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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Sound Designer Alan Velotta
Lexington, KY

Alan Velotta

Who Alan Velotta, a native of Owensboro, KY, was just 15 when he became an apprentice/understudy at Horse Cave Theatre. He is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City and a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). In 2003 he won a “Smitty” (Raymond A. Smith Excellence in Theatre) Award from Actors Guild of Lexington for his sound design for the production of In the Garden of Live Flowers (see photo below). Besides designing sound for theater companies such as Actors Guild, the Theater Workshop of Owensboro, and Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alan spends much of his time producing regional folk and bluegrass artists for the independent label Studio C Music.

What “A sound designer interprets what the script calls for through sound. Sound really gives life to the production. It adds another dimension. Most shows call for 10 to 15 sounds—from a telephone ringing to a door slamming—but that paled in comparison to what was called for in the Actors Guild of Lexington production of In the Garden of Live Flowers. This award-winning play about environmentalist Rachel Carson required 73 sound clips. It included things like ‘the sound of ants.’ Ants don’t make a sound, so we had to create a fantasy of what ants would sound like. The script also called for a clock ticking. I thought it would be more interesting to open with a cacophony of clock sounds.” (See below for downloadable MP3 files of the clock montage and other sounds from the production.)

When/Where “I start with a production meeting with all of the technical staff at about the same time that the actors have their first rehearsal. For In the Garden of Live Flowers, I would go to rehearsal once a week, and the rest of the week compile sound cues in my sound studio at home. The cast would come in to record voiceovers [recordings of actors speaking lines that are used in addition to the lines the actors say ‘live’ on stage during a performance]. Then, the next week, I would deliver the cues, and the actors would try them, and we would talk about adjustments for length and so on. Every week for five or six weeks I would deliver two CDs with more than 70 [sound] cues. There was a lot of trial and error. I had to produce 73 cues in 30 days, so I figured I had to record about six a day to pace myself. Knowing there’s a deadline keeps you motivated to finish early.”

Alan Velotta at work

How “I work with the director, actors, and the sound engineer—the person who actually runs the sound cues during every performance. You only get one chance when it’s live, so you have to work closely with the engineers. In some productions, the technical director will do the sound [during performances]. Most sounds are pre-recorded from sound effects or a sound library. What you can do is take those individual elements and layer them, so on one track there could be six elements. For example, a train interior could include interior sounds, plus a train whistle and a bellman’s call. The greatest challenge would be to make [the sound] something other than what’s expected. An alarm clock can be an electronic buzz going off, or the hammering bell of Big Ben, but being able to make it fit the time frame of the show, the characters, the setting—it’s very challenging to make your sounds fit the era and environment of the piece. It’s important to have a really good ear, to know what level creates the right mix without being too loud.”

Why “I like best to see the final product. When I act in a show, I’m not able to see the performance until it’s on tape. When you design, you can eventually sit back and enjoy all your work.”

Getting There “Study audio production. I have a radio background. I worked at a [professional] radio station all through high school, so I was familiar with all the sound equipment and recording.”

Sound Samples

Here are some clips of sounds Velotta created for the Actors Guild of Lexington production of In the Garden of Live Flowers. Listen to them in RealAudio® (see our help with RealPlayer page for more information).

  • Clock Montage—an opening montage with ticking clocks and chimes, cross-fading to the hum of fluorescent light
  • Queen of Hearts—the whooshing sound of an insect sprayer with a Queen of Hearts voiceover
  • Bugs Attack—sound of bugs and leaves rustling over science fiction movie music
  • Tuning Old Radio—a vintage radio tuning dial with classic program excerpts
  • Movietone News—science fiction movie music with a Movietone News announcer voiceover

Sound Cue Sheets: Velotta also provided examples of sound cue sheets from In the Garden of Live Flowers (PDF format): Act I; Act II.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951