix throughout (wonderfully performed by Michael Underhill and Victor Shopov). I sought to emulate an effect I heard in the Australian horror film The Babadook, where a “haunted” character’s voice is split into multiple, parallel incarnations. The non-manipulated, original voice is still present in the mix, but it’s surrounded by pitch-shifted, distorted reflections of itself. I thought it was a terrifically evocative sound composition, so I tried to do something similar with the various haunting characters. 

You are also a composer!  Talk to us about what kind of music you composed and how you got started.  How does this influence your sound design?

I am indeed! I compose contemporary classical music for ensembles of all shapes and sizes, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some truly amazing musicians from around the world. I think my sound design is deeply, fundamentally influenced by my work as a composer. Outside of the usual technical cross-proficiencies (digital audio workstations, sound mixing, that sort of thing), there’s a strong crossover artistically and instinctively. I really approach sound design as a compositional activity; even when it’s just a foley-type artifact corresponding to something happening onstage, it needs to subtly reinforce the acoustic profile of the whole show.

When I’m able to craft complex sound design elements (like I did throughout ESDO), I’m really in my happy place.

My acting background helps quite a bit, too. I treat the sound design as another character in the piece, making sure that it grows and changes over time in service of a narrative arc.  

Of what are you most proud?

I think I’m most proud that my wife and I are both still committed to having fulfilling artistic careers while devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to raising our child. It means we have to make some tough sacrifices (especially since we both have office jobs as well), and it means we have to be very careful about how much we commit to, but it also means we can, from time to time, have our cakes and eat them too.

It’s movie night at the Greene house!  What are we watching and on what are we snacking?  Who’s invited?

Large group of good friends: we’re watching The Empire Strikes Back, and we’re eating Micah’s chili.

Small group of very close friends: we’re watching anything by Paul Thomas Anderson or Denis Villeneuve, and we’re eating Indian takeout.

Me, alone: I’m watching Alien and eating my fear.

Sound design is an evolving form in the theatre world.  How has it changed recently?  How do you see it changing in the future?

Since I’ve only been designing theatrical sound for the past two years or so, it’s hard for me to say how it’s been changing recently. As to where it’s headed, though, I think technological advancements in other sectors of society will likely continue to bleed into and guide the development of the art form. The ubiquity of DRM-free sounds on the internet will continue to shift the bulk of design effort from the production (recording) end to the post-production (editing) end of things. I still try to record what sounds I can, but the fact that I can find a Soviet military radio transmission on the internet and embed it into a sound mix in two minutes is tremendously liberating.

Production mapping for Eyes Shut. Door Open for sound design. (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene)

Production mapping for Eyes Shut. Door Open for sound design. (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene)

Live-audio technology will continue to improve and mutate, too. In an effort to pull audiences away from their sophisticated home theaters and into cinemas, movie houses are investing lots of money into cutting-edge sound and video systems (IMAX, etc.). As those technologies become more frequently used and competitively priced, they’ll start showing up more in live theater, and that’s tremendously exciting.

If you could design a production element for any show, what show would it be and what element?  Why?

I love working on new plays by emerging playwrights; I always assume the show I most want to work on is still waiting to be written.

The production element would be sound, of course, but I also love collaborating with other designers (projection, set, costume, makeup, etc.) and allowing our ideas to hybridize.

What excites you most about the Greater Boston theatre scene and community?

There’s a great deal to be excited about! We have a tremendous mix of opportunities at all levels, and we’re a small enough community that we’re all able to stay pretty consistently engaged in projects that really excite and motivate us. We have the arts scene of a much more populous city, and we have a huge talent pool, so there’s always exciting stuff going on.

Tell us an embarrassing story!  Make us laugh. Make us cry!

It was the final semester of my undergraduate career, and I’d just pulled an all-nighter studying for a psych exam, and I looked like a crazy person, and the most exotically beautiful woman in my graduating class said “Hi, Patrick!” to me. I got so flustered that two things happened simultaneously: my voice cracked while I tried to say “Hi!” back to her, and I tripped and fell.

And then I farted.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I do indeed! I’m currently composing a song cycle on erasure poetry by Jenni Baker created from my favorite book (David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest), which will be premiered later this year, in Chicago, by Joelle Kross. I’m working on an as-yet-unannounced symphonic work that will premiere this summer at the Hatch Shell (stay tuned). I’m writing another movement of a song cycle I composed for the NYC-based loadbang ensemble last year on the poetry of W.S. Di Piero (Come soon, you feral cats). I’m also working on solo pieces with musicians in New York and Alabama. And there’s some very cool stuff brewing for the second half of 2016, too.

Lastly, I’m returning to Eyes Shut. Door Open! We’re mounting another production in May, at Warehouse XI (Somerville, Massachusetts).

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Check out my website (www.patrickgreenemusic.com), and thanks for supporting Boston’s art scene!