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Behind the Scenes: FX and Soundscape for CARRIE the musical

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Behind the Scenes: FX and Soundscape for CARRIE the musical

by Gillian Ellis

CARRIE the musical is a legend in the theatrical world. It opened in 1988 at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, with all the heavy weighty muscle of the Oscar winning composer/lyricist team of Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford behind it. It made the move to Broadway with a huge budget and healthy tickets sales, but the opening night audience greeted the curtain with a mixture of rapturous applause and some boos. After only 16 previews and five performances, CARRIE closed, and legions of people were left to wonder how this classic American horror story could possibly play with singing and dancing.

Now OU’s Theatre program is offering a chance to experience this musical version of Stephen King’s tale of terror and revenge. Faculty and students are rehearsing a 2012 revision of CARRIE the musical, which will open on Thursday, October 10.

Two of our theatre technology and design majors are hard at work on components essential to the success of the production. Micki Miller is designing the special effects, and she promises they will be special indeed. Micki is a senior who attended Waterford Mott High School and hopes to work in concert lighting in the Detroit area after graduation.

At OU, she has worked in several tech areas on various shows, but never before on special effects, simply because they have never been required. “This show is opening up new opportunities for the students,” she said “and it will bring new things for our audience too.”

Micki is cautious about spoilers. She says, “I can’t give too much away about the show but it is going to be interesting.” She will confess to pyrotechnics, including the use of flash paper. “We light things on fire!” This has to be done very carefully, obviously, but perhaps the biggest challenge is making Carrie’s famous telekinetic powers appear to work on stage.

As many people will know, Carrie White can make things move with the power of her mind, and it is Micki’s job to make you believe the impossible is happening. To get this right she’s been doing a lot of research into how stage magic is done. “We are taking some of their methods and twisting them around to fit the show. It’s technical knowledge that’s out there in the magic world.”

OU alum (B.A. '94) Rick Carver has been helping Micki. Rick is a professional entertainer in the variety arts and has expertise in all kinds of areas, including magic. It is essential that the effects work every time, and every night, and Micki was working on perfecting them well before rehearsals began.

The effects also have to work with the other elements of the show and Mickie has consulted with set designers Associate Professor Jeremy Barnett and Jason Maricani, the student assistant set designer. “We really do have to collaborate and help each other,” says Micki, who has also worked with lighting designer Dan Robinson. Tech and design students at OU have real opportunities to do hands-on work for main stage productions and Dan is now at work designing the special effects for our next production, Blithe Spirit, a “sprightly supernatural comedy,” which opens November 14.

Micki is also collaborating with Kyle Blasius, who is designing the soundscape for CARRIE. In fact, she says, the production team has decided that the best way to achieve some of the required effects is to use sound.

Kyle is a sophomore tech and design major. He attended Romeo High School and is especially interested in sound, hoping to make a career in that area. CARRIE has complex sound requirements -- not just sound, but a soundscape. When asked what that is Kyle says, “A soundscape is an enhancing experience providing a constant stream of audio. It draws the audience in. It will be a very immersive experience.”

For the first time, the studio theatre will have 22 speakers, providing true surround sound, allowing the audience to experience, for example, a door closing on one side of the theatre and an explosion on the other. Kyle says the technical team is learning to work with new tools and relishing the challenge. Technical director Brent Wrobel is working with Kyle in this area, and Kyle also anticipates help from technical coordinator and audio expert Terry Herald when it comes time to set-up for recording. That will be done after all the “trial and error.”

When all is ready, the audio effects and the soundscape will be recorded and Kyle will have completed his assigned task. Other people will run the board during the performances. 

Kyle says the cast and crew are working extraordinarily hard on CARRIE; painting and building sets until 3:30 a.m. and then coming to school the next day is just part of the routine in the last weeks before opening. And because of the nature of the show, tech and design students are doing things they have never done before, and loving it. Kyle promises there will be “lots of intense moments.”

To find out exactly what those will be, may we suggest you support our students' hard work, buy a ticket and come see the show!  You almost certainly missed it on Broadway. Who knows when you might get your next chance to see the theatrical legend that is CARRIE the musical?

Please be aware, CARRIE the musical contains mature themes, simulated violence, sexual situations and strong language. It is not recommended for children under 17.

The show opens on October 10. Performances on October 11 and October 13 will be shadow signed by Terp Theatre. There is a special late night showing on October 19. Complete performance information here. Ticket information here. Download a poster here.

Photos: CARRIE the musical, artwork by Jeremy Barnett. Click on the image to download a CARRIE poster.
Kyle Blasius. Photo by Gillian Ellis