Interview with PACIFIC OVERTURES Sound Designer Dan Moses Schreier
Tell us a bit about how you got your start as a sound designer and composer? What inspired you to take your musical training into this theatrical discipline?
I studied Music Composition my freshman year at the University of Michigan. At the end of my freshman year I got a job working on a new musical the University had commissioned from Arthur Miller to open up a new theater that had just been built on campus. Arthur Miller did his undergraduate studies at Michigan.
After working on the production at the University, the composer of the project, Stanley Silverman, asked me to come to New York and work as his assistant. That’s what brought me to New York and started my career in the theater here. After working as Stanley’s assistant for a year I went back to school at Columbia University. I became interested in the electronic music studio at Columbia, where I learned about amplifiers, speakers and microphones. This was before courses existed in sound design. After I graduated I found that I could use both my composition skills and my knowledge about the sound world to create a career in the theater.
You’ve worked with CSC Artistic Director John Doyle before. What stands out about your collaborations with him?
John is full of creativity, intelligence and kindness, and he seeks those qualities from me when we work together. He brings out the best in my work. John also always
provides a designer with an interesting challenge. When we were collaborating on his production of Sweeney Todd on Broadway, the challenge was to make it sound like the actors were always going to different places while the entire production was staged on a small 16’ x 20’ platform. By creating different sonic environments with different reverbs for places such as the basement where the meat pies are made or the mental hospital where Johanna is hidden, I worked alongside the lighting department to create the illusion that the actors were indeed in very different places.
Sound seems to be one of the least understood design categories in the theater. Why do you think this is, and what makes an excellent sound design an indispensable part of a successful production?
Because it is not a visual art form, I think it is sometimes not ’seen’ for what it can be—an art form. When the sound design is integral to the storytelling of a musical or a
play —that makes excellent sound design.
What are some key differences between sound design for a musical versus sound design for a play?
Different muscles are used for each. In plays, sound design can help define the world of the play. In a musical, the first thing is to make sure every word can be heard, and then you craft a sonic world that can help define the world of the musical.
Can you give us an example of a recent show whose sound design really grabbed you? What was so impressive/moving/evocative about it?
The sound design for American Psycho on Broadway was some of the sound work I’m most proud of, and I hope it really grabbed the audience. The music composed by Duncan Sheik dictated many aspects of the sound design as there were many scenes that took place in New York City dance clubs in the 1980s. It was a powerful thing to create that world in the theater. What was also exciting about the production was how all aspects of the design—sets, lighting, costumes, projections, music and the sound—all worked as one unit to tell the story.