Sound Designing Lipstick

It's always exciting to design audio for a new piece of theatre. I was very pleased when director Ed White approached me about a play called 'Lipstick', written by Lily Shahmoon and being production by Rupert Henderson Productions.

The piece performed by two women playing two teenage boys and explores what it means to be young, and the rules that surround us all.


Ed and I met on several occasions prior to rehearsals starting to discuss our initial thoughts and how sound could be used to help tell this coming of age story. One thing that was clear from the offset was that sound would play an important role in portraying many narrative and emotional moments of Tommy and Jordan's journey.


Ed summarises the show and the impact sound had on the production:


"Lipstick has a lot of scenes and a huge variety of locations, so I knew we had to rely heavily on the sound to keep our audience in the loop. We follow the characters from their bedroom, to a bus stop, to a party and then back to the bedroom, all within three or four pages of script. On a set that doesn’t move or change the sound gives our characters an environment to inhabit and some context for our audience. More than that, in Lipstick’s case, it also has to let us in to the complicated minds of these teenage boys. We all know what a busy school corridor or a supermarket might sound like, all those everyday sounds, but we had to ask: what does a panic attack sound like? What does guilt sound like? And that sparks some very interesting and fun challenges for a sound designer. Charlie’s design brought so much detail and texture to Tommy and Jordan’s world and for me it was one of the most exciting and rewarding collaboration experiences.


I loved the early meetings with Charlie; we’d sit for hours listening to different wind chimes or laser beams (sometimes the most random and radical effect would sit perfectly within our ordinary world). Then I’d go home and I’d hear a sound effect on TV and send it to him in a voice memo, or a strange YouTube clip saying “at 11.34 that’s what Tommy’s brain could sound like at the top of scene 10”. It was a lot of fun!"


Rehearsals

I spent a week in rehearsals joining in with the creation and development of the show, providing and adjusting playback to work with what was happening in the room.


Recording

We decided that although not clearly audible it would be a good part of the rehearsal process to record an argument that appeared to be coming from another room fairly early on in the play. It also felt more personal instead of being a generic effect. This was then treated and used to establish the scene but also against selected music.

Small Set, Big Sound

Minimal set gave me the perfect opportunity to ensure we painted the perfect audio picture to make it clear to the audience where the action was taking place. Set primarily inside a bedroom but quickly changing to the roadside, nightclub or seaside to name a few meant there was many opportunities to explore different environmental soundscapes.

Generally scenes short and snappy and we had a lot of fun looking at exciting ways to transition from one to another, often using series from Netflix as inspiration.



Perspective

Often the perspective of the listener/audience would change - sometimes we would hear noises that were part of a scene but at other points it would convey the inward thoughts and emotions of the characters.

Headphones....

It was fun to explore the integration of headphones. Given the age of the two boys, Jordon in particular was often were listening to music - specific tracks were selected that fit with the mood, sometimes we would fill the space and hear the music they were listening to and other times when worn around their neck, it would be more naturalistic approach.

Cyberspace

What is cyberspace and what does it sound like? I'm sure we can all relate to those moments when your sole attention is focused on your mobile screen... when you're waiting for a message to come through or quickly replying to someone. It was very interesting to use familiar noises like an iPhone pings, typing sounds to dialling tones mixed with some music stems in order to create an almost slightly surreal world.


There were moment in the show when I wanted to audience feel included, the use of surround within the studio theatre played a vital part in bring them into the same world as Tommy and Jordan.





Technical

When deciding on the loudspeakers I had to to consider the best tool for the job, performing in a studio theatre meant that I had to be aware of the space constraints whilst not compromising the sound. As a show Lipstick would turn out to be rather dynamic, it would vary between some light environment soundscapes to a big realistic club scene.


I decided that the Opus T300, were the perfect match for size but easily able to handle the louder moments in the show, two single 18' subs were used to provide the all important low end, which nicely disappeared behind the set.


There were quite a few moments when sound and lighting would need to be trigged together therefore we programme OSC within QLab to ensure they were sharp and effective.



The team:

Left back row: Ed White (Director); Alex Lewer (Lighting Designer); Lucy Ventham(Stage Manager/Sound Operator).

Left front row: Helen Aluko (Jordan); April Hughes(Tommy); Rupert Henderson (Producer); Lily Shahmoon (Writer),