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!

2015 Best New Work Nominee: "Eyes Shut. Door Open" by Cassie M. Seinuk (Wax Wings Productions)

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: Rachel Kurnos Photography

Photo Credit: Rachel Kurnos Photography

Eyes Shut. Door Open ("ESDO") was a surprisingly delightful and brilliant script by Cassie M. Seinuk.  The play explores the Cain and Abel story in a new and haunting environment, captivating audiences and keeping them spell-bound long after the performance ended.  The play's form and clever exploration of our guilt, demons, and grief made the play an easy Nominee for Best New Work.

In her Interview, Playwright Cassie M. Seinuk explains her intense writing and rewriting process for the play, with whom she would love to share a meal (I think that's a play waiting to be written), and her exciting new projects for 2016.

Cassie, thank you so much for interviewing with us.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure thing! I’m a Jewish-Cuban lady, hailing from a little place called North Woodmere, NY, but I’ve been in Boston for just over ten years and am so glad to have made this place my home.

Let’s see, I’m married to a music producer/engineer, we met online, and our first conversation was, yes, about the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I currently live in Brighton with two cats and a rescue dog, Haddie Snoo. When I’m not being a playwright, I’m an AEA stage manager and I also teach Hebrew, Drama, and Judaics in Newton.

Mostly, though, I love ice cream.

Tell us about your process for writing (and rewriting) Eyes Shut. Door Open.  What were some of your inspirations?

Oh golly, what question! Eyes Shut. Door Open, or ESDO as we fondly call it, began as a short story I wrote during my undergrad at Brandeis University. I was particularly interested in combining my love of East of Eden and the Cain and Abel story, and The Sandman, a short story by E. T. A. Hoffmann.

In grad school, at Lesley University, I adapted it into a 25-minute play, and from there into a full-length. After three years of workshopping and various readings, Wax Wings Productions offered me a production. Two months before we started rehearsal we did a weeklong workshop with director Christopher Randolph and our killer cast, and, during that process, I rewrote the entire play three times, and when I say “rewrote” I mean, scrapped hundreds of pages and began again. Then within the first week of rehearsal I rewrote about 73 pages again, and finally landed on a play we all felt confident in. I will be making additional edits and changes for the May 2016 production.

I don’t usually know how to describe my process, but yesterday in an email, a mentor of mine told me that I’m not precious about my plays, and I’d like to maintain that. Sometimes you have to make big, big cuts, and just trust the skin will scab over.

What are some of the challenges of writing for the modern theatre audience?  What are some of the more rewarding aspects?

ESDO is 100 minutes in length with no intermission, and is actually my first play without an intermission . . . it’s also my first play with just three characters.

Palmer (Michael Underhill) begs for forgiveness in this modern Cain and Abel play,  Eyes Shut. Door Open  (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

Palmer (Michael Underhill) begs for forgiveness in this modern Cain and Abel play, Eyes Shut. Door Open (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

There is a weird juxtaposition between what an audience wants these days and their attention spans alongside what Artistic Directors (on smaller budgets) want to see, few locations, few actors, and minimal tricks. I think ESDO appeals to both worlds, but also can get very big if someone has the $$$ to let it. There are magical elements to the show that can be done on a small budget and, I think, still stay affective, but they can also grow to fit a bigger space and budget.

I do however find it really rewarding to write for intimate spaces, and you really get a chance to hone in on that in a play like ESDO with just three characters and, mostly, one location. I also feel there is a drive to find new spaces to do theatre, and one of the cool things about ESDO’s Wax Wings production and the remount in May 2016, we used/will use found non-theatre spaces.

If you could change one thing about the Greater Boston theatre community in 2016, what would it be, and why?

More slots for new plays by local artists.

If you could get breakfast with two people, alive or dead, who would they be and why?  Where would you go?  What would you discuss?  What would you eat?

Wow. OK. Samuel Beckett and Kermit The Frog.

We’d go to this little French hole-in-the-wall brunch place in Hell’s Kitchen and I’d get their Eggs Benedict with spinach and avocado. Samuel Beckett would just drink black coffee. Kermit would come with his own meal of swampy delights. We would talk about Post-modernism and the fact that talking about post-modernism is post-modern.

Samuel Beckett because he is my favorite playwright and he is dark and creepy and I just love everything about that. And Kermit The Frog because that frog knows how to put up with difficult people and I’d want to pick his muppet-y green brain.

If one of your plays could be performed anywhere, which play would it be and where?

From the Deep ("FTD") in Israel, probably Haifa. I’d be very curious about how that would turn out and what it would mean to tell that story in a country that understands so much of the sadness and violence that haunts the characters in FTD.

Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.  Tell us something that you wish people knew about you.

I used to be sort of an athlete. I was a gymnast from three to sixteen years old, and then taught gymnastics into my early twenties. I was a (short-lived) member of the Brandeis University Fencing Team. I’ve been skiing in Australia and New Zealand. And I used to go to ice skating camp. But throw me a basketball and watch me fail!

I wish people knew that I’m a really slow reader. Oh! And that the M in my name really matters to me.

How do you reward yourself?  How do you inspire yourself?

Yoga, Reiki, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream. I watch a lot of Netflix, I read, listen to music, and talk to myself in the shower. But mostly I listen to people on the train and in public, and I people watch.

Do you read reviews of your plays?  Why or why not?

Yes. At this point in my career, I am still learning so much, and I feel like reviews are another place for me, right now, to learn how people are receiving my work… not the quality of it, whether it was “good” or “bad,” but how it is hitting people. I look forward to the day when I don’t read reviews anymore.

What advice would you give to young(er) playwrights?  What advice do you wish that you had received?

Advice: Go to grad school or find your people, or both.

I wish someone had told me earlier on to stop caring about produciblity and just write from my heart, that’s what of the hardest things to allow myself to do.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am currently a fellow of Next Voices at New Rep and developing my new family drama, Dream House. There will be a reading of this play in June.

Joanna (Melissa deJesus) and Palmer (Michael Underhill) observe the masterpieces of Palmer's brother, Turner (Victor Shopov, unseen) (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

Joanna (Melissa deJesus) and Palmer (Michael Underhill) observe the masterpieces of Palmer's brother, Turner (Victor Shopov, unseen) (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

I am also remounting Eyes Shut. Door Open as a self-producer along with co-producers Wax Wings Productions. The show will feature the same cast, Victor Shopov, Michael James Underhill, and Melissa deJesus, as well as the same director Christopher Randolph, and many of the same designers. The show will run May 12-27, 2016, at Warehouse XI in Somerville MA.

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

You can learn more about my work at www.cassiemseinuk.com and more about ESDO at www.eyesshutdooropen.com.